The Expos are starting to create some excitement in Montreal. As of Sunday les Expos were in second place in the National League East, five games behind the Pirates. The man most responsible for the team's recent success is Felipe Alou, the first Dominican to manage in the majors.
Alou, 57, has dazzled the league with his strategic wizardry, once even double-switching four times in a game to keep his pitcher from hitting. More important, he has brought a calm to a team that was playing scared under former manager Tom Runnells, who was fired on May 22 with a 17-20 record.
Runnells was a big proponent of team meetings. During a stretch when Montreal went 0-12 in night games this year, Runnells even called a meeting to discuss winning at night. "He worried about too many things in the clubhouse and off the field," says pitcher Ken Hill. "We had a curfew at home in Montreal. Can you see telling Gary Carter what time he has to be in his house?"
Alou has a more relaxed approach. "When Felipe took over," says right-fielder Larry Walker, "he told us, 'I know there have been lots of rules. We'll get rid of some of them, like the curfew, because I know I broke that one a lot myself.' "
Second baseman Delino DeShields, who was hitting .308 at week's end and .335 since Alou took over, has thriven under his new manager. The difference between the two managers has been "like night and day," DeShields says. "He's bringing out the potential in guys by using them properly and showing a lot of patience. The best thing he has done for me is leave me alone."
Yet everyone on the team knows Alou is the boss. This is, after all, the same man who, when he was managing in winter ball, once suspended his own brother for part of a season. It happened in 1981 when Alou got into an argument with one of his players, Pedro Guerrero. Alou's brother Jesus, a player-coach on the team, tried to intercede with Felipe on Guerrero's behalf. "I saw it as an act of insubordination," says Felipe, "so I put him off the team. It hurt both of us. It still hurts my parents. But all's forgiven. I had to do it, or I would have lost the team."
Alou has an equally firm grip on the Expos, including his son Moises, an outfielder. Moises responded to his father's managing with his best streak as a major leaguer before going on the disabled list on July 7 with a hamstring injury. "I've managed for 30 seasons—including winter ball seasons—everywhere in the Western Hemisphere," says Felipe, who also played in the major leagues for 17 years. "I've managed more games than almost any manager in the game. No one can out-manage me. I don't think I'm going to see anything new up here. If I had to be a pilot or drive a race car—things I cannot do—I would worry. But I don't worry when I put the uniform on. I'm not going to make many mistakes. I'm not dumb."
Alou, in fact, once planned to be a doctor but gave up that dream because his parents couldn't afford to send him through school. He studied medicine for one year at the University of Santo Domingo before signing a contract with the Giants in 1956. His brothers, Jesus and Matty, also played with the Giants.
Montreal is glad to have Felipe now. In addition to Spanish, he speaks English and some French. He's a fan favorite and a favorite of the players, most of whom played for him somewhere during his 12 years in Montreal's minor league system or in winter ball. "My first meeting with the team, I talked about relaxing," says Alou. "When you're afraid of losing, you don't show your best stuff. I don't know why, but this team had a fear of losses. We're working to eradicate it."
Debunking an Old Myth
The American League pitching staff for last week's All-Star Game featured a number of hard throwers, including Texas's Kevin Brown (box, page 58), Boston's Roger Clemens, Toronto's Juan Guzman, California's Mark Langston and Chicago's Jack McDowell. The National League countered with more of a finesse staff, including Atlanta's Tom Glavine, Houston's Doug Jones and St. Louis's Bob Tewksbury. All three of those National League soft tossers got shelled in the American League's 13-6 triumph. So much for the widespread perception that the National League is full of fireballers who constantly challenge hitters, while the American League is loaded with slop-ballers who nibble incessantly and throw mostly changeups. Just about everyone who has switched leagues in recent years agrees that the pitching is the same in the two leagues.
"It's a myth" that National League pitchers throw harder, says Blue Jay All-Star Joe Carter, who played for the Padres in 1990. "That may have been true back in the days of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and J.R. Richard, but not anymore. When I went to the National League, people told me it was a fastball league. Yeah, right. You don't even see fastballs on 2 and oh, 3 and 1. There are as many breaking-ball pitchers in the National League as in the American League."
Carter's opinion is shared by Mets hitting instructor Tom McCraw, an American League player and coach for 21 years, who is back in the National League this season for the first time since 1985. "I've seen more breaking balls and changeups this year than I saw in the other league," says McCraw. "They say pitchers challenge you here, but I haven't seen it."
Pitcher Bud Black, who played in the American League for 10 years before joining the Giants in 1991, had heard all about the big difference between the two leagues. "It's ridiculous," says Black. "Who says that? Old National League guys, right? I hear that all the time. When I came to this league, I thought I had a pretty good changeup. Now, I'm way down the list. You've got [Tom] Browning, Glavine, [Bruce] Hurst, [Randy] Tomlin and Zane Smith—and those are just the lefthanders."
Many baseball people think the National League's transition from a power-pitching league to more of an off-speed-pitching league was probably spurred by the success of John Tudor and Bob Ojeda, two former Red Sox junk-ballers. Tudor, who came over to the National League in 1984, anchored the Cardinals' staff when St. Louis won the pennant in 1987. Ojeda joined the Mets in '86 and was one of the big reasons why they won the World Series that year.
