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With Alou axed, will Red Sox go after him?
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
It was late last April that Felipe Alou realized he was trapped. He was sitting in the visiting manager's office in Pac Bell Park on a Sunday morning, and conceded that $2 million or no $2 million, he knew his decision to stay in Montreal doomed him to finishing his managerial career in mediocrity.
When Alou decided not to take an offer to manage the Dodgers, he was told he was needed to save baseball in Montreal and get a ballpark built. Once ownership changed, he was promised the team would spend money and add veteran players who would help the secondary school program he'd administered for so many years. But by the end of that April, he realized that the ex-Yankees they'd acquired amounted to a left-handed reliever (Graeme Lloyd) who had yet to throw a pitch and a Oliver Hardyesque pitcher (Hideki Irabu) who couldn't get 15 outs a start. And that that was going to be it.
He knew then -- as many of us knew then -- that it was inevitable that owner Jeffrey Loria's good friend Jeff Torborg would eventually take over. Just as it's now inevitable that general manager Jim Beattie will be replaced by the de facto general manager Mike Berger, Loria's friend from their days when Loria owned the Oklahoma City 89ers and Berger was his GM.
This is Loria's right as owner. But by waiting so long to get his team in place, he left Alou hanging for more than a year. While Tony La Russa still maintains that "if all 30 teams have equal talent, Felipe wins," several other managers felt that the distinguished 66-year-old Alou had lost some of his passion because he knew it was hopeless. "I now look at myself and think I am a failure," he said that Sunday morning. "I stayed in Montreal to save baseball and get a new ballpark, and that's not going to happen. How can I look my friends in the face? They told me I was crazy not to take the Los Angeles job, and I told them why I stayed. Now they were right."
As everyone in Expos organization knows, while Beattie takes the blame, he does not have final say on decisions, especially trades. At the winter meetings following the 1999 season, as Loria and friends took over, Beattie had a deal with Milwaukee for Jeff Cirillo. Problem is, some of Loria's advisors thought the trade should be more one-sided, it got delayed, and the Rockies' Dan O'Dowd swept in and pulled off a four-way swap to get Cirillo. And there are a more stories like that, right down to the invisible power forcing the trade of Rondell White for Scott Downs last season.
Alou should have known what was happening when Loria's group decided not to re-hire one of Felipe's most trusted coaches, Tommy Harper, who Alou called "the most valuable coach in baseball." Then in the middle of last season they fired Luis Pujols -- Alou's closest ally -- and pitching coach Bobby Cuellar, a Beattie man. Cuellar was replaced by Brad Arnsberg, part of the Oklahoma City connection. Farm director Don Reynolds was moved to pro scout and replaced by Berger's friend Tony LaCava. "Felipe then realized where the power lay," says a managerial friend of Alou's.
Indeed: Berger, Arnsberg, coach Perry Hill, eventually Torborg and LaCava. "If the money issue could have been worked out last year, between buying out Alou and the three-year deal Torborg sought, it would have been done at the All-Star break," says one person close to the situation.
What happens now? The Expos have been trying to deal Ugueth Urbina and that may happen. If and when Beattie is ousted, Milton Bradley will be gone. But while they talk about this being a situation similar to the one that Alou inherited in '92 -- a team that two years later was the best in baseball when the strike hit -- it is far different. This one is very thin on talent. Worse, by firing Pujols and axing Wilton Guerrero, Vladimir Guerrero has become lonely and disenfranchised, hence his mediocre season. What will it be like for Vladimir with Felipe gone?
Will the Red Sox go after Alou?
Many of Alou's friends say he is tired and would like to go fishing. But he is a fiercely proud and competitive man who has no regard for the people who fired him and may want to get that one last chance to win. Boston may offer that. It was Dan Duquette, as Expos GM, who gave Alou his first major-league managerial job. While Duquette had his eye on Kevin Kennedy as his longterm manager, Alou not only won but appreciated the fact that after being buried by the Dave Dombrowski organization ("the thought of being bypassed for Tom Runnells left a sour taste for years," says one former coach), Duquette gave him his opportunity.
The Red Sox were a half-game behind the Yankees when Alou got fired despite an everyday lineup that features three just players -- Manny Ramirez, Carl Everett, Jason Varitek -- that would start for the Brewers, but the strains between Duquette and Jimy Williams are so obvious that players talk about it.
Two of the Red Sox coaches, Harper and Joe Kerrigan, worked for Alou in Montreal. A third, Nelson Norman, has known Alou most of his life. Alou is Pedro Martinez's idol. There is a sizeable Dominican contingent on the Red Sox -- Martinez, Ramirez, Jose Offerman (whom Alou named to the '95 All-Star team), Hipolito Pichardo, Izzy Alcantara -- as well as two other Hispanics (Rich Garces, Rolando Arrojo).
One of Duquette's building concepts was to try to make the Red Sox the U.S. presence in the Dominican Republic, the greatest baseball country in the world. Pedro was a huge step. Alou would be another huge step to making the Red Sox the Dominican's team.
Duquette wants to win this year, as his contract is up after the three-year extension he agreed on with John Harrington was changed by lawyers to a two-year deal with a buyout for any new owner -- a change Duquette has refused. It could be Harrington's last hurrah. Problem is: would Alou be limited to a one-year deal? And would he take it?
Jeffrey Loria has spent a lot of money to try to save baseball in Montreal, and once he sends Beattie, and his assistant Fred Ferreira, packing, he will have the organization in place to make his money work. Harrington is spending a lot of other people's money to try to win in the last year of the Yawkey ownership, and anyone who knows Dan Duquette thinks he would like to have Alou dealing with Carl Everett and Izzy and trying to make the Yawkey money work.
Firing Williams isn't as easy as it seems. No managerial firing is. Royals GM Allard Baird is going to trade Jermaine Dye and some veterans, but he isn't going to fire Tony Muser unless ownership so orders. Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker has to decide about Larry Dierker, although there are indications that the only reason Dierker is still there is that owner Drayton McLane hates to pay someone not to work.
Houston needs to win, however. So does Boston. One AL manager Thursday said, "Jimy Williams has done the best job managing the last three years of anyone in this league." Fine. But Williams' boss doesn't think so. La Russa says Alou is the best he's ever managed against, but it didn't matter because his owner didn't think so.
Some suggest that Alou doesn't know what it's like to manage in a baseball-mad city with a media that second-guesses anything and everything, but he also looks at it as being a whole lot better than managing in front of 4,673 people and knowing that they're trying to auction off his closer. That is all guesswork.
What isn't guesswork is that a very nice man named Jeff Torborg has no idea what he's getting into. None whatsoever. Let's check back on that friendship in a few months.
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