Felipe Alou remembers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda: 'The Giants were blessed' (2024)

You do not call Felipe Alou and expect him to answer.

For Alou, a cell phone is like a desk lamp. It has just one function. When he leaves a room and he no longer needs the light, he hits the off switch. When he is done making a call on his phone, he hits the off switch. If there’s a message waiting for him the next time he turns his phone on, he’ll listen to it. He’ll try to call you back. And when he does, you’d better answer. Because missing his call means starting the process all over again.


When you are 89 years old, and you have experienced just a fraction of what Alou has seen and done in his pioneering baseball life, you’ve earned the right to live at your own pace. Push notifications are for young and busy people. Or for young people who need to feel busier than they are. When you reach Alou’s distinguished station in life, there aren’t many notifications so important that they must be pushed. And if there is an exception, it’s seldom good news.

The news last month was as disheartening as it gets: the death of Willie Mays on June 18, followed by the death of Orlando Cepeda just 10 days later. Alou received the news while he is still grieving the loss of his brother, Jesús, in March of last year. Matty, the third Alou brother who joined Felipe and Jesús to famously form a major-league outfield trio with the Giants in 1963, passed away in 2011.

Felipe is the only surviving brother from that celebrated outfield trio. And now, following the passing of Mays and Cepeda, Alou is one of just five surviving players from the San Francisco Giants’ inaugural season in 1958. The others are all in their 90s: Bill White, Jackie Brandt, Ray Crone and Al Worthington.

The Alou brothers pic.twitter.com/P9GRiDBgeC

— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) October 4, 2023

Of course, Cepeda and Mays were much more than teammates to Alou. He revered Mays for his captaincy and leadership as much as his unrivaled talent. He dearly loved Cepeda, his roommate and close friend from the time they were minor-league teammates. Felipe Alou was the first player born and wholly raised in the Dominican Republic to play in the major leagues. Cepeda was one of the first dark-skinned players from Puerto Rico in the big leagues, arriving shortly after Vic Power and Roberto Clemente. When Alou and Cepeda signed with the Giants and began their pro careers in places like Cocoa, Fla., and Lake Charles, La., they had to learn dozens of new names. Jim Crow was one of them.


Alou and Cepeda signed with the Giants to play baseball. They had not grown up with segregation and racial discrimination, as Mays did. Alou and Cepeda did not understand at the time that they were signing up to be pioneers in an era when baseball was playing a visible role in the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for racial and ethnic equality.

“We had to be taught how to stay out of trouble, you see,” Alou said. “Cepeda and I, both of us were kind of rebellious, you know.”

The rebelliousness these days can be found in a lower back or a knee or someplace unexpected depending on the day. Alou had neck surgery and a knee replacement in recent years. He had a scary episode in 2019 that included open-heart surgery. He recovered from that ordeal, got back on the road in his role as special assistant to the Giants, and visited the minor-league affiliates — including the international teenagers at the organization’s complex in the Dominican Republic that bears his name.

But Alou, who starred for the Giants from 1958-63 and whose tenure as manager from 2003-06 began with a 100-win regular season and NL West title, hasn’t worked in a traveling capacity since the pandemic in 2020. When the Giants inquired last year about extending his contract, he told them he wasn’t interested. He didn’t want to keep taking their money if there was so little they asked him to do.

The Giants are asking something of Alou now. They requested that he speak Monday at a public celebration of life for Mays. The franchise’s last living Hall of Famer from the 1960s, right-hander Juan Marichal, is planning to be there. So will Alou, with the Giants handling all the arrangements to fly him and his wife, Lucie, from Florida on Sunday, even though traveling is not easy for him these days.

This is a call that is too important to miss.


“Today I feel good, today I could go anywhere,” Alou said in a phone interview with The Athletic on Wednesday. “But tomorrow…. Today is the third of July. I do not know about tomorrow. I told the Giants I would be glad to go. If I feel good on Sunday, I’m going to make that trip. If not, I’ll stay home. But I’m pretty sure, 99 percent sure. God willing, I’m going to make that trip.”

