The Pride of Lions

He couldn’t hear the roar of the crowd, but he could feel it.

And it was enough. It had to be, because it was all he was ever going to have.

Curtis Pride played baseball with power and speed, crackling with competitive fire. He also played it in utter silence. When Pride made his big league debut in 1993 for the Montreal Expos, he was the first deaf player to reach the majors in nearly fifty years.


A perinatal case of rubella siphoned his hearing. From birth, he never had the rich texture of sound in his life. Instead, he had to rely primarily on sight and touch to replace audio cues.

For an outfielder like Pride, the game was made even more difficult, because he could not rely on calls from teammates to prevent collisions on fly balls. Nor could he pick up fair or foul calls from umpires. He had to see it happening – all at once – perpetually dividing his vision. He needed to visually process so much more than other players it was a wonder that he could keep it all from dooming his play to distraction.

Reaching the major leagues – one of sport’s most exclusive fraternities – is difficult enough using all of one’s senses stretched taut. However, to arrive at such a coveted spot missing one such perceptive instrument is a stunning achievement.

So, when Pride made it to the big leagues in 1993, he had conquered what few others in the history of the sport ever had. And he had done so while squashing his own doubting whispers – the only sound ever available to him.

As a reward for his remarkable journey, he received a standing ovation after his first major league hit, a double lashed all the way to the left center field wall in Montreal. Even though he never heard the cheers, he saw the enthusiastic faces and felt the vibration of the applause. Perhaps, it was an even more profound way to receive such adulation, because he felt it in his bones.

However, the struggle to reach the big leagues is only surpassed by the more daunting task of staying there. Although he had proven himself at each minor league level – at times even performing brilliantly enough to suggest future stardom in the majors – Pride had difficulty with the staying part of the Major League equation.

He wandered through six different big league clubhouses in 11 seasons and played sparingly, only once appearing in more than 90 games in a major league season and often bounced between the minors and majors in the same year. His lone shining moment in the big leagues – aside from that thrilling ovation in Quebec – came in 1996. That season, he achieved career highs in home runs (10), doubles (17), RBI’s (31), and steals (11) with Detroit. He also hit an even .300, the revered hallmark of batting success.

Pride Detroit

The following year, though, his average plummeted to .210, and the vagabond’s road through the majors beckoned. Although he never hit higher than .252 or played in more than 70 games in a big league season after 1996, he did draw a Major League salary until he was 37 years old.

But he also spent time in Norfolk, Pawtucket, Salt Lake City, and Albuquerque. In all, he played parts of 23 seasons in the minors and independent leagues, a testament to how difficult it is to fully escape the shadows of the lower floors once the penthouse has been reached.

Salt Lake

More difficult still, of course, was that Pride had to try to maintain his hold on the big leagues as a deaf player – something that only two others had ever done more successfully.

William Hoy and Luther Taylor claimed that they were never bothered by a common troublesome nickname. The late 1800’s and early 1900’s were not particularly progressive or enlightened times. So, calling a deaf player “Dummy” seemed strangely normal for the age.

However, neither man lacked the smarts, ability, or courage to play the game – and play it well – amidst the myopic thinking of the day.

Hoy made his big league debut in 1888 for the Washington Nationals, who played their home games at the splendidly named Swampoodle Grounds. Although the Nationals finished last, Hoy was one of the team’s few bright spots. He led the league in steals with 82 and finished the year with a team-high .274 batting average.


And he played the outfield with aggressive panache. From center field, he directed his teammates – as a deaf man – on pop ups and fly balls. If the play was his, he would bellow as loudly as he could to signal his bead on the ball. If he couldn’t reach it, he would simply remain silent, tacitly commanding one of his peers to make the play. And he wasn’t timid about his preference for this arrangement.

