Felipe Alou should be named National League Manager of the Year for the 2003 season. I realize that it is only the beginning of September and I’m fully aware that even though, as of today, the Giants are twelve games ahead in the National League West they still may not win the World Series. Who knows, they may not even make it to the World Series. Even so, what Felipe has done with this team is remarkable.
What has he done? Well, the first and perhaps most daunting task is that he replaced perennial fan favorite, Dusty Baker. The San Francisco fans loved Dusty. Certainly, Dusty has many critics; there are those who feel that he overworks his young pitchers and those that complain that he favors his veterans. All of that may be true however during his ten year tenure as the skipper of the Giants he was successful; his record was 840 wins-715 losses – a .540 winning percentage and he was named NL Manager of the Year three times. Devastating World Series loss not withstanding, he is perhaps the most popular manager that the Giants have ever had.
Enter Felipe Alou. Felipe is no stranger to many Giants fans as he started his major league career with the Giants – playing in the outfield at Candlestick Park for 6 of his 17 seasons in the majors. But would he be able to take Dusty’s place at the helm of the 2002 National League Champion Giants?
The 2003 Giants are not the same team as the 2002 NL Champion Giants that is for sure. In addition to losing Dusty Baker in the off season the Giants also lost All Star second baseman, Jeff Kent, pitchers Russ Ortiz and Livan Hernandez, David Bell, Kenny Lofton and Reggie Sanders (to name a few). In their places are Ray Durham, Edgardo Alfonso, Jose Cruz, Jr., Marquis Grissom, Neifi Perez and some rookie pitchers named Jesse and Jerome.
Yes, Felipe definitely had his work cut out for him. To lose most of the starting line-up after being oh so close (five outs away) from a World Series victory and then to basically have to rebuild the team and the coaching staff and get everyone to come together and forget the painful loss – well, that is nothing short of remarkable.
And from the beginning everyone was skeptical about this new team; most sportswriters and analysts picked the Giants to come in third in the division – behind both Arizona and Los Angeles. Could Felipe “handle” Barry Bonds the way Dusty Baker could? Would he be able to motivate the team the way that Baker could and could he help the returning Giants get over the devastating loss to the Angels?
Well, judging by the way the Giants started the season with a 15-2 record, it seems as if the transition from Dusty Baker to Felipe Alou was seamless. As a matter of fact, the Giants have been in first place in the NL west the entire 2003 season and they aren’t looking back.
Felipe has by no means had an easy time of it. At the beginning of the season he learned the Giants’ dominant closer Robb Nen would be out all year - and that was just the beginning. Returning players Benito Santiago, JT Snow and Rich Aurilia have been on the disabled list several times and newcomer Ray Durham has been injured as well. And that is just position players – the pitchers are not faring any better – Jesse Foppert, Kirk Rueter and Jason Schmidt have all either been on the DL or missed starts (as well as Kurt Ainsworth and Damian Moss who were traded just prior to the deadline). Even several members of the bullpen, who have been spot starting in order to help the beleaguered rotation, have missed starts.
And let’s not forget the bereavement leaves. Ace pitcher Jason Schmidt lost his mother early in the season, back-up catcher Yorvit Torrealba has left the team twice – once due to his wife having surgery and again due to the death of a grandparent. And then there is Barry Bonds - we can only imagine what he has been going through during this season and even though he has been away from the team on two recent occasions he has managed to have yet another amazing year.
But this is about Felipe and how he has taken the Giants where no one thought they could go this year.
He has had to manage all of these injuries and leaves and somehow field a competitive team. The Giants have had numerous rookies make their major league debuts this season, players that, along with veteran journeymen who were either signed to AAA contracts or acquired mid-season, have stepped up to the plate when they were needed the most. Felipe has no problem resting the veterans or even sitting a player who is slumping in order to play a guy that is on a hot streak.
Given the amount of roster turnover and injuries the Giants have had to overcome, it’s amazing that they have such a lead. Some critics may argue that Felipe inherited a league champion - however, let's not forget that there were eight newcomers on the opening day roster alone and only two of last year's starting pitchers are in the rotation.
Certainly there may be other NL managers that are deserving of the award - though right now the only serious contender in my mind is Jack McKeon of Florida - considering that after Torborg was let go he managed to salvage the year and put the Marlins into the running for the wild card spot.
That being said, I feel that credit needs to be given where credit is due and certainly credit is warranted here. Felipe Alou has been given many challenges since accepting the job as the Giants Manager last winter. So, even if he doesn’t bring the San Francisco Giants their first World Series Championship this year, Felipe Alou deserves to be recognized as the NL Manager of the year because somehow, through it all, he has managed to field a winning team.