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Forget Me Not Highly productive yet oft-slighted Moises Alou takes good and bad memories to heart but stays focused on being one of the game's best hitters

June 18, 2001
June 18, 2001

Table of Contents
June 18, 2001

Stanley Cup

Forget Me Not Highly productive yet oft-slighted Moises Alou takes good and bad memories to heart but stays focused on being one of the game's best hitters

He shall have a noble memory.
--WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Coriolanus

This is an article from the June 18, 2001 issue

Click. Moises Alou has just taken a picture. It's 8:30 a.m. on
May 31. He's asleep in room 512 of the Hyatt Regency San Diego,
comfy and serene and--brring! Hola? On the phone is a reporter
from The Gazette of Montreal. He wants to know what Moises thinks
of the firing. Firing? "Your dad," says the reporter. "Felipe
Alou has been fired as manager of the Expos. What do you have to
say?"

Click. Moises Alou has just taken a picture. It's of the Florida
Marlins' clubhouse immediately following Game 7 of the 1997 World
Series. Righthander Livan Hernandez is being presented with the
Series MVP trophy. Alou had battered the Cleveland Indians,
hitting .321 with three homers and nine RBIs. Hernandez had won
two games but finished with a 5.27 ERA. So who was really more
valuable?

Click. Moises Alou has just taken a picture. He's a 12-year-old
Dominican, visiting Santo Domingo's Hipodromo Perla Antillana
racetrack for the first time. Feel the hay. Smell the manure.
Look at the horses. Check out the speed and the power and the
grace.

Click. Moises Alou has just taken a picture. And another picture.
And another. His eyes are Kodak Instamatics, his brain a
limitless photo album. Click. Alou remembers that he hit his
first big league home run, as an Expo, on May 27, 1992. It was
against the Houston Astros and came on a Mark Portugal fastball,
waist-high and slightly outside. Click. Alou remembers the first
time he saw Austria, his wife of 12 years. They were juniors at
Centro Especializado de Esenanza High in the Dominican. She was
standing there in the hallway, beautiful. Click. Alou remembers
nearly every name and every date, every friend and every bully,
every jolt of elation and every dagger of pain. There are things
Alou wants to forget but can't. In Norse mythology the god Odin
was blessed and cursed by his quest for information. It enabled
him to create great works, yet also tortured him with
foreknowledge of his death. So it goes with Alou and his
memories.

In his 11th major league season and his fourth with Houston, the
Astros rightfielder is one of the best--yet most
overlooked--righthanded hitters of his generation. At week's end
his .305 lifetime average ranked 13th among active players with
more than 3,000 plate appearances. Over the last three seasons in
which he played (Alou missed 1999 because of injuries), he
averaged 118 RBIs. His success in pressure situations--a career
.358 batting average with the bases loaded, .323 with runners in
scoring position--speaks for itself.

In the 11th inning of last Friday night's game at The Ballpark in
Arlington, with the score tied at 4, Alou, in the lineup as the
designated hitter because of a strained left quadriceps, led off
against Texas Rangers righthanded reliever Tim Crabtree. After
taking the first pitch for a ball, Alou swung at Crabtree's next
offering, a fastball, and sent it 398 feet over the right
centerfield fence, giving him three hits for the game and driving
in the deciding run in a 5-4 win. For the three-game weekend
series, Alou went 6 for 12 and lifted his average to .361, second
in the National League, which, with his nine home runs and 39
RBIs, makes him his team's top All-Star candidate.

"I have succeeded as an offensive player for one main reason: I
remember," says Alou, 34, who missed the first 12 games of the
season with a strained right calf. "I remember how a guy pitched
me five years ago and how he pitched me two years ago. It's the
secret to a lot of hitters' success. You can analyze a player's
stance and work habits, but his memory--that's the key. I have a
great memory."

"He's probably the best fastball hitter in the league," says St.
Louis Cardinals righthander Matt Morris. "He crowds the plate,
and he's quiet with his movements. Right when you think you can
sneak one by him, he's quick enough to get it."

