Felipe, never forgotten among Expos fans

COOPERSTOWN, New York – Unsurprisingly, many fans of the Montreal Expos — now the Washington Nationals — were present on Cooperstown’s Main Street this week on the occasion of the Hall of Fame induction for Larry Walker, from this Wednesday the second Canadian with a plaque in the museum and former star of the Quebec team, before he signed with the Rockies and finally ended his career with the Cardinals.

For Expos fans, seeing Walker exalted to the Hall is a bittersweet experience, as in the winter of 1994-95 — after the work stoppage ended a 1994 season in which Montreal had the best record for Major League Baseball — the star outfielder and other team luminaries left for financial reasons.

Expos fans speak nostalgically about those editions of their long-awaited team. And, specifically, they do not stop praising the leader of those Expos, Felipe Rojas Alou, the first Dominican manager in the majors.

“Felipe is a great manager and a great teacher,” said Dustin Degre, a resident of the state of Vermont, the territory of the Expos during its existence from 1969 to 2004. “He showed that to people. I don’t know why he’s not in the Hall of Fame. As a manager and player developer, he should be in the Hall of Fame. “

Since becoming the Expos manager on May 22, 1992, Rojas Alou went 238-163 in the next three seasons, including 94-68 in 1993 and 74-40 in 1994 — the best major league record that year. before the work stoppage ended the season and the playoffs and the World Series were canceled.

“It was like being 10 years old and your team was the best in the world,” Degre said. “They were that good. Felipe had managed a lot of those guys in minor league. And there were many Dominicans, which obviously on a cultural level was good for them ”.

With his son Moisés Alou, his nephew Melquíades Rojas and later Pedro Martínez from that 1994, yes, the Expos had a way to go far and with a lot of Latin flavor, also taking into account the Puerto Rican shortstop Wilfredo Cordero. But everyone also remembers how Walker, Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill and John Wetteland, among others, left that winter.

With Moisés, Martínez and Rojas still in their ranks, in addition to fellow Dominican Henry Rodríguez and other prominent figures, Rojas Alou’s Expos won 88 games in 1996, but after that, the talent simply did not reach. In 2003, Rojas Alou led the San Francisco Giants to the National League West title with 100 victories, his only postseason appearance as manager (they lost in the divisional round to the Marlins, that season’s champions).

“They were really exciting teams,” said another Expos fan and a Vermont native, Joe Luneau. “When Felipe left (in 2001) it was as if he was taking the whole team with him.”