Doug Jones laughs at the notion that the pitching is different in the two leagues. "How many consistent 90-mile-per-hour throwers are there in baseball?" he says. "You can count them on two hands. After they made an out, guys used to yell, 'Come on, be a man, challenge me!' I'd say, 'Hit the ball like a man, and I'll throw it like a man.' "
Lost and Found
Comeback player of the year? The Giants' Cory Snyder is among the leading candidates. He is "our MVP," says San Francisco manager Roger Craig.
Through Sunday, Snyder was batting .287 with nine homers and 37 RBIs, and he had started games at first base, third base and all three outfield positions. Last year Snyder hit .175 with three homers in 71 games for the White Sox and the Blue Jays. Afterward Snyder was jobless, his swing was a mess, and questions had been raised about his willingness to work with hitting coaches. An '84 Olympian and one of the hottest young players in baseball from 1986 to '88, Snyder was thought by many observers to be washed up at age 29.
"I was scared," he says. "Baseball means everything to me. I had one bad year and no one wanted me. But I knew I was still good."
He built a batting cage in the backyard of his home in Laguna Hills, Calif. He had a highlight tape made of his '88 season, when he hit .272 with 26 homers for the Indians. Says Snyder, "Starting on December 1, I got up at nine every morning, popped in the tape for 15 or 20 minutes, then hit for an hour or hour and a half. I didn't do anything the rest of the day, and then just before dark, I hit some more."
San Francisco brought him to spring training as a nonroster invitee. With help from hitting coach Dusty Baker, Snyder found his old swing and learned how to relax. It has been suggested that some of Snyder's difficulties with the bat began when he tried to change his swing at the urging of Walt Hriniak, the White Sox batting coach. Others have hinted that Snyder's father, Jim, who was his Little League coach, was too involved in his son's career, giving him batting tips that ran counter to what Snyder's hitting instructors were telling him. Snyder denies that. He says his father never offered hitting advice after he turned pro in 1985.
"He gave me moral support, he still does," says Snyder. "He loves me. He taught me the game. When I was struggling, my father was struggling with me."
Tiger first baseman Cecil Fielder says he will definitely file for free agency after next season unless the team is sold and the new owners have a "fired-up outlook and might change some things." The club is apparently close to being sold by Domino's Pizza baron Tom Monaghan, who is reportedly in serious negotiations with Mike Hitch, owner of the Little Caesars pizza chain and the Detroit Red Wings....
How bad are the Phillies? They're the only team that has had a losing record at every All-Star break since 1984. This year they had the worst record in the league. Philadelphia infielder Wally Backman is fed up with losing. "I've seen more injuries here than in my entire career," he said. "I've seen some injuries that I don't think are injuries."
...Chalk up another victory for the nearly unbeatable Major League Players Association. It successfully fought the new draft rule that would have bound high school players for five years to the teams that selected them in the June draft—not for just one year, as was previously the case. Arbitrator George Nicolau struck down the rule last week, saying that because teams signing premium free agents lose a draft choice, the owners could not increase the value of draft picks without the consent of the players' union.
Between The Lines
Don't Walk on Walker
The Expos' Larry Walker, who may have the best arm of any rightfielder in baseball, says he threw out five pitchers at first base on one-hop liners to right when he was in the minors. In an exhibition game this spring he threw out Toronto's Jimmy Key. On July 4 he gunned down Padres shortstop Tony Fernandez—"my first position player," Walker says—the game's leadoff batter. "The night before, we could have had him also, but Archi [Cianfrocco, Montreal's first baseman] didn't cover first," says Walker. "The next night Tim Wallach was at first, so I told him five minutes before the game that if it happens again, I'm throwing. Eight minutes later, it happened."
A Monkey off Two Backs
Only three pitchers in history have finished a winless season with 12 or more decisions: Terry Felton, 1982 Twins (0-13); Steve Gerkin, '45 A's (0-12); and Russ Miller, '28 Phillies (0-12). It looked as if Philadelphia's Kyle Abbott would be joining them, but after 11 losses, Abbott won for the first time this season, going 5⅖ innings in a 14—3 defeat of the Dodgers last Saturday. The 14 runs were one more than the Phillies had scored all told in Abbott's last seven defeats. "It was a relief for him, and me," said Philadelphia pitcher Curt Schilling. "I was the only reliever to blow one of his games."
Names in the News
The following players are all on the roster of the Gulf Coast Expos, the Expos' rookie league team: Antonio Alfonseca, Nilson Carbajal, Israel Alcantara, Khary Heidelberg, Dalphie Correa, Roosevelt Hurtault, Ramsey Koeyers and Jason Thorsteinson.
By the Numbers
•Who would ever have thought that at the All-Star break Padres pitcher Bruce Hurst would have as many doubles (two) as Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell; that Oriole designated hitter Sam Horn would have more triples (one) than Oakland's Rickey Henderson or Milwaukee's Robin Yount; or that the Mariners' Omar Vizquel would be hitting 55 points higher than Boston's Wade Boggs (.318 to .263)?
•When Braves infielder Jeff Blauser hit three homers at Wrigley Field on July 12, he joined Ernie Banks, Barry Larkin and Fred Patek as the only shortstops ever to get three home runs in one game.