The Long Goodbye 

Today, we start a series of goodbyes to Giants we have known, loved, cursed, and cheered, often all at the same time.

First up: Felipe Alou. Anyone who spends 50 years in the major leagues deserves our respect. (Except Tommy Lasorda.) Official word comes today that Felipe won't be asked back as manager. Perhaps he'll become a scout or advisor; perhaps he'll latch on with another team. Perhaps he'll retire and go fishing. That's what I would do if I were 72.

[UPDATE: Here's the official announcement.]

A manager always deserves some blame for a team's performance, but it's impossible to know how much. Should Dusty Baker have left in Russ Ortiz in Game Six of the '02 Series? If Felix Rodriguez had induced Scott Speizio to pop up, or even fly out to the warning track, no one would ever have questioned Dusty's move. Dusty would first and foremost be a World Series champion manager, not a guy with a rep for player-friendliness, pitcher abuse and rookie aversion.

Felipe's bullpen-go-round was often annoying, but was it worse than leaving relievers in for longer stretches? We'll never know. Baseball doesn't have a parallel universe league to test out the road not traveled. Managers make decisions; fans with limited knowledge (we often don't know that a certain guy's arm is hurting, or a certain batter has developed a hole in his swing) second-guess.

I'm not sorry to see Felipe go. I think a housecleaning will help as the Giants move to a younger caste. But I'll emphatically defend Felipe against the "cream-of-wheat" mush-head jokes. The guy wasn't senile. He wasn't incompetent. Just like any other big-league manager, he made decisions that were easily second-guessed, and each one reinforced the bias of fans who thought the guy was feeble. If you think Felipe's case is special, go read the bulletin boards and blogs devoted to the other 29 teams. Bitching about the manager, even calling for his head, is standard -- indeed, rather boring -- fare.

In the end, I don't know how good a manager Felipe was. He guided the Giants to 100 wins his first year with roughly the same type of team-building strategy as was in place the next three years: Bonds is the centerpiece, fill in the gaps with relatively cheap veterans. Sometimes the veterans played well (Marquis Grissom 2004, Omar Vizquel 2006), sometimes they didn't (Armando Benitez 2006, Grissom 2005, Steve Finley 2006).

Did Felipe get the most of what he had to work with? Impossible to say. Impossible to measure. File under Not His Fault: Other than Vizquel, he didn't have a high-OBP guy to put at the top of the lineup. He didn't have a 40-home run guy. He didn't have a reliable closer. File Under His Fault: He played Steve Finley against lefties too much. File Under His Good Ideas: He turned Dustin Hermanson into a closer. He put Durham behind Bonds. He let Eliezer Alfonzo become the #1 catcher.

Felipe only managed four years, but because of his history with the club and the timing of his hire, just after the near-miss World Series and the poisonous Dusty departure, his tenure will be heavily scrutinized.

I thought this particular quote from today's paper summed up both the roster situation and Felipe's pride:

"I don't believe one manager enjoys having players die in their hands. I had here the last two years a number of careers finish here. ... Some of them were big players who reached the end of the line here. If you're talking about next year, we've got to make sure we have some guys we don't have to release in the middle of the season."

In other words, "I did my job."


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