Introducing… Matty Alou

A .300 hitter is always a good man to have on your club.  Matty, who ended his career with a .307 batting average, has a lifetime BA that is far more impressive than other .300 hitters.  He reached the lofty regions while playing at the height of a pitcher’s era when batting averages across the loop settled around the .245-.250 mark.  A former batting champion and two-time All-Star, Matty comes from one of baseball’s most productive families.  His brothers Felipe and Jesus had fine careers and his nephews Moises Alou and Mel Rojas were fine players as well.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Matty was signed by the Giants in 1957.  A slightly-built outfielder, Matty’s game revolved around slap-hitting and running the bases.  The Giants called the scratch-hitting Alou up to the Majors in 1960 for a four-game trial.  The following year he hit .310 in just 200 at-bats but the Giants had a crowded roster.  Hall of Famer Willie Mays was still doing his thing in center and flanking him at the corners were hit machines Harvey Kuenn and Matty’s brother Felipe.  The Giants also rotated Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda in the outfield as the two youngsters were clamoring for time at first base.  With all the talent at their disposal, the Giants used Matty as a reserve outfielder.

In 1963 a third brother, Jesus, joined the Giants and San Francisco had all the Alou boys on their roster but limited places for them to play.  With Mays entrenched in center, Matty saw most of his action at the outfield corners.  But Matty was never more than a fourth outfielder with the Giants.  He platooned in the outfield in 1965 and mustered a .231 batting average.  The Giants felt Matty wasn’t going to make an impact on their roster so they traded him to the Pirates where he broke out.

Able to play everyday with the Bucs, Alou raised his batting average 111 points as he captured the NL batting title with a lusty .342 mark in 1966.  He kicked off a six-year stretch in which he would reach at least 180 base hits each season.  Although pitching was the order of the day during this time, Matty established himself as one of the game’s greatest average hitters.  In 1967, Matty showed that his breakout year of ’66 was no fluke when he hit .338.  Despite his uncommonly high batting average, Matty wasn’t elected to his first All-Star team until 1968.  That year Matty hit .332 and only struck out 26 times in 558 at-bats.  Matty must have slipped under the radar because he didn’t hit for the power of a Mantle of Mays–center fielders who shined just before Matty established himself.

Matty’s best year came in 1969 when he set a personal high with a league leading total of 231 base hits.  The left-handed hitter also led the senior circuit with 41 doubles and made his second All-Star team.  He also set personal highs in runs scored, walks and total bases that season.  The Pirates, World Series champs in 1960, made their way back to postseason play in 1970.  Matty slapped out 201 hits (fifth in the NL) and led the Pirates against the Reds in the NLCS.  The Big Red Machine made quick work of Alou’s Pirates and Pittsburgh was sent home losers of the NLCS.  That NLCS action would be Matty’s last work in a Pirates uniform.

Pittsburgh dealt the slap-hitting Alou to the Cardinals for pitcher Nelson Briles before the 1971 season.  The Redbirds gave Matty far more RBI opportunities than he ever saw with the Pirates and he set a career high with 74 in his only full season in St. Louis.  Matty hit the apple at a .315 clip and only whiffed 27 times in 609 at-bats.  But when the powerhouse A’s were looking for help in the outfield late in the 1972 season, they acquired Matty for the pennant drive.  He helped Oakland reach the World Series with a stellar ALCS.  Against Detroit pitching, Matty hit a nifty .381 with four doubles.  Oakland beat the Reds in the World Series and Matty won his only World Series ring.

But Matty would eventually become a nomadic bat-for-hire.  Oakland traded him to the Yankees for the 1973 season and Matty hit .296 for the Bronx Bombers.  But the Yankees had grown accustomed to solid slugging percentages out of their outfield and Matty’s .356 slugging percentage was a tad too tiny for the Pinstripers.  He ended the year as a pinch hitter for the Cardinals.  He then had his contract purchased by the Padres but he failed to hit .200 in limited action.  Matty then took his bat overseas and played some in Japan before calling it a career.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,667/R 780/H 1,777/2B 256/3B 50/HR 31/RBI 427/SB 156/BB 311/SO 377/BA .307/OBP .345/SA .381

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