His teammates respected the dynamic, because Hoy was exceptionally skilled and they all knew it. In 14 Major League seasons, he collected over 2,000 hits, stole 596 bases, and scored nearly 1,500 runs. He was fast and smart and could hit, In fact, he was talented enough to almost make them forget he couldn’t hear.

But there was that nickname.

In time, though, it became a badge of honor, a constant reminder of everything he had to overcome to find success and respect at the game’s highest level.

Just as Hoy was finishing his big league career, a young pitcher in New York was just about to earn a badge of his own.

Luther Taylor played most of his career for the New York Giants and John McGraw, one of the least sentimental managers in the history of the game. So, if Taylor wanted any special dispensation for his deafness, he certainly wasn’t going to get any from McGraw. Not that Taylor ever needed any, though; he was an accomplished amateur boxer in his youth and had an undeniable toughness.

Perhaps, it was that tenacity and his intelligence from the mound that won McGraw over. While the pragmatic skipper lacked pathos, he brimmed with loyalty. Once a player proved his competency and combativeness on the diamond, McGraw willingly became a mentor and protector.

In nine seasons with the Giants, Taylor won 115 games with a 2.77 ERA – including a career high 21 wins in 1904, a pennant–winning year for the New Yorkers.


Although Hoy and Taylor shared scant overlap in their big league tenures, they did have one collective moment of history. In 1902 – Taylor’s rookie year and Hoy’s final season in the majors – the two squared off in game between the Giants and Reds.

In that instant, the two men transcended their insulting nicknames and shattered perceived limitations. If two deaf men could rise to enough athletic fame to meet on a Major League baseball diamond, the alibis of others for lesser dreams and self-limiting expectation seemed all the more hollow.

Thirty-seven years after Taylor threw his last big league pitch in 1908, outfielder Dick Sipek reached the majors with Cincinnati just four years after graduating from the Illinois School for the Deaf. His Illinois coach, Luther Taylor, couldn’t have been prouder.

And no one called Sipek “Dummy” when he stepped on the field.


Although Sipek only played that one season – 1945 – in the majors, he, too, left his mark on the game.

When Curtis Pride made his big league debut forty-eight years later, no one called him “Dummy,” either. By then, perception of a deaf player had progressed to the point where it was merit – and merit alone – that shaped opinions of his play and potential.

Had Taylor and Hoy been alive to witness the thunderous ovation in Montreal a deaf man received for his first big league hit, it would have been that much sweeter to feel the reward for their collective struggle in their bones.




Miami Meltdown

Jeffrey Loria is a sleaze.

Loria, owner of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, recently dismantled his team by trading its five best – and most expensive – players to Toronto for a handful of cheaper prospects, the balance sheet trumping the scorecard with unabashed clarity. Worse still, the demolition – which actually began in July when disgruntled All-Star third baseman Hanley Ramirez was shipped off to the Los Angeles Dodgers – comes less than a year after Miami’s brand new stadium, Marlins Park, was christened.

The ballpark, a $515 million dollar state-of-the-art athletic palace – complete with aquariums behind home plate and an immense retractable roof, was supposed to usher in a new era of style and success to South Florida. Instead, thanks to Loria, it is now home to little more than the echoes of broken promises and a hollowed out player roster. Rather than a sparkling home for a dynamic team on the rise, Marlins Park is more like a ghost ship, an eerie shell of what was supposed to be.

And the sadistic punch line? Miami taxpayers are on the hook for $300 million of the stadium’s gaudy price tag while Loria laughs all the way to the bank. According to Forbes Magazine, the franchise is now worth $450 million, which includes a 25% equity increase the moment the ribbon was cut on the new stadium. And without the pesky impact of a high payroll on operating expenses, the bottom line for Miami’s penurious owner looks rosier and rosier – the wreckage of a livid and heartbroken fan base notwithstanding.

Despite calls for Major League Baseball to intervene, there’s little chance of mediation of any consequence, because Loria has done this before without so much as a strongly worded reprimand as punishment. In fact, the last time he eviscerated a big league franchise Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig saw fit to not only give Loria an escape from the team he destroyed but also approved a loan for him to purchase a new club.

