On The House That Steroids Built miniseries today, we look at the final season of Felipe Alou as the San Francisco Giants manager, and like most years for the Giants during the Barry Bonds era, it was quite curious, for the reasons we outline below. It stands out because Bonds had missed most of the 2005 season, at age 40, due to “injuries”—and the organization knew it needed to win now.
Alas, it didn’t happen, as S.F. finished third in the NL West Division with just 76 wins—and the organization let Alou go, despite his 342-304 record with the team. Instead, the Giants brass replaced him with Bruce Bochy and his .494 winning percentage with the San Diego Padres. But we know that Bochy was an enabler of PED use, and we’re always going to surmise that Alou was not (see below).
Exhibit A: Eliezer Alfonzo
We know he was a nobody, but we always have to remember that nobodies probably tried PEDs more than the stars did, simply to stay alive in the majors. We’ve already seen serious examples of that in this miniseries and the Fenway Frauds one, too. Either way, this was Alfonzo’s first MLB season at age 27, and no one decent makes his MLB debut at that age.
After putting up just a .783 in the minors with the Florida Marlins organization in 2004, he was waived at age 25 after never having played above AA ball. The Giants signed him, for some reason, and in 2005 with all three levels of S.F. minor-league ball, Alfonzo somehow hit a combined .334 with a .964 OPS. Those must have been some coaches the Giants had in the minors to get that kind of boost.
We wonder why none of those managers got promoted to the big leagues in 2007?! Regardless, Alfonzo’s rookie MLB year produced his best career season: 12 HRs, 39 RBI, and a .767 OPS. His career went all downhill from there, as his career numbers (17 HRs, 67 RBI, and a .648 OPS) are laughable. S.F. released him after the 2008 season, and he disappeared into oblivion.
So what happened with his 2005 and 2006 seasons in the Giants organization? Your guess is as good as ours, but like so many to come before, it looks he tried something new with the S.F. minor league teams, and it bought him a ticket to the Show. Then, Alfonzo realized it wasn’t for him, and he was run out of town. We’ve seen this same news real before here, many times.
Exhibit B: Barry Bonds
We like lowlighting every one of his seasons on the juice, because … we can! The Giants had to milk him for more cash, as he was closing in on the all-time HR record. After he only played in 14 games the prior season, it was important for Bonds to stay healthy at age 41 in order to shamelessly chase down Hank Aaron. The organization and the fans should have been ashamed of themselves. But no.
The 2006 season produced this stat line for Barroid: 130 games, 367 ABs, 26 HRs, 77 RBI, 115 BBs, .454 OBP, a .999 OPS, and 38 IBBs. The walks, OBP, and intentional walks all led the National League. At age 41, he also produced a .545 SLG, which compared to Aaron at the same age (.355), shows us just how much junk was flowing through Bonds’ veins.
In final season for Babe Ruth, at age 40 in 1935, he managed just a .181 batting average and a .434 SLG. See our point(s)? Game of Shadows had been out by the start of the season, and the Giants—and their pathetic fans—just didn’t care. They were fine with cheating, and the S.F. organization kept raking in the dollars, without penalty or punishment. That is on Bud Selig, for sure.
Exhibit C: Jason Schmidt
This pitching ace had a stellar prime with the Giants from age 28-31 before falling on hard times at age 32 in the 2005 season (4.40 ERA). Entering his age-33 season in the final year of a lucrative, $36.8M contract, Schmidt needed a rebound season in order to secure his final big payday.
Schmidt recovered well enough to post a 3.59 ERA over 213 1/3 IP, and his market value was re-established. But the Giants organization knew better than to re-sign him at this point, and the Los Angeles Dodgers foolishly signed Schmidt to a three-year deal worth over $45M. The way-past-his-prime righty made just 10 starts for the Dodgers to the tune of a 6.02 ERA while under that final contract.
This was literally highway robbery. Schmidt was on his way down after the 2005 season, but playing in San Francisco clearly gave him the impetus, motivation, and pathway to snag one last huge payday. Maybe the Dodgers were stupid suckers, too, of course, but they expected a lot more for their $46M, that’s for sure. Meanwhile, Schmidt must have laughed all the way to the bank.
Exhibit D: Armando Benítez
Coming off an All-Star season in 2004 where he led the NL in saves (47) and posted a 1.29 ERA, the Giants foolishly signed Benítez at age 32 to a $21.1M contract for the next three years. When the putz put up a 4.50 ERA in a pitcher’s ballpark while saving just 19 games, the S.F. organization must have known it had a stinker on its hands. After all, we know Brian Sabean was never the smartest guy.
We know what happens next, for it’s a repeat plot here: Benítez recovered to post a decent 3.52 ERA in 2006, somewhat saving the Giants some of their investment, but on a team going downhill despite all the best efforts to prevent it, the S.F. organization was thrilled to dump Benítez on the Florida Marlins during the 2007 season. For their $21.1M investment, the Giants got a 4.10 ERA and 1.482 WHIP.
It always comes down to money, though: Either the player wants to make one last score, or the organization needs to get more out of its investment. Regardless, players like Benítez can be found throughout The House That Steroids Built era in San Francisco.
Conclusion: The end for Alou
Manager Felipe Alou was old school: He played with all-time greats like Willie Mays in San Francisco and Hank Aaron in Atlanta. There’s no way he was on board with PED use, despite some of his polite, published comments to the press at the time. Of course, even the team’s general manager during all this cheating—Sabean—wouldn’t talk to the press about the whole episode.
That says a lot about the Giants, of course, but in the end, we know Alou probably wanted nothing to do with PEDs. He was a good, honest manager, who had fought racism and other obstacles on his way to professional baseball as a player, and he was let go so the Giants could hire a PED enabler in Bochy and continue to defraud the public and America’s Game.
It’s sad that this happened to Alou, of course, but he probably wouldn’t have wanted to win the World Series by cheating—like his predecessor Dusty Baker and his successor both would have done and actually did, in Bochy’s pathetic case.