Study Alou's face, and you will learn nothing. Is Alou happy? Is
Alou mad? For those answers you might have to ask around the
Astros' clubhouse. "I don't think aloof is the right word to
describe Mo," says manager Larry Dierker, "but it's close."

In their 3 1/2 years together in Houston, Alou and Dierker have
had few lengthy chats. Before games Alou sits silently by his
locker, in white briefs and a black T-shirt. The shirt says
WHAT'S UP on the front and SKANK HO on the back. Is that a joke
or, like BEWARE OF THE VICIOUS DOG, a warning? You are told, by
more than one person, that Alou is moody and stubborn and tough
and, at times, an arrogant pain in the butt. You are also told
that Alou is witty, open-minded and intelligent. "Guarded is a
good description," says Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell. "If he
doesn't know you, Mo can be very guarded."

This, too, is a result of his memories. The bad ones--the ones
that, for most people, fade over time--remain vivid. Alou's
career, while splendid in myriad ways, has also been filled with
unforgettable disappointments: The nine trips to the disabled
list with injuries that have taken away his speed and weakened
his throwing arm. The dissolution, for financial reasons, of the
two best teams he has played for, the 1994 Expos and the '97
Marlins. The '94 All-Star Game, in which he drove in the winning
run in the bottom of the 10th, yet MVP honors went to the Atlanta
Braves' Fred McGriff, who had tied the game in the ninth with a
two-run homer. That '97 World Series MVP snub. The heartbreaking
trade from the Marlins, with whom he had signed as a free agent
after the '96 season, to the Astros. The slight by the Houston
media following the '98 season, when Alou's numbers (.312, 38
homers, 124 RBIs) were good enough to place him third, behind
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, in National League MVP voting, yet
the beat reporters voted second baseman Craig Biggio (.325, 20,
88, with 50 stolen bases) team MVP.

"I think I have always been overlooked," says Alou. "Maybe I've
been on teams that have had better players than I am, but I've
never felt that way. I blame some of [the lack of recognition] on
myself. I'm a moody person, and that turns people off. I try not
to care, but I'm human, too. "

Click. One big image, made up of many small ones, leaves the
deepest scar. In February 1999, just before he was to report to
the Astros' spring training site in Kissimmee, Fla., Alou tore
his left anterior cruciate ligament when he tripped and fell on a
treadmill at a gym near his house in Santo Domingo. Despite the
prognosis that he'd be out for the season, Alou worked diligently
in hope of returning in time to help his team win the pennant.
Then in August, at home in Houston 10 days before he was to
return, Alou reinjured the knee when, while playing with Percio,
the middle of his and Austria's three sons, he fell off a
bicycle. A crushed Alou stayed home in Florida rather than attend
the Division Series against the Braves. (Houston was eliminated
in four games.) It is not the lost season that stings Alou so
much as the negative reaction to his absence from the playoffs.
Houston general manager Gerry Hunsicker questioned whether Alou
should have been riding that bike. The Houston media ripped him.
Several once-supportive teammates found Alou's absence
inexcusable.

Partly as a result, last year Houston nearly traded Alou to the
New York Yankees. Armed with a no-trade clause, Alou shot down
the deal, which he calls "insulting." Says Bagwell, Alou's
closest friend on the team: "It was all b-------. I don't give a
s--- if he hurt himself running out a grounder or Jetskiing
barefoot. He worked hard to come back. Other guys get hurt and
there's sympathy. Mo got hurt, and people questioned his desire.
Nobody should question Mo. Look at his impact here."

In Bagwell's eyes, that clout goes beyond batting average and
clutch hitting. Alou might not be the most affable man in the
clubhouse, but his presence--"an aura of pride and respect," says
Dierker--carries weight. Perhaps his contribution can best be
measured in the success of second-year outfielder Lance Berkman,
who attributes his stellar numbers (.332, 14 homers, 43 RBIs at
week's end) to Alou's generously sharing his knowledge of
pitchers' tendencies and to having Alou, who bats fifth in the
lineup, hitting behind him. "Nobody would walk me to pitch to
Moises," Berkman says. "If I can get ahead in the count, say 2
and 1 or 3 and 1, I'm guaranteed a fastball, because nobody wants
to screw around with Moises with a man on base."

