BASEBALL Matty Alou 12/22/1938-11/3/2011

Matty Alou passed away 11/3/2011 at the age of 72 from an unspecified illness.

Matty Alou was one of the main ballplayers of my youth. He played centerfield in the wondrous outfields of the Pittsburgh Pirates of my youth.  Along with Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente in right and Willie Stargell in left they offered defense, contact hitting, extra base power and home run power.  They were aided and abetted by 4th. outfielder and pinch hitter par excellence Manny Mota.

Matty Alou was signed by the N.Y. Giants  in 1957  just after Ozzie Virgil; Sr. made his debut for the N. Y. Giants in 1956 as baseball’s first Dominican player.  Matty made his debut for the Giants in 1960 and stuck with the big club for good in 1961.

From 1961 until 1965 he was a sub as the Giants had a guy named Mays in center in and older brother Felipe in left.  At this point Matty was best known for appearing with Felipe and younger brother Jesus in the All-Alou outfield on 9/15/1963.

On 12/1/1965 Matty Alou was traded to the Pirates for submarine style reliever Joe Gibbon and Ozzie Virgil Sr.

In 1966 Alou replaced centerfield stalwart Bill Virdon.

Alou became a disciple of Pirate manager Harry “the Hat” Walker.  Walker advocated choking up on a heavy bat and swinging down on the ball so as to exploit the rock hard slag infield of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.

Alou lead the N.L. in hitting his first year with the Pirates  with a .342 BA, surely a good mark in any era and all the more impressive given the N.L’s .256 hitting. Alou followed that up with a .338 in 1967 in an N.L. that hit .249.  1968 was yet another metronomic year as Alou garnered a .331 mark in a .243 league.

To be sure Matty wasn’t one to take a free pass as his OBP never rose above the .373 of 1966.  However these numbers were gained during the ERA era of 1963-1968 when the strike zone was shoulder to knee and the mound was 15′ high.  Hurlers such as Gibson, Drysdale and Bunning hurled head-high fastballs with impunity at batters wearing tiny helmets and bare hands.

During Alou’s Pirate years from 1966 and 1970 Alou never struck out more than 44 times he whiffed in 1966.

In 1968 Alou kept up the pace with a .332 mark in a .243 league.

Alou’s 1969 TOPPS card is instructive.  The card displays Alou wielding what appears to be a cylindrical boat oar with about 2′ inches showing between the bottom hand and the knob. 

Oh, for the days of the choke-up hitter.

My memory of Alou is that he could square away for a bunt and then swing from the bunt stance.  I probably saw this once or twice during his Pirate years and once during his sole campaign with the Yankees in 1973.

To this young fan’s mind it seemed as though he did it all of the time as my analog mind had just begun storing images for recollection.

In 1969 the mound was lowered to 10′ and the strike shrunk.  Alou hit .331, pounding out 231 hits with 41 doubles among them to lead the N.L. in those categories.

I n 1970 the Pirates won the N.L. East and ascended to the perennial contender status they would claim for the 70’s.  Matty slipped to .297.  The Pirates of the 70’s outfielders aplenty with Clemente, Stargell  and Al Oliver being moved to centerfield so as to make way for Bob Robertson at 1st.   Not to mention Gene Clines, and Johnny Jeter competing for CF innings.

 Alou was traded to St. Louis along with the well traveled George Brunet for Nelson Briles and Vic DavailloBriles and Davallio got to be part of the 1971 World Series “Lumber Company” Pirates that defeated the Orioles in 1971.  Matty missed that party.

Matty won a World Series ring in 1972 as a member of the Oakland A’s where he started in RF as Reggie Jackson had torn a hamstring in the ALCS against Detroit.

As a Yankee Alou was a member of Ralph Houk’s 1973 team, the last Yankee squad to play in the original Yankee Stadium.

As the years passed I occasionally thought of Matty in association with older brother Felipe’s long managerial career and his nephew Moises’ career. (Former Met Mel Rojas was another nephew).  Once while looking though my baseball cards I happened upon a Jesus Alou card of the youngest of the brothers and thought to myself, “The ears run in the family.”

Matty Alou has always remained in my baseball bandwidth.  I recall tending bar when Ichiro Suzuki was derided as “just Matty Alou.”  “Is this a bad thing?” I wondered aloud.  Indeed as offensive players they have much in common.  Chronology aside Matty Alou was Ichiro Lite before Ichiro was Ichiro.

In 1969 the 6th grade classes of Miss Raskin, Mrs. Oakes and my Mrs. Mendenhall took a field trip to the Bronx Zoo.  At the Bronx Zoo was an exhibit called, I think, The House of Darkness.  The exhibit boasted glass enclosures lit by the then new technology of infra red lighting.  This lighting fooled the inhabitants within into thinking that it was nighttime.  Thus these nocturnal creatures cavorted for the benefit of Long Island prepubescents.

I remember standing with my friend Eddie and looking at a fruit bat’s wide protruding ears which seemed to sprout fan-like on a horizontal plane from the middle of its head.

“The fruit bat has ears like Matty Alou!”

We laughed.

Matty, I’ll miss you.


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