In a conversation that lasted almost an hour, Alou offered a preview of his remarks and shared memories of Mays and Cepeda. The Giants lost two franchise titans and Hall of Famers. For a very special few like Alou, they also lost two of their dearest friends. Below are his words on the two baseball giants.

Alou on Orlando Cepeda

Orlando, I met him when he was 16 and I was 18. He came from Puerto Rico, you know, and I think it was my last year of high school. Orlando came on a team with 14- to 18-year-olds. I didn’t know any of them. They came from Puerto Rico to play a Dominican team. And I tell you, we never got Cepeda out. In two games, we never got him out one time. That field didn’t have a fence so he’d hit it past everybody and keep running. Doubles, triples. He’d run as much as he could. I was the best player on the Dominican team and he was the best player on the Puerto Rican team.

Felipe Alou remembers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda: 'The Giants were blessed' (1)

Alou (left) and Cepeda during spring training in 2006 when Alou was managing the Giants. (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

So we said goodbye to each other, you know, and then years later when the Giants signed me and I showed up in spring training in ’56, I ran into Orlando Cepeda again. He had already played a couple years in the minor leagues. He was killing the minor leagues. We got to be buddies right away. Being Latino, going through racist situations in Florida, we became friends. Cepeda and I, both of us were kind of rebellious, you know?

You can look this up: In my second year in baseball, I was sent from Class A to Minneapolis where they had their Triple-A team. Orlando was having a big season and he was my roommate. But I got off to a bad start, I was hitting .211, and so they sent me back to the (Double-A) Eastern League in Springfield, Mass. They called the room to tell me and so Orlando found out the same time I did. You know what he said? He wanted to go to the Eastern League, too. He was having a big season, like I told you. But he said, ‘I’m going to miss Felipe, my roommate, so why don’t you send me down with him?’ That is how close we were from a young age.

The next season, he was in the big leagues. And I was in the big leagues, too. So we were roommates in Triple A and in the big leagues for years. Then Matty and those guys came up and I wanted to be with my brother. So we were not roommates after that. But we kept our friendship until he passed. I talked to him less than one week before he passed away. When I talked to him, he didn’t sound very strong. But we talked for a few minutes. And then the news came.

Alou on Willie Mays

I managed for a while, you know. And I played the game for a while. I played with or managed close to 20 Hall of Famers. And Willie is the best. He is the best for so many reasons.


There are only so many things a man can do in any walk of life, not only in baseball. Nobody knows what produces or what pushes a machine of a man like Willie to do some of the stuff he did that nobody else did. Maybe others did it but not every day or maybe they did it two or three times in a career. But Willie did it every day and every year. I played with him and I played against him. And I’m telling you, he was incredible, the best player.

Felipe Alou remembers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda: 'The Giants were blessed' (2)

Alou embraces Mays after Mays homered in a game on Oct. 1, 1962 (Associated Press)

Another thing, he liked me quite a bit. For whatever reason, he liked me. When they named me manager of the Giants (prior to the 2003 season), Willie had a dozen balls signed for me as a gift. When I was managing the Expos, my son, Luis Rojas, was a kid, not even 10 years old, and Willie came to my office to visit me. He said, ‘Give me a ball for me to sign for your boy.’ He was an incredible person.

We had a great time in the hotels. WIllie never went out to restaurants because people kept bothering him. He used to order room service. This was during the time of segregation, Blacks and Latinos on the same floor. A lot of the time Willie was across the hall from me. He was always sharing food with us. We would say, ‘Willie, we’re going out,’ and he’d still give us something. That was Willie. He was really good to me and great for the game and great for his country and the city of San Francisco.

I have a few things to say at that celebration of Willie’s life. There is the story about the times he used to go barnstorming. He used to pick up some of those older guys, including some Latinos, guys who played in the Negro Leagues, and he’d go to Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic. And I heard he was doing it mostly for those older guys so they could pick up a dollar or two. Not for him.

