Among many changes, Alou is key to Giants' success

by Tim Ellsworth

It's not often that a World Series team can lose a manager, a star second baseman, a top-notch pitcher and one of baseball's best closers and actually improve the following year.

But that's exactly what the San Francisco Giants have done. And new manager Felipe Alou deserves a lot of the credit.

Since the end of last season, the Giants have seen a lot of changes. Jeff Kent, the team's second-best hitter behind Barry Bonds, bolted for Houston through free agency. Pitcher Russ Ortiz was traded to Atlanta. Closer Robb Nen has been injured all season. David Bell, Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton - all starters for the World Series team - signed elsewhere.

And following some disagreements with club president Peter Magowan, Dusty Baker left the Giants to manage in Chicago this year.

These were significant departures. If the Giants faded during this season, nobody could have blamed them.

But general manager Brian Sabean has made some shrewd decisions. He acquired Ray Durham, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jose Cruz Jr. and Marquis Grissom during the offseason. And just recently he traded for a solid pitcher in Sidney Ponson from Baltimore.

His greatest acquisition, however, was Alou.

Often regarded as one of baseball's premier skippers, Alou never had much of a chance in his last gig as manager of the Montreal Expos. The franchise was not committed to winning, and the Montreal fans did precious little to support their team. So, while the Montreal system produced players like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Moises Alou and Larry Walker, all of these guys either left via free agency or were traded to other teams when they started to command higher salaries.

Alou did the best he could with the lack of talent he had. His efforts were not rewarded, however, and he was fired by the Expos a couple of years ago.

Sabean was smart enough to know what Alou could offer his team. Left with a leadership void after Dusty Baker's departure, the Giants needed Alou to step in and provide it. He has, and in so doing has earned the respect of a reconstructed team.

"He came in here and adapted to 25 guys instead of making 25 guys adapt to his style," first baseman J.T. Snow said in a recent USA Today story. "The one thing I'll never forget, after our first win in San Diego this year on opening day, he came into the clubhouse ... tipped his hat and said, 'Thanks guys for my first win as Giants manager.' That's pretty cool for a manager to do that."

That leadership has translated into a team with the second-best record in baseball and a hefty lead in the National League West.

But Alou isn't one to brag about his success, because he knows from where it comes. He might lead San Francisco back to the World Series, but he's also making a far more substantial impact on his players by living out his Christian commitment.

"I came here with faith in God ... and also having confidence in my experience in this game," he said.

Sounds like a pretty simple formula. It's sure paying off big time for the Giants.

Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Mulkeytown, Ill. Write to him at thewinningspirit@yahoo.com.


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