Selig, it should be noted, was a former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers before assuming the role of acting commissioner in 1992 – a position designed to be the impartial arbiter between labor and management. So, as Selig brimmed with conflict of interest, it was of little surprise that he dealt Loria the most favorable hand possible after the latter wrecked his first team and will likely do nothing after Loria decimated his second team.

And that first team, the Montreal Expos, was utterly and irrevocably wrecked – with Loria manning the bulldozer that leveled every last trace of them.

The Expos had been in Montreal since 1969 and had built an uneven but colorful history in Quebec. Outfielder Rusty Staub, affectionately nicknamed “Le Grand Orange” for his bright carroty hair, was the team’s first star.

Future Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Gary Carter headlined contending ball clubs in the 1980’s, which also featured speedy outfield star Tim Raines and pitching stalwart Steve Rogers.

In 1994, the Expos had the best record in baseball with Canadian-born slugger Larry Walker leading the way. Unfortunately, a players’ strike interrupted the season and dragged on long enough to force the cancellation of the entire post season. So, the year Montreal was most suited to win a championship there was no championship to be won.

Behind the scenes, Loria had parlayed his initial $30 million investment in the franchise into a managing partner role with the team in 1999. As a sign of things to come, he failed to secure English television and radio deals for the 2000 season, meaning the only way fans could follow the Expos when they played on the road was to listen to French radio broadcasts. The unprecedented media invisibility hinged largely on Loria’s insistence on uncompetitive fees for the broadcast rights.

Even then, it was clear that he was in it for the money and couldn’t care less about much else.

However, professional sports teams have a symbiotic relationship with the cities in which they play. These teams necessarily become part of the cultural fabric of the area. While they provide excitement, jobs, and fractional identity to cities, they also need support and revenue from residents in return. And the tacit agreement that holds it all together is that the team willingly fields an entertaining and, hopefully, winning product.

When profit supersedes that equation, though, the relationship with the public can deteriorate quickly. In Montreal, Loria’s disdain for anything that would curtail his personal stake in the club doomed the team.

On the heels of the radio/TV debacle, Loria also demanded a publicly financed new ballpark – largely to increase the equity of the franchise – for a team that lost at least 90 games for three straight seasons. And the city of Montreal was in economic hardship already and simply did not have the ethical indifference to prioritize a baseball stadium over schools and hospitals.

So, Loria turned to Major League Baseball to bail him out.

Had Bud Selig a less gelatinous spine, he might have made sure Jeffrey Loria stayed at least 250 yards from a Major League Baseball franchise for the rest of his days. Instead, Selig took the unprecedented step of having the rest of the league purchase and own the Expos in 2002, run them despite competing against them for two full seasons, and shuttled them off to Puerto Rico for 22 “home” games as a way to “internationalize” the sport (and garner a tidy sum for holding such games abroad).

The Expos staggered through the 2004 season before being sold to Ted Lerner and moved to Washington, D.C., leaving a trail of betrayed fans in Quebec – a funny way to promote internationalization of the game, indeed.

As for Loria, Selig not only absolved him from the mess in Quebec he arranged for a $38,5 million loan, enabling Loria to become the majority stake holder in the then-Florida Marlins. The inmate had not only run one asylum and left it in ruins he had been given money to escape the wreckage and run another one.

Just as he had in Montreal, Loria again pushed for a publicly financed stadium for his new team. However, this time, he got it.

In an apparent sign of good faith, Loria spent the 2011 off season signing some of the biggest free agents in the game as a much ballyhooed run up to the grand opening of the new ballpark.

