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Alou pays price for his loyalty

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 3, 2001


It was a miscalculation on Felipe Alou's part that caused his dismissal as Expos manager Thursday. He mistakenly believed in loyalty.

Before the 1999 season, Alou had a chance to leave behind low-budget constraints in Montreal to go to Los Angeles, where he would inherit an instant contender with the Dodgers.

Except, Alou could not bring himself to abandon the Expos. Officials in Montreal convinced him that baseball already was in trouble in Quebec and that losing a wildly popular manager would do irreparable harm. Alou was needed, they said, to generate support for a much-needed downtown stadium.

Two years later, the stadium is a mirage, the team appears headed out of town and Alou is out of work.

Now, there is no reason to pity Alou. He did, after all, get a three-year, $6-million contract to remain in Montreal. But he most certainly deserved a better farewell than he was given.

The winningest manager in Expos history found out he was being fired when he read it in a newspaper.

The news apparently had been leaked by Mets manager Bobby Valentine. It seems Valentine submitted Alou's name as a coach for the All-Star Game. When Expos officials got wind, they informed the league that Alou might be fired. The news found its way to media in New York before it got to Alou in Montreal.

So after 28 years with the same organization, Alou's farewell arrived hours late and was remarkably graceless. His last two home games as manager were viewed by 9,478 in Montreal. That is 9,478 fans combined.

It eventually may turn out that Alou, 66, finally gets a chance to manage a big-budget team. His name already is flying in Boston, where fans and management inexplicably fail to appreciate the job Jimy Williams has done.

Boston general manager Dan Duquette hired Alou as the manager in Montreal. Boston pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and first-base coach Tommy Harper worked with Alou in Montreal. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez is one of Alou's biggest supporters and, along with Manny Ramirez, is a Dominican native like Alou.

As for Montreal, this could be the end of the road. Alou may have been the most popular man in a baseball uniform in a city ambivalent about the sport.

Owner Jeffrey Loria has been busy buying out minority shares in the team and baseball finally may be ready to carry through on a relocation threat to convince other cities of the need for quality stadiums.

"I'm sure that when Felipe goes," said Martinez, who won his first Cy Young Award with the Expos, "half of the fans that have been showing up to the games, they're going to go too."

CLOSING TIME: Ryan Kohlmeier came out of nowhere last season to convert 13 of 14 save opportunities for Baltimore. He appears on his way back to nowhere this season. Even when Kohlmeier was going well last season there was some skepticism because he allowed 45 baserunners in 26 innings. Now he has a 7.50 ERA, has given up six home runs in 18 innings and has lost his closer's job.

MADE IN JAPAN: Here is something for AL West teams to fret about: Kazuo Matsui, a five-time All-Star shortstop and former MVP, has expressed interest in leaving Japan and joining the Mariners. His contract does not allow Matsui, 25, to leave Japan until after 2002, giving the AL a little more time to digest a possible Seattle lineup with Ichiro Suzuki and Matsui.

SUMMER WAKEUP CALL: It was not just the .248 batting average that convinced the Rangers to send centerfielder Ruben Mateo to Triple A last week. It was Mateo's seeming lack of interest in improving his game. Blessed with tremendous potential, the 23-year-old heads back to the minors for the first time in two years. "If this doesn't wake him up, nothing will," said Texas third-base coach Bobby Jones, who managed Mateo in the minors. "He's got all the talent. He's got the highest ceiling you can imagine. But he has to do it."

PERFECT EXPLANATION: Give Curt Schilling credit. While others in Arizona were vilifying Padres catcher Ben Davis for breaking up Schilling's perfect game in the eighth inning with a bunt single, the right-hander refused to criticize. Schilling, unlike Arizona manager Bob Brenly, took into account that the score was 2-0 and the Padres were fighting for first place in the NL West. "I think it was a bad move only because I was pitching," Schilling said. "Because I don't think it's right doesn't mean I'm right."

TOUGH CROWD: One of the popular theories in Chicago is that the White Sox goofed by signing shortstop Royce Clayton and moving Jose Valentin to a centerfield/utility role. It hasn't helped that Clayton has been possibly the worst hitter in the majors. Clayton had a .099 batting average Tuesday when he lined a meaningless, two-out single in the ninth. The Comiskey Park crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted "MVP, MVP."

LAST WORD: Tony Gwynn is stumping to become the new baseball coach at his alma mater, San Diego State. Asked what advantage he might have over other candidates, Gwynn replied, "Three thousand hits."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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