Obituary: Matty Alou / Former Pirate, part of all-Alou outfield for Giants
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Matty Alou, once part of the all-Alou outfield for the San Francisco Giants with older brother Felipe and younger brother Jesus and who won a National League batting championship in one of his five seasons with the Pirates, died Thursday in his native Dominican Republic. He was 72.
He died of complications from diabetes, according to his former Dominican team, Leones del Escogido. The Giants also confirmed his death and said Alou had been sick for several years.
"Matty was a special ball player and a special human being," said Manny Sanguillen, a catcher who joined Alou on the 1967 Pirates, one year after Alou won the National League batting title with a .342 average.
"When I came in to the big leagues, he made sure I could understand the big leagues and get ready to play. He took me to lunch a couple times. He loved the Pittsburgh Pirates."
Alou spent the first six of his 15 major league seasons with San Francisco from 1960-65, the next five seasons with the Pirates. He also played for St. Louis, Oakland, the New York Yankees and San Diego.
The Alou brothers made history in 1963 when they appeared in the same outfield for several games.
Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda said he knew his "great friend" had been ailing.
"We roomed together a few times with the Giants," Cepeda said by phone. "Very funny guy, hell of a ballplayer. When Matty was playing with the Giants, he was a dead fastball hitter, he could pull anybody, I don't care how hard they threw."
Alou -- who worked for a time as an adviser in the Giants baseball operations department before his health problems persisted -- was a career .307 hitter with 31 home runs, 427 RBIs, 1,777 hits and 236 doubles.
"He went to Pittsburgh and switched from a light bat to a heavy bat," said Cepeda, recalling Alou's transformation into a spray hitter under Pirates manager Harry "The Hat" Walker.
Alou's most memorable moment for many older Pirates fans was not a pleasant one. In the heat of a pennant race in mid-September 1970, Alou settled under a very high pop flyball to center against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Legendary Pirates announcer Bob Prince was calling the game on radio and referred to the flyball as "a can of corn" -- baseball lingo for a routine and easy catch.
Unfortunately, those words barely were out of Prince's mouth when the center fielder dropped the ball, prompting The Gunner to say that Alou "dropped the can of corn."
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Alou, a left-handed-hitting and throwing outfielder, was traded to the Pirates for Ozzie Virgil and Joe Gibbon. In his five seasons with the Pirates, Alou averaged .327 and had nearly 20 stolen bases each season. In the first four seasons, the two-time All-Star finished among the top five NL batters.
In 1970, the Pirates moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium and finished first in the East Division before losing to the Cincinnati Reds in the National League championship series. Alou then was traded with George Brunet the St. Louis for Nelson Briles and Vic Davalillo and missed out on the Pirates' 1971 World Series championship.
According to Sanguillen, travel was not Alou's strong suit.
"He was afraid of planes, so he would be sitting, reading his Bible the whole time," said Sanguillen, laughing.
Felipe Alou, who managed the Giants for four seasons from 2003-06, takes pride in how the Alou name has endured in baseball.
"It's a family legacy," Felipe Alou said when he managing the Giants. "The Alou legacy is a legacy in itself. I see all of us together being a force going through this game and still going. The respect, I'm proud of that, and length of service."
Felipe Alou still believes he cost the Giants a championship in 1962 when he failed to get down a bunt in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. It would have moved Matty Alou from first to second. The Giants lost, 1-0, and the Series to the New York Yankees.
In 2010, the Giants finally captured the city's first title since moving west in 1958.
A memorial service was held Thursday, and Alou was scheduled to be buried today. He is survived by his wife, Maria Teresa, three children -- Mateo Jr., Teresa and Matias -- and four grandchildren. In addition, he is survived by five siblings: brothers Felipe, Jesus and Jose, and sisters Zula and Virginia.
First Published November 4, 2011 12:00 am