When Felipe spoke, baseball people listened

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felipe-alou

 * How wise was Felipe Alou? So wise that when he spoke it was like the old E. F. Hutton Commercial: everyone listened. Alou will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame June 2013 at St. Marys. ….

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E. F. Hutton commercial applies to Felipe Alou

By Danny Gallagher

Remember that vintage 1970s-80s EF Hutton commercial adage: “When E. F. Hutton talks … people listen!”

Edward Francis Hutton was the head of an U.S.-based stock brokerage firm founded in the early 1900s, a man who could make life a little easier for people, if they listened.

That’s the analogy Dave Jauss likes to make when he talks about former Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou.

“This was the foundation in the Expos’ minor-league system,’’ Jauss was saying on the phone the other day. “Like EF Hutton, when Felipe spoke, everyone listened. He was wise on field and off. He was involved in the hitting program, the pitching philosophy, the introduction of stopping the running game, any struggling player defensively in outfield or at first base.’’

And as Jauss emphasized, “A-n-d he was the most humble.’’

Then Jauss continued.

“I remember many times around late-night, post minor league spring training workouts as a staff we would be discussing the merits and value of a player so many of us would have inputs, always differing,’’ Jauss said.

“Once we were exhausted, we would look to Felipe. He would simply break the player down with a few words and it would clear the picture and end the discussion, his word being final because it was so logical and came from the experience and intelligence. We also ran spring training schedules around his keen eye for weather considering his fishing background as he always knew what time the rain would be falling in south Florida!’’

Jauss, who is the Pittsburgh Pirates ‘eye-in-the-sky’ coach, mentioned some of the young managers, who were tucked under Alou’s guidance: Mike Quade, Luis Pujols, Jerry Manuel, Joe Kerrigan and Jim Tracy, who all became big-league managers.

“Not to mention two bench coaches, Kevin Kennedy and Tim Johnson, who became big-league managers,’’ Jauss said.

Most people might like to remember Alou almost strictly for his 10 seasons or so as an Expos’ manager but his role in the organization’s minor-league system was one to behold.

Just recently before the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame announced its induction class for 2015, I made a few predictions/suggestions on Twitter. I had the idea that sluggers Carlos Delgado and Matt Stairs would get the call and then I thought to myself: Why not Felipe Alou? Sure, why not Alou, not just because he managed the Expos but because he mentored, coached, managed and taught players in the Expos’ minor-league system.

So I was right on three fronts with Stairs, Delgado and Alou. Corey Koskie was also picked along with Toronto Sun baseball columnist Bob Elliott. They will inducted into the hall in St. Marys, Ont. June 13 with a packed house expected to be on hand. Toronto Star baseball columnist Rich Griffin gets the call that day, too, as the winner of the Jack Graney award given to a member of the Canadian media for contributions to baseball in Canada.

Alou spent some time as a player with the Expos in 1973 and soon afterward, he began working in the minors for the organization. One of his protégés with the West Palm Beach Expos of the Gulf Coast League in 1987 was none other than Randy Johnson.

“All the players I was playing with in West Palm Beach had a great deal of respect for Felipe,’’ Johnson told me years ago in an interview. “He’s a great manager. Great man, a guy, you enjoyed playing for very much. Players who like the manager sometimes give an added effort.

“Players like to play for him. They’ll dig down deeper, do more than they normally would because they like the manager so much. They wanted to see the manager do good, too. So that was always my take on Felipe Alou. I always tried to do good for him because I liked him a great deal.’’

There are few people if any who will say a bad word about Alou. We checked in with Ed Creech, a current San Francisco Giants’ scout, who spent time as an administrator in the Expos’ system in the 1990s. Alou, a former Giants manager after he left the Expos, is a special assistant to Giants GM Brian Sabean, so he runs into Creech once in a while.

Alou’s son Jose Alou also works for the Giants as a scout.

“You can’t quit learning from Felipe. When he talks, you start listening,’’ Creech said from his home in Moultrie, Ga., bringing in that EF Hutton adage again. “When he says something, it makes you better. I grew up in Atlanta and Felipe and Rico Carty were my heroes. They’re still my heroes.’’

From a family perspective, there may be no one better than his son Jose, the former Expos outfield farmhand, to talk about what the elder Alou did in the minors. Jose played for his dad at West Palm Beach several years and was impressed and is still impressed.

“He had this patience with the young kids, he understood where kids came from, what they go through in the minors. It’s a tough life,’’ Jose Alou said. “Being his son, when I got to the park, I was one of the guys and I got no special treatment. That’s what I appreciated, that I got no special treatment. Everyone took notice of that, that he had no favoritism. Each player had to play the game right.’’

Jose gets to know Felipe a lot when he gets into a boat or on a dock to do some fishing in the Boynton Beach, Fla. area where both reside.

“Fishing and baseball, that’s his life,’’ said Jose, who was a policeman for over five years in Delray Beach, Fla. “Not because he’s my son but he’s a true legend of the game, a role model for Dominicans. When we go fishing, there is a lot of one-on-one time. There are no distractions when the rods go off. He’s the captain of the boat.’’

There are many who believe Alou should have been managing in the majors long before 1992 when Expos GM Dan Duquette decided to give him the reins after Tom Runnells was fired. Yes, the Giants did offer him the manager’s job in 1985 apparently but he turned it down out of a sense of loyalty to the Expos.

“Felipe was a major-league manager working in the Florida State League for years developing players and coaches for the big leagues,’’ said former Expos scouting director Gary Hughes. “I only wished that I had taped some of his brilliant comments over the years. Many of them went over my head until weeks later when it would dawn on me what he had said.

“He spoke like Shakespeare wrote. Now that’s a helluva quote that you can use.’’

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