Shortstop Jose Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million deal. Three days later, veteran left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million contract. Closer Heath Bell was also added to the roster for three years and $27 million. In less than a week, the Marlins added three marquee players and $191 million to their payroll. Flamboyant manager Ozzie Guillen, whose fiery antics were the stuff of reporter’s dreams but had also gotten him run out of Chicago, was brought in to lead the team – and the publicity machine.

It seemed like Loria finally understood the responsibility of a franchise to its community. But like much else in his baseball life, he hadn’t the stomach for much of anything other than his own interests. When the team got off to a slow start and struggled to climb in the standings, he began to disassemble his expensive creation.

Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and third baseman Ramirez were jettisoned at the trade deadline in July. After a miserable last place finish, Guillen was fired and Bell was traded to Arizona. In the coup de grace, Reyes, Buehrle, star pitcher Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and outfielder Emilio Bonfacio were sent to Toronto.

In the end, Loria’s good faith with the city of Miami had lasted all of ten months.

As for what lies ahead for the Marlins, perhaps outfielder Giancarlo Stanton – the team’s lone remaining standout – put it best. After the Toronto trade was announced, Stanton, a 23-year-old slugger who hit 37 homers in 2012, tweeted, “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.”

A lot of fans in Miami echo the thought, and many more in Montreal sympathize.

Not that any of it makes a difference to Jeffrey Loria. He’s a sleaze – Plain & Simple. It’s just too bad he has a friend in such a high place in the game.



He Ain’t Heavy, He’s the Left Fielder

It’s hard to believe that Kent Tekulve and Omar Moreno came from the same family.

At least that’s what one winning baseball team, with a little help from the pop group, the Pointer Sisters, would have everyone believe.

As the Pittsburgh Pirates made an unlikely title run in 1979, the team adopted the song “We are Family” as their theme music.  Although none of the eventual World Champs was related, the song reinforced the notion of the closeness and camaraderie of teammates.  The Pirates even had a man lovingly referred to as “Pops” sitting at the head of the table, Hall of Fame first baseman Willie Stargell.

The 1963 San Francisco Giants had no such catchy team melody, nor a World Series trophy to punctuate their cohesion.  They did, however, have something that the 1979 Pirates did not – actual family.  And on one remarkable day that season, the Giants demonstrated the power of family as never before, or since, in Major League Baseball history.

Felipe Alou was the quintessential big brother – tall, strong, and handsome.  In fact, there was something regal about him.  On a baseball diamond, he carried himself with grace, confidence, and an extraordinary level of dignity.  However, his game was an intense blend of controlled fury and relentless competitive hunger.

Felipe Alou, the man, was a consummate sportsman.  Felipe Alou, the player, came after opponents with daggers and had enough power and athleticism in his arsenal to inspire fear.

He reached the big leagues in 1958 with the Giants, and in his most productive bookend years in San Francisco – 1962 and 1963 – he averaged 22 home runs, 90 RBI’s, and 10 steals a season.  And his arm was strong enough to record 16 outfield assists in that span as well.

Physically, Matty Alou was the antithesis of Felipe, two years his senior.  Diminutive and wiry, he had to tailor his game accordingly, utilizing slap hitting and speed to be effective.  While his style of play was less dynamic than his older brother’s, Matty carved out a niche of his own and joined Felipe in San Francisco, debuting with the Giants in 1960.

Once paired with his brother as a teammate, Matty proved a perfect complement.  He hit .310 in his rookie season, and his slashing style and quickness provided a nice contrast to Felipe’s booming bat – like intricate sketching amidst broad, vivid brush strokes.

However, the notion of a pair of brothers both making it to the big leagues, while impressive, wasn’t groundbreaking.  The Covelski brothers, Stan and Harry, had both pitched in the majors in the 1910’s, and Stan became a big enough star to eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  The Deans, Dizzy and Paul, followed suit twenty years later, pitching the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Championship in 1934 as part of the famed “Gas House Gang.”

The renowned DiMaggio’s, though, raised the standard of sibling accomplishment in the majors to an entirely new level.

