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Alou Continues Moving Through Circle of Life

Giant manager has experienced more than most, but he vows that he'll continue working until the day he dies.

May 04, 2003|Janie McCauley | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Felipe Alou dialed his daughter to wish her a happy 16th birthday when the call became a counseling session: Valerie was crying hysterically over having to reschedule her driver's test.

Hours from an important game with San Francisco's NL West rival Los Angeles, Alou calmly assured her that having to wait longer before getting her license wouldn't be the worst thing to happen in her life. Yet he also understood that it was the toughest moment yet for his daughter.

The oldest manager in baseball -- he turns 68 on May 12 -- can offer plenty of perspective. He had great successes and failures as a player, lost a teenage son in an accident, saw three marriages end in divorce, and waited years for his first managing job only to have his best chance at winning destroyed by a labor dispute.

Now Alou is in charge of the same team on which he began his career, replacing the popular Dusty Baker as Giant manager.

Alou became the oldest manager to take over a club since the New York Mets lured Casey Stengel out of retirement at 71 in 1962.

Stengel lost 120 games with that expansion team. Alou has led the Giants to the best record in the NL after one month.

Though Alou admits to occasionally being a little tired, he has insisted since the day he took the job that he has the stamina for an entire season -- and, he hopes, deep into the playoffs.

"I'm here now, but the circle will never end," Alou said. "It only ends when we die. Unless you retire. I will never retire. Never. If I live to be 150 years old I will never retire. I know I might not get a job but I would not say 'I'm going to sit down in a rocking chair and I'm not going to fish anymore, not know what's going on in the world.' That will never happen.

"The day they put me in the box, then the circle's closed. I've known people that retired full of youth and energy and said 'OK, now I don't want to share anything with anybody, collect my paycheck and enjoy life for the next 35-40 years.' No, no, no. I enjoy life being active. Share it with people."

Alou is trying to lead San Francisco to the World Series title he believes he cost the Giants more than four decades ago. The franchise hasn't won it all since leaving New York after the 1957 season.

Alou failed to get down a bunt in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 Series that would have moved his brother Matty from first to second. The Giants lost the game, 1-0, and the Series to the New York Yankees. It ended when Willie McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third.

Alou, a three-time All-Star as a player, stresses the importance of fundamentals to this day. He had rarely been called upon to bunt before that.

"It hurts today, it still does," he said. "To me, that's the lowest point of my baseball career as a player or manager. It's a very small thing, but it didn't happen. That's why I like for players to understand how important it is to just lay down a harmless looking innocent bunt and get a guy over."

Alou calls himself "a soldier of this game," though soldier of life is more fitting. He smiles, and wrinkles show along his cheekbones and chin. He threw the javelin in the 1955 Pan American Games for the Dominican national team and would have competed in the 1956 Olympics had the Giants not signed him to a minor-league contract.

Those who know Alou admire his sincerity, and his lifelong commitment and humanistic approach to baseball. He was already taking care of future major leaguers as a boy -- looking after younger brothers Jesus and Matty. He nurtured many of today's superstars during his time in Montreal.

"He's a class act, what can you say?" said Yankee Manager Joe Torre, a teammate of Alou's in Atlanta. "The Xs and O's are all our own opinion. Felipe comes from the school that it's all about people. We tend to forget with how much money players get that they're human beings."

Alou was fired in Montreal during the 2001 season. His players found out through the Internet, before Alou was formally told.

But he has endured many more difficult chapters in life than losing a job.

He lost his first-born son, Felipe, in a swimming pool accident in 1976. The 15-year-old boy, the first of Alou's 11 children, dove into the shallow end and broke his neck. It took years for him to accept it.

"My kid, that was very tough, a tremendous blow," he said. "It took me 15 years until I could talk about him. At the beginning I didn't want anybody to remind me of my kid. I realized it was not a natural death, it was an accident. It's not like somebody killed him. It was not an airplane destroying a tower or a bomb falling on an innocent home. It was an accident."

In 1994, Alou lost his father, nine days before the end of his most successful season as a manager. Players went on strike that August, with Montreal leading the NL East by six games over Atlanta. Alou then returned to his native Dominican Republic to deal with family matters.

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