Although Hunsicker and Astros owner Drayton McLane say all the
right things, the chances are slim that Alou will return to
budget-conscious Houston, where the young, power-laden outfield
trio of Berkman, 25, Richard Hidalgo, 25, and Daryle Ward, 25,
comes cheap. Alou is in the final year of a five-year, $25
million contract, and will probably get an offer in the $10
million-plus-per-year range as a free agent. He plans to play
three more seasons before retiring to his five-bedroom Santo
Domingo home, near to where his latest passion beckons.

In 1996 one of Austria's uncles took him to Hipodromo V
Centenario, a new racetrack in Santo Domingo. It was his first
racetrack experience since boyhood. Click. "When I saw the
horses, they looked so athletic and strong," he says. "I was
hooked." Alou is now the owner of All-Star Stable and its 35
racehorses, with names like Baggy, Biggio 7 and The Real MVP.
(Think Alou's not bitter?) "A lot of guys love to golf; a lot of
guys love to fish," says Alou. "I like to go to the track. It's
not the money that's exciting. It's seeing the races, watching
the horses, the feeling of being in the winner's circle."

It is during the off-season that Alou is happiest. He wakes at 5
a.m. and heads to his stable. Except for Tuesdays and Thursdays
(race days at Hipodromo V Centenario), Alou picks up his oldest
son, nine-year-old Moises Jr., from elementary school--a
father-son moment Moises Sr. never experienced as a boy. Although
he and Felipe were united in Montreal for five years beginning in
1992 (Moises was a rookie and Felipe the Expos' manager), theirs
was not a close relationship. Click. Felipe Alou and Maria Beltre
divorced when Moises was two. Although proud to be the son of the
major leaguer, Moises would only see his baseball-playing father
four or five times a year.

Now, when he is home, Moises rides bikes and climbs trees with
his children, and he spoils them rotten. He flies in Austria and
the kids from the Dominican Republic for spring training, with
annual trips to Disney World and SeaWorld. This week they are
arriving in Houston and will stay until school begins in the
fall. "When we had our first child, Moises didn't know how to be
a dad, because his father was never around," says Austria. "Now
he takes fatherhood like a full-time job. He wants the boys to
feel special around him."

Click. Alou also wants to feel special around Felipe. Although
they occasionally clashed when Moises was an Expo--"It was
sometimes hard," says Moises, "playing for my dad and getting to
know him for the first time"--the two are now in touch on a
regular basis. After hanging up with the Gazette reporter on May
31, Moises dialed his father's cell phone number. The two spoke
for 10 minutes, Moises more upset than Felipe. "My dad deserves
better than the Expos," he says. "Everyone knows Felipe Alou is
one of the greatest managers in the world. He'll be managing
somewhere next year, and maybe I'll be playing for him." Alou's
poker face breaks into a smile. "Winning a World Series
together," he says, "it'd be a beautiful thing."

Click. Some memories are truly worth waiting for.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANSCOLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH

Like many of his teammates, Astros rightfielder Moises Alou
(left) has thrived at cozy Enron Field since it opened at the
beginning of last season, hitting .354 there through Sunday.
However, he has hit even better away from Enron over the same
period. Here are baseball's best batters on the road since the
start of the 2000 season (minimum 300 at bats).

PLAYER, TEAM(S) AB HITS AVG.
Manny Ramirez, Indians-Red Sox 337 123 .365
Moises Alou, Astros 332 119 .358
Mike Sweeney, Royals 421 148 .352
Phil Nevin, Padres 394 134 .340
Sean Casey, Reds 350 119 .340
Alex Rodriguez, Mariners-Rangers 406 138 .340
Edgar Martinez, Mariners 401 136 .339
Vladimir Guerrero, Expos 394 133 .338
Roberto Alomar, Indians 424 143 .337
John Olerud, Mariners 385 129 .335

Source: Elias Sports Bureau

"I have succeeded as an offensive player for one main reason,"
says Alou. "I remember."