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Published: Monday, 6/4/2001

Alou deserved more than a pink slip from Expos

Felipe Alou should have gone straight to Hollywood.

He would fit right in, you know. Laid-back and grandfatherly, just like Walter Alston, Alou would have mixed well with the white wine and brie crowd that shows up fashionably late for Los Angeles Dodgers games.

Instead, Alou, ridiculously loyal, rebuked the Dodgers and accepted a three-year contract extension to continue managing the Montreal Expos.

Alou remained with the Expos because he actually believed he could make a difference. Ownership told Alou he was needed to save baseball in Montreal and help get a new stadium built.

“I came back for a cause, and I'm still here for a cause, and it is the possible survival of baseball in the city,” Alou said in 1999 after choosing the Expos over the Dodgers.

Two years later, the Expos, stuck in the midst of another losing campaign, fired Alou, their one-time savior and goodwill ambassador.

One of the best managers in baseball, Alou deserved better.

If Alou gets another opportunity to manage, chances are it will be with the Boston Red Sox or Florida Marlins. Alou worked with Red Sox front-office boss Dan Duquette and Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski when both men were employed by the Expos.

If Alou never manages again, unless he feels like he has nothing left in his tank at age 66, baseball has some explaining to do.

Alou has earned the right to show what he can do with a team that's committed to winning. He never had that luxury in Montreal, and still finished with a career record right around .500.

Alou started every year with the Expos knowing they weren't going to spend money to add good players. That they would probably lose their best players to free agency.

Montreal is the only baseball team without a national or local television contract and no local English language radio broadcasts. There's been talk of the Expos leaving Canada for Charlotte or perhaps northern Virginia.

The Expos' ownership has consistently budgeted one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Out of necessity, Alou learned how to turn tap water into Perrier.

Respected St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa once said that if all major league teams had the same talent, Alou's team would win. Coming from La Russa, that's good enough for me.

In his 10 seasons with the Expos, Alou's teams posted four winning records, including two second-place finishes and one first-place finish during the strike year in 1994. That year Alou was named NL manager of the year.

Alou's '94 team could have been one of the best of all time but never got the chance to prove it in the postseason because of the lockout.

The Montreal lineup that year featured Marquis Grissom leading off and setting the table for Larry Walker and Moises Alou, Felipe's son. The ace of the staff was Pedro Martinez and the closer was John Wetteland.

Sadly, because of poor finanaces, the core of the team was splintered, traded for cheaper, less talented players no longer on the payroll.

Montreal bounced back with a second-place finish in 1996, but then suffered four consecutive fourth-place finishes. The Expos were in fifth place in the division when Alou was fired.

Alou's problem is time. Time ran out in Montreal. Four years shy of 70, time is running out, period.

He's earned the right, though, to manage again. Next year isn't soon enough.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.



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