Contributed by Richard Cuicchi
On September 13, 1963, brothers Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou made baseball history when they played in the same outfield for the San Francisco Giants. At the time, the occasion may have been a promotional gimmick by the Giants, since Matty and Jesus were at the beginning of their careers, surrounded by uncertainty they would be sticking around with the Giants much longer since they were competing for regular jobs with their older brother and future Hall of Famers, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Regardless, the feat hasn’t occurred again since.
As it turned out though, all three Alou brothers wound up having significant careers in the major leagues, altogether encompassing 47 seasons. Felipe and Matty became all-stars, Matty won a batting championship, and Jesus was a member of two World Series championship teams. Felipe also had a 10-year managerial career.
The Alous’ extended baseball family eventually included other major leaguers, nephew Mel Rojas and cousin Jose Sosa. Felipe had several sons who also played professional baseball, including Moises who became a major league all-star himself. Mel Rojas’s brother and son were minor leaguer players.
Following is a look back at the careers of the history-making Alou brothers.
Felipe began his baseball career with very humble beginnings. Born into a poor family in the Dominican Republic, gloves made out of strips of canvas and bats lathed from scrap wood were his first exposure to baseball. While he excelled in baseball and track as a youngster, it was his parents’ desire that become a doctor. In fact, he enrolled in the university for one year with his tuition paid by the state. But it soon became evident he would not have enough money for the books, clothing and food required to stay in school.
After attracting attention in the Pam American Games, the New York Giants signed him to a contract at age 20 and sent him to Lake Charles, Louisiana, in the Evangeline League. He immediately became controversial because this league did not allow black players at that time. His mother was a white native of Spain and his father was black. However, the Louisiana governor’s office declared he was black, forcing the Giants to ship him to the Florida State League after only five games at Lake Charles.
Felipe was the first of the three Alou brothers to play in the major leagues. Considered an everyday, consistent player, he played 17 total seasons, primarily with the Giants and Braves. He broke in with the Giants on June 8, 1958, their first year on the West Coast. It was at a time when Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda were getting all the attention on the club. However, Felipe hit .316 and a career-high 98 RBI for the NL pennant-winning Giants in 1962.
After being traded to Milwaukee in 1964, he led the National League in at-bats and hits in 1966 and 1968. He finished second in batting average to his brother Matty in 1966, the only time this happened in major league history. That same year, he hit a career-high 31 home runs. He appeared in the first League Championship Series in 1969, when Atlanta faced the New York Mets.
Felipe was often placed in the batting lineup as a leadoff hitter. On two occasions, July 26-27, 1965, and August 9-10, 1966, he hit leadoff home runs in consecutive games. He is among the career leaders in leadoff home runs with 20. He combined with four other Giants players to hit consecutive home runs in the 9th inning of a game on August 31, 1961. On another occasion, April 30, 1961, he hit one of eight homes in a game by Giants players against the Braves. In 1968 he had a 22-game hitting streak with the Braves.
At the end of the 1969 season, Felipe was traded to the Oakland Athletics and finished his career in the American League by 1974. During his career, he made the All-Star team three times. Felipe was one of only three players in history to play for the Milwaukee Braves and Brewers teams. Hank Aaron and Phil Roof were the others.
Felipe spent twelve years managing in the minor leagues, as well as many seasons of winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He became the first Dominican manager in the majors when he succeeded Tom Runnells of the Montreal Expos in May 1992. He had previously coached at every level in the Expos organization. Although he was noted for his low-key approach, his philosophy of managing was simple: “Don’t be afraid to fail. Play to win, don’t play not to lose.” His initial Montreal clubs included his son, Moises, and nephew, Mel Rojas.
Felipe resurrected the Expos franchise, finishing first or second in four of his first five seasons. He was selected the National League Manager of the Year in the strike-shortened season of 1994. He led a young Expos team to the best record in the majors that year, but unfortunately the team did not play in the post-season, because of the strike.
The Expos operated with a lean budget and as a result the players were consistently among the lowest paid in the league. Yet Alou was noted for being somewhat of a miracle worker by getting the most out the talent dealt him. However, with the Expos competing in the same division with the best National League team of the ‘90s, the Atlanta Braves, they could never rise above a mediocre status.
He became the manager of the San Francisco Giants for 2003 and promptly led them to a NL West Division title by winning 100 games, their most since 1993. He managed the Giants for three more seasons before becoming a special assistant to the Giants’ general manager.
During his playing career, Felipe compiled a .286 batting average, 2,101 hits, 985 runs, 206 home runs, and 852 RBI. He was a three-time All-Star and finished fifth in the National League MVP voting in 1966, when he had a career year leading the league in hits, runs, and total bases. As a manager, his career record was 1,033 wins and 1,021 losses.
In addition to major leaguer Moises Alou, Felipe had three other sons who played baseball professionally. Luis Rojas was signed by the Orioles. Jose Alou played in the Expos organization, while Felipe Alou Jr. played in the Royals organization. He also had another nephew, Francisco Rojas, who played in the major leagues.
Jesus was the youngest of the three Alou brothers who played in the major leagues. He was signed by the Giants as a 16-year-old and began his professional career in 1959 as a pitcher. He converted to an outfielder and made his major league debut on September 10, 1963, with the San Francisco Giants.
He played a total of six seasons with the Giants, hitting .298 and .292 in two of those seasons. Like his brother Matty, he was not known as a power hitter, with 9 home runs and 52 RBI in 1965 being his career best in each of those categories.
When the National League expanded after the 1968 season, Jesus was drafted by the Montreal Expos from the expansion player list, but they traded him to Houston for the 1969 season.
He played three full seasons and part of a fourth for the Astros, and then was traded to Oakland just in time to help them into the World Series in 1973. In 1974 as a reserve outfielder, he again appeared with Oakland in their third straight World Series. He played for the Mets in 1975, sat out for two years, and then completed his career with two more years at Houston. Beginning in 1972 he was frequently filling a pinch-hitter role and finished his career with 82 pinch-hits.
Jesus got six hits in a game on July 10, 1964, against the Cubs. Each of his hits came off a different pitcher. On July 17, 1966, he equaled a National League record when he grounded into a double play three times in the second game of a doubleheader.
For his career, he hit for a .280 average and produced 1,126 hits, 32 home runs and 377 RBI. When he got his 1,000th career hit with the Astros in 1972, it made the Alou brothers the only major league trio to get over 1,000 hits in their careers. In 1979, he was a coach for the Houston Astros.
Matty followed his older brother’s footsteps with the San Francisco Giants when he made his major league debut on September 26, 1960. He spent six seasons with the Giants as a reserve player, primarily because the Giants’ outfield was already crowded with such hitters as Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Harvey Kuenn, and his brothers.
Matty was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1965 season, and he immediately became a star as a full-time player. He led the National League in hitting (.342) in 1966, beating out his brother Felipe, who finished in second place. That year he was part of a .300-hitting outfield with Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente. Matty would go on to be among the top ten in his league in batting average and top five in hits for five more seasons. He is one of eight major league players who got 200 hits in a season (1970) and still batter under .300.
Following his five-year stint with the Pirates, he played with the Cardinals, A’s, Yankees and Padres, still managing to hit well.
Matty retired after the 1974 season with a .307 career batting average, 1,777 hits and 236 doubles. He had very little power, as he hit only 31 home runs and 427 RBI over fifteen seasons. In fact, in 1968 he went an entire season (558 at-bats) with no home runs.
Matty appeared in World Series games with the Giants in 1962 and Oakland A’s in 1972. He was a National League All-Star in 1968 and 1969. Following his major league career, he played three years for the Taiheiyo Club Lions in Japan.