The first time I saw Willie Mays in my life I was in my second year with Escogido (in the Dominican Winter League), a center fielder, and Willie Mays was the center fielder with the barnstorming Black players. There was a newspaper, El Caribe, and a writer who interviewed Willie. Willie was playing catch, getting ready for the game. I was throwing on the side with Escogido. And this writer asked Willie, ‘Did you hear about Felipe Alou?’ And Willie said, ‘Oh yeah, I heard this kid is going to be a good player.’ And then the writer pointed at me and told him, ‘That is Felipe over there.’ And he asked Willie, big mistake, ‘Do you think Felipe is going to be the player who will substitute for you in center field?’ And Willie said, ‘How old is Felipe? If he’s 22, I’m less than four years older than him. I hope he can make it over there with the Giants. But I believe I’m going to play for a long time.’

When I made it to the Giants, I thought about that question. But I guess Willie had forgotten. He was not a guy who held anything against anybody. He took me under his wing, he helped me be a better ballplayer. You learned from him but you didn’t try to imitate him. No man can do that.

When Alvin Dark came in to manage, he made Willie Mays the captain of the team. I said to myself, ‘Captain?’ Willie Mays has been the captain of this team from the day I arrived. Unofficially, you understand. I don’t remember Willie ever holding a meeting with the team. But he would talk to everybody on the team. He would share with anybody. He’d position the outfielders and even infielders. And he’d talk to pitchers. He was the captain, you know?


I only played with Willie in San Francisco. But he was the man and a clutch hitter also, a clutch base stealer. Always made the clutch throw to throw a guy out. His last at-bat in the (1962) World Series (in a Game 7 against the New York Yankees), he hit a line drive over the first baseman, a double, that should have tied the game. (Alou often recounts his regret at failing to execute a sacrifice bunt that would have moved his brother, Matty, into scoring position for Mays. Matty Alou was stranded at third base when Willie McCovey lined out to Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game and dash the Giants’ hopes.)

Willie was an incomparable player. There might be a better hitter or a better center fielder or a better runner. But he had all the attributes. Nobody had more tools. And he gave his best every day. I don’t remember him being a workaholic. I guess he didn’t need that. But he prepared himself well and prepared mentally to play the game. Willie Mays was his own coach. He was a master. He was the best baserunner that I’ve ever seen. Some people tell me Jackie Robinson was the best but I didn’t see him. Willie was always anticipating anything that could happen. Anything! That’s not something the metrics can pick up.

And healthy! I saw Willie crash dozens of times against fences and come out clean, unhurt. I don’t know how he did that. He had to break up double plays, steal bases. Beanballs. How many times did he get hit? There was no helmet, just your hat or something inside your hat. He was always ready to play.

The Giants were blessed, you know. They had the best player ever. And they had him for a long time.

(File photo of Alou from 2014: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Felipe Alou remembers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda: 'The Giants were blessed' (3)Felipe Alou remembers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda: 'The Giants were blessed' (4)

Andrew Baggarly is a senior writer for The Athletic and covers the San Francisco Giants. He has covered Major League Baseball for more than two decades, including the Giants since 2004 for the Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. He is the author of two books that document the most successful era in franchise history: “A Band of Misfits: Tales of the 2010 San Francisco Giants” and “Giant Splash: Bondsian Blasts, World Series Parades and Other Thrilling Moments By the Bay.” Follow Andrew on Twitter @extrabaggs

Felipe Alou remembers Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda: 'The Giants were blessed' (2024)


How long was Willie Mays with the Giants? ›

Mays, who played 21 seasons with the Giants and racked up 660 home runs and 338 stolen bases, died June 18 at the age of 93. He was a two-time MVP, a 24-time All-Star, won 12 Gold Glove Awards in Center Field, and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1979.

When did Felipe ALOU manage the Giants? ›

Felipe Rojas Alou (born May 12, 1935) is a Dominican former Major League Baseball outfielder, first baseman, coach and manager. He managed the Montreal Expos (1992–2001) and the San Francisco Giants (2003–2006).

How many brothers did Felipe ALOU have? ›

Felipe Alou, the oldest of three brothers, was the first Dominican to play regularly in the Major Leagues. From 1958 to 1974, he played for the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Oakland A's, the New York Yankees and managed the Montreal Expos.