Joe DiMaggio became an icon for the famed New York Yankees of the 1930’s and 40’s. 

His bespectacled little brother Dom starred for the rival Boston Red Sox, eventually as well known for his heady, flawless play as for his surname. 

And oldest brother, Vince, reached the majors as well – albeit, in journeyman fashion, bouncing around to five different teams during an uneven playing career. However, even he had a flash of stardom, belting 21 homers and driving in 100 runs for Pittsburgh in 1941. 

Between them, the DiMaggio boys were selected to 22 All-star teams.  Joe ended up a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Dom garnered support in many circles urging his induction, though it never came.

So, when Felipe and Matty Alou enjoyed big league success, they stepped into rather large footsteps in the lexicon of baseball playing brothers.  Not that it mattered.  Playing at the game’s highest level was reward enough, because the arduous journey from their humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic to the pristine fields of America was the culmination of a shared dream.

Still, the Alou family was primed to make history.  Because when a third Alou sibling debuted in the majors, it set the stage for something extraordinary to happen – something that even the three DiMaggio brothers had not accomplished.

Like Vince DiMaggio, Jesus Alou hadn’t the overall excellence of his brothers’ games.  However, he was skilled enough in his own right to attract Major League interest.  And Jesus had ability.  He just didn’t have quite as much of it as his older brothers.

As with most who chase successful older siblings, Jesus couldn’t catch up to Felipe and Matty, let alone surpass them.  And this perpetual deficit was made all the more difficult on the youngest Alou because it had to play out in the unrelenting spotlight of professional sports.

So, while Felipe and Matty were becoming big league stars – Felipe went to three All-star games and Matty went to a pair of them – Jesus trailed behind with modest playing totals, hitting .280 over 15 seasons with 32 career homers and 31 career stolen bases.  He had managed to follow his brothers all the way to the majors, an impressive achievement in its own right.

Even more remarkable was the landing spot for Jesus when he arrived in the big leagues – San Francisco.  In 1963, the three Alou brothers were reunited by fate – and the Giants’ progressive scouting in Latin America – as Major Leaguers and teammates.

Felipe, as always, was the leader.  Matty continued working diligently to establish his own identity.  And Jesus spent his days looking to his big brothers for guidance.  It was just as it had been back home in Santo Domingo, except now the familiar dynamic took place in the considerable shadows of San Francisco legends Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal.  And it was especially meaningful for them to not only play alongside each other but also with Marichal, the first Dominican superstar in the majors.

And the 1963 Giants were a fearsome ballclub.  They were the defending National League champions.  And they had chased the New York Yankees all the way to the final out of the 1962 World Series before McCovey’s ferocious liner was caught just as the Series-tying and winning runs were circling the bases.

Their roster included no fewer than five eventual Hall of Famers, and it was a scary blend of power hitting and power pitching.  However, in 1963, they couldn’t muscle their way past their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who rode the pitching brilliance of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to the pennant.

San Francisco’s disappointing season, though, was tempered by one historic day in mid-September.

On the 15th during a game in Pittsburgh, the Giants’ considerable offense took out its frustration on the hapless Pirates.  En route to a 13-5 blowout, San Francisco manager Alvin Dark juggled his lineup to produce one of the great moments in the game.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, he moved Felipe – who had started the game in right field – to left and brought Jesus in to play right.  Two innings later, Dark shifted Felipe again – moving him to center – and brought Matty in to play left.

As Pirate hitters stepped up to the plate and peered into the outfield, they saw the three Alou brothers – the pride of Santo Domingo in the Dominican – standing side-by-side, sharing the same exclusive expanse of turf at the highest level the game had to offer.  And for that one moment on that one Pennsylvania autumn afternoon, the cohesive concepts of teamwork and family melted into one another as had never been seen before – three Major League siblings playing defense together in the same outfield.  It was a remarkable snapshot, and one that hasn’t been captured again in big league history.

