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Giants Believe Alou Is Answer

To replace Baker, San Francisco turns to former Montreal manager, who is 67.

November 14, 2002|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

TUCSON — The San Francisco Giants borrowed from their history Wednesday in hiring Felipe Alou to replace Dusty Baker as manager.

The question is:

Did they get living history or, at 67, was too much of his passion and energy buried amid the Montreal frustrations?

Can the flame that seemed to flicker during his final years at the Expos' helm be rekindled or is this totally a risk without reward?

The Giants, of course, insist they researched those questions thoroughly and are convinced the spark is still there, that the Expo situation was so atypical, said Giant assistant general manager Ned Colletti, that anyone would have suffered from the body blows.

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Buck Showalter -- A Sports chart Thursday listed Texas Ranger Manager Buck Showalter's age as 56. He is 46.

Dodger Manager Jim Tracy agreed.

Tracy served as Alou's bench coach from 1995 through 1998, considers him to have been his mentor and, sources close to the Dodgers believe, was prepared to lobby for Alou's hiring as his bench coach if Jim Riggleman -- one of four finalists -- is hired as the Seattle Mariner manager this week.

Tracy, part of the Dodger contingent attending the general manager meetings, wouldn't address that part of it, but he was emphatic in his endorsement of Alou.

"I don't agree with anyone who says he's lost his fire and enthusiasm," Tracy said. "When you consider the number of times the Expos were built up only to be torn down, I think that would demoralize and dishearten anyone.

"The situation in San Francisco should be a shot in the arm for him. He'll have more stability than he had at any time in his last five years in Montreal. He'll know his players won't be looking for the fire escape every chance they get."

During 10 years on the Expo roller coaster, the respected and charismatic Alou was 691-717 before his firing in 2001.

Those skeptical of his hiring by the Giants point out that he did not seem to regain much passion after agreeing to serve as bench coach for Luis Pujols after Phil Garner was fired by the Detroit Tigers last year.

That situation, however, was no more invigorating than the one he left in Montreal and Alou undoubtedly recognized it as such but was willing to do an interim favor for fellow Dominican Pujols, since fired.

In the aftermath of Baker's departure, Giant General Manager Brian Sabean, who seldom makes a mistake, did not talk to Jim Fregosi or any other candidate.

He went straight to Alou, who spent 17 years in the majors, playing for the Giants from 1958 until 1963, a season in which he played one game in the same outfield with brothers Matty and Jesus.

Sabean talked about Alou's pedigree in a conference call with reporters and said, "He's a Giant at heart. He calls himself a baseball soldier in conversation, but he's more like baseball royalty to us."

Pedigree wasn't the entire reason, however, for Alou's hiring.

Colletti cited Alou's proven record handling younger and older players, Hispanics and all other nationalities, and said, "We're trying to get younger and stay competitive. We've averaged 90-plus wins for six straight years. We want to keep that momentum going while infusing younger players. We're not going to be force feeding, but no one has run a more extensive gamut of handling players of all ages and origins than Alou."

That perception -- "Felipe did a spectacular job in Montreal, not just a good job," Tracy said -- wasn't diluted or diminished, Colletti added, even if some of Alou's desire ultimately might have been amid the hapless circumstances in Montreal.

"We talked to a lot of people about Felipe," Colletti said. "Brian, who has great intuition, spent the last two days with him and is convinced the passion is still there. In every conversation I've had with him, in fact, Brian has been totally excited about his dialogue with Felipe."

If the Giants opted to dismiss the questions of passion and energy, it was only a year ago that the Boston Red Sox made a similar decision.

They offered Alou a one-year contract that he rejected because he wanted more than a year. It was also only four years ago that he actually accepted a Dodger offer to become manager before deciding he couldn't bail out on the Expos, leaving Kevin Malone to hire Davey Johnson.

The Giants, perhaps concerned that Barry Bonds might devour a young manager, have given Alou a two-year contract with a mutual option on a third year, and it is perhaps imperative, as many at the general manager meetings said, they support him with a young and strong coaching staff.

The memory of Alou mishandling the Detroit lineup card during an August game against the Angels in Anaheim is still fresh. Mike Scioscia twice lodged protests when the Tigers failed to bat according to the card, but the protests became academic when the Angels won, 5-4.

Said Tracy: "I see no reason why Felipe can't be the same manager he was when he was my mentor in Montreal."

Perhaps, but what kind of relationship will he and Bonds develop?

What kind of a team will the Giants have if Jeff Kent, David Bell, Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders are not re-signed, or they are not replaced with similar talents?

How would the talk shows and Bay Area fans respond to a poor start under Alou while the popular Baker is managing the Cubs in Chicago?

Can Alou light their fire? Can he light his own?



Oldest Managers

(Age when season starts in April).

*--* Manager Team Age FELIPE ALOU San Francisco 67 years, 11 months FRANK ROBINSON Montreal 67 years, eight months JOE TORRE New York Yankees 62 years, nine months BOBBY COX Atlanta 61 years, 11 months LOU PINIELLA Tampa Bay 59 years, eight months JIMY WILLIAMS Houston 59 years, six months TONY LA RUSSA St. Louis 58 years, six months LARRY BOWA Philadelphia 57 years, four months BUCK SHOWALTER Texas 56 years, 11 months ART HOWE New York Mets 56 years, four months


Note: The youngest manager is Eric Wedge of Cleveland, 35 years, three months.

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