Was Felipe ALOU the first Dominican baseball player? ›

Felipe made his big league debut with the Giants on June 8, 1958, becoming just the second Dominican-born player and the first signed out of the Dominican to play in the AL or NL. (Virgil moved to New York City in his youth and had been signed out of high school.)

Who was the man who struck out Willie Mays? ›

Bill Singer of the Dodgers, who was just out of kindergarten when Mays was playing center field for the New York Giants in the 1951 World Series, did it three times in one night. Then, a few weeks later, he struck out Mays in the first inning, and suddenly Willie left the game complaining of a cold.

Why did the Giants trade Willie Mays? ›

At the time of the trade, Mays was 41 years old, and it was clear that his legendary career was nearing its end. Wanting to ensure him of his baseball future, the Giants made the move, parting ways with their franchise icon in exchange for minor league pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000.

How long did Felipe play with the Giants? ›

Primarily an outfielder during his playing days, the second Dominican-born player to reach the Majors (following Ozzie Virgil with the 1956 New York Giants) was a three-time All-Star during a 17-year career with the Giants (1958-63), Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves (1964-69), Oakland Athletics (1970-71), New York Yankees ...

What happened to Felipe ALOU in 1994? ›

Alou was named the NL Manager of the Year after guiding the Expos to a Major League-best 74-40 record in 1994, but the season was ended in early August by a labor strike, costing Montreal a chance to make a run to the World Series.

What are some interesting facts about Felipe ALOU? ›

1935Born in Haina, Dominican Republic
1992Becomes the first Dominican major league manager, for the Montreal Expos
1994Named National League Manager of the Year
2001Leaves the Expos
2002Signs with the Giants as manager
9 more rows

Which Alou brother was the best? ›

Felipe was also the best of the Alou brothers with 2,101 hits over his 17-year major league career (1958-74), with a career average of . 286, 206 home runs, and 852 RBIs. Over his career, he played for the Giants, Braves, A's, Yankees and Expos.

Have three brothers ever played on the same MLB team? ›

* The Alou, Cruz, and Wright families are the only in history to have three brothers play as teammates at the same time. George, Harry, and Sam were all together on the 1876 Boston Red Stockings (they eventually became the Braves), Hector, Jose, and Tommy Cruz were on the 1973 St.

Did the Alou brothers play in the same outfield? ›

Sixty years ago Friday, the three Alou brothers played in the same outfield for the San Francisco Giants. In a game at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, Matty, Felipe and Jesús, left to right, appeared in the final two innings Sept. 15, 1963.

Did Felipe Alou want to be a doctor? ›

He was a track star in high school but made the switch to baseball when he attended a university on the island. He played for the Dominican team in the Pan American Games, gaining the notice of a New York Giants scout in 1955. Always dreaming of becoming a doctor, Alou wanted to remain in school but needed money.

How did Felipe's last name change to Alou? ›

When Felipe first came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, the San Francisco Giants' scout who signed him listed him as “Felipe Alou” on his contract. As a result, the entire Giants' organization came to know him as Felipe Alou, and the name stuck, at least in baseball circles.

Who is the father of Cuban baseball? ›

Cuba. From 1878 to 1886 Bellán served as both player and manager for the recently founded Havana baseball team. His is recognized by many to be the true "father" of Cuban baseball for his role in organizing the first baseball game in Cuba on December 27, 1874.

What team did Willie Mays end his career with? ›

Mays played 21 seasons with the Giants, and finished up with the Mets in 1972 and 1973. He hit over . 300 10 times, en route to a career .

Who has been on the Giants the longest? ›

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard will remain the New York Giants' longest-tenured player on the roster.

Did Willie Mays play for the Trenton Giants? ›

Mays went on to play 81 games for the Trenton Giants in 1950. He quickly proved himself a capable player, batting . 353 with 20 doubles, 8 triples, a . 438 on-base percentage, and an impressive .

How many years did Willie Mays serve in the army? ›

The Hall of Fame “Say Hey Kid,” among the early Negro League stars who hit 660 career home runs despite spending 1952-54 in the Army during the Korean War, died June 18 at 93. The Army honored Mays in front of his family, friends, former teammates and executives and thousands of fans.


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