But it didn’t last.  Given the nomadic underpinnings of the game – particularly on the business side of things – players necessarily are subject to scattering winds, even brothers.  The Alou’s never took the field together as Major League teammates again.

Felipe was traded to Atlanta after the 1963 season.  Matty was dispatched to the Pirates before the 1966 season.  And Jesus drifted to the Houston Astros in 1969.

Individually, however, they continued to excel, especially in 1966. That season, Matty won the National League batting title in his first year in Pittsburgh, hitting .342. 

In Atlanta, Felipe hit .327 for the Braves, finishing as runner-up to Matty for the batting crown and punctuated his terrific season by launching a career-high 31 homers.

In the end, though, Jesus finally trumped his big brothers, winning consecutive World Series rings as a key reserve with the Oakland A’s in 1973 and 1974.

After their playing days were over, Felipe remained the most visible, spending decades more in the game serving as a batting instructor and bench coach for the Montreal Expos.  In 1992, he became the first Dominican-born manager in Major League history when he was hired to skipper the team.

To further cement the family’s indelible impact on the league, one of Felipe’s best players on that 1992 Montreal squad was his son, Moises.  So, as father managed son, the tandem was on the way to the pinnacle of the sport in 1994.

By August of that season, the Expos had the best record in baseball and started to take on the look of a champion.  Outfielder Marquis Grissom provided the speed, his outfield mates – Moises and Larry Walker – supplied the power, and Pedro Martinez and Ken Hill dominated from the pitcher’s mound.  With Felipe’s steady hand on the wheel, Montreal was poised for something great.

Only, it never happened.

As Major League players and owners squabbled over their riches, they managed to do something that hadn’t happened since 1904 – caused the cancellation of the World Series.  A devastating player’s strike wiped out the final month of the season.  And when the Commissioner’s Office pulled the plug on the entire post season, Montreal’s exhilarating title run came crashing down in irreparable fragments.

As it had been after the 1963 season, change separated the Alou’s.  Moises became a casualty of Montreal’s ever-diminishing payroll and left the Expos after the 1996 season as a free agent.  His father stayed in Quebec, managing the team despite the front office’s best efforts to strip the ball club of talent – either trading or failing to pay the team’s best players.

In 2001, ownership rewarded Felipe’s dutiful and honorable service to the franchise by firing the most successful manager in team history.

However, Felipe carried on with the grace and class that had been his trademark as a player.  And karma seemed to reward such dignified behavior.

In 2003, he returned to his big league roots as the manager of the San Francisco Giants.  To mark the occasion, the team honored its new skipper by inviting Matty and Jesus to join Felipe in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the home opener.

Two seasons later, the mercurial gusts of the game brought Moises to the Giants to reunite with his father.  The Alou lineage had come full circle.  Moises, who was a bona fide star by then, donned the same uniform worn by his father and two uncles forty years earlier. 

And he did so as the most accomplished player in his immensely talented family.  In a 17-year Major League career, Moises was a 6-time All-star, hit 332 home runs, and compiled a .303 lifetime batting average.

The story of the Alou’s and their impressive sporting journey underscores not only the reach and allure of the game but also the drive and kinship forged by brothers, fathers, and sons. Sadly, one of baseball’s most celebrated families recently suffered a tremendous loss.

On November 3, Matty Alou passed away from diabetes complications at the age of 72.

The middle brother of the illustrious Alou trio was gone.  However, diminutive Matty, who had scrapped his way to the big leagues with quick feet and quicker wrists, left his family with a lifetime of memories.  Perhaps, none more cherished and vivid as the moment he took the field with his two brothers and made baseball history.

The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates may have claimed to be family in some symbolic, tangential way.  Felipe, Matty, Jesus, and Moises Alou demonstrated it for real.  And they did so with a grace and humility that brought honor to them all.

And there’s isn’t a pop song in the world that could do such a bond justice.