Felipe Alou, the Dominican baseball legend, has deep roots in Palm Beach County

I’ll be meeting with Boynton Beach’s Felipe Alou this week for a column on his new book, “Alou: My Baseball Journey,” and a celebration of his long ties to Palm Beach County.

As an appetizer, here is something I wrote way back in 1991 about a West Palm Beach Expos team that Felipe managed to the Florida State League championship. What happened to them on the bus ride home from the title series in Clearwater is a classic tale of life in the minors.

(A column from the Sept. 11, 1991 Palm Beach Post)

By Dave George, Sports Columnist


   Sirens blared in the streets of West Palm Beach Tuesday, heralding the
arrival of the newly crowned Florida State League champions. A police car led the West Palm Beach Expos‘ bus down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and into the
Municipal Stadium parking lot, the triumphant conclusion to a return trip from Clearwater and the deciding game of the league championship series.
Somewhere, a dog barked, his echo bouncing off dark buildings. Perhaps a

Felipe Alou around 1991 as manager of the West Palm Beach Expos, a job he held for seven seasons before moving up to manage the Montreal Expos and San Francisco Giants (Palm Beach Post file photo)

drifter stirred drowsily on a bus stop bench. If anyone else other than a
handful of loyal fans was aware of the Expos‘ victory parade, which lasted
from approximately 4:28 to 4:30 a.m., they could only have been on their way
to make the doughnuts.
By 5:15, most of the Expos‘ clubhouse was stripped of personal belongings, the parking lot cleared of players’ cars. Six hours earlier, these young
dreamers had been hugging and laughing and whooping it up over a league title that was 138 games in the making. The celebration, however, didn’t make it to sunrise. The real world had lurched back into action by then and the Expos had resumed their offseason lives, each group oblivious of the other.
“There are lot of West Palm Beach Expos in Alabama and Mississippi and
South Carolina right now, all of them headed home,” said Expos pitcher Doug
Bochtler, a former John I. Leonard High School star.
Rest assured that none of them are traveling by bus. Never again will they board one of those rolling bricks voluntarily.
“I guarantee you that if a major league team wins the World Series, their plane doesn’t break down on the way home like our bus did last night,”
Bochtler said.
Stranded on I-95 near Blue Heron Boulevard, the champions dealt with one
last dose of Class-A confusion. Still riding the high of the franchise’s first league title in 17 years, philosophy won out over frustration.
“When the bus kicked out, I guess it was just fate, something to keep the team together a little longer,” said Ron Colangelo, the Expos‘ radio voice.
Move over, Pops Stargell. Here is a real baseball family, playing for
minor league scraps rather than bonus playoff money. Playing like there may be no other games to play, next season or any other. For some of the
overachievers on the roster of manager Felipe Alou, there won’t be.
“A couple of the guys came by my house around noon to say goodbye on
their way out of town,” Bochtler said. “The way everybody left showed the
biggest key to us winning the whole thing. This wasn’t a traditional handshake and good luck thing. There were guys hugging and saying thanks. We all know
this could be our only chance at winning a championship.”
Bochtler never won a baseball title before, despite being good enough to
share the FSL lead in victories (12). He was 7-2 with an 0.72 ERA as a Leonard senior, but didn’t experience the team success of a district title. Same goes for his American Legion Post 47 team or Indian River Community College.
Taking the field in Clearwater Monday night, all the emotions bubbled up
at once. The Expos were playing for the league title, but they were doing so
in front of just 292 fans. Also, even though West Palm Beach was about to win it all as a wild-card playoff entry, not a single Expo name was called as FSL President Chuck Murphy announced the league all-star team before the game.
Minor slights, these were, when the team was sized for championship rings a
few hours later.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” Bochtler said. “Even if I make it
some day to pitch in Montreal, that ring won’t come off me.”
All the rainouts and rescheduled doubleheaders should come with some
reward. The Expos have a loyal following, averaging nearly 1,800 at home games in 1991 to rank second in the league. But in the end, it’s up to the players
to find their own motivation. They won the opening game of the FSL
championship series at home before a crowd of 480. They won for themselves.
“People who don’t get involved with this team don’t know what they’re
missing,” said Louise Hiers of West Palm Beach. “These are just young kids a
long way from home, some of them for the first time.”
Louise, 65, is known as “Mom” by the Expos. She has been at almost every
home game for the last 18 seasons. Monday night she was with them in
Clearwater, and when the team arrived at Municipal Stadium early Tuesday
morning, she was there again, kissing and hugging each player as he stepped
off the bus.
Thus, Mom sent her family to the four winds. A championship team dissolved into the dawn, just like all beautiful dreams.

Sooner or later a college coach is going to work out in the NBA

If the Chicago Bulls close the deal on Fred Hoiberg as their new head coach, it won’t be the first time the franchise has turned to Iowa State for leadership.

Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg's first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg’s first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tim Floyd jumped right from coaching the Cyclones to running the Bulls in 1998 and it was a disaster. In four seasons of trying to win with a stripped-down roster minus Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and other championship pieces, Floyd was cut loose with a record of 49-140.

Among the other busts in making the leap from college coaching to the NBA are John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton. Tark the Shark only lasted 20 games as coach of the San Antonio Spurs because he got sick of ownership trying to set his lineup.

So why the trend among NBA franchises to dip back into the college ranks with increasing frequency?

Billy Donovan to Oklahoma City makes some sense because he won a couple of national titles at Florida and was a Final Four regular but still it’s a gamble.

Brad Stevens, meanwhile, is gaining some traction with the Boston Celtics. He made the playoffs in his second season after making the jump from Butler. That’s encouraging, and follows with his pattern of efficiency in twice reaching the NCAA championship game with a mid-major team.

Hoiberg never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in his five seasons as Iowa State coach but he did play 10 seasons in the NBA and later served as a vice president with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Put it all together and it looks as if NBA owners increasingly want coaches who are still willing to learn, who have sharp technological skills and who are willing to bend.

That means giving in to management in ways that Tom Thibodeau didn’t believe he should have to do after earning a .647 winning percentage in five seasons as the Bulls’ coach. It means giving in to veteran players on occasion, too.

The players, remember, are the real celebrities here. That’s how two rookie NBA head coaches – David Blatt and Steve Kerr – could wind up in the 2015 NBA Finals this week. That’s how Erik Spoelstra won two NBA titles in Miami.


Dan Jennings’ step from the front office to the dugout in Miami can still go in any direction. It was the same with Jim Fanning, who late in the 1981 season became the manager of the Montreal Expos after previously serving as the team’s general manager and director of scouting.

Fanning, whose easy manner and courtesy made lots of friends back when the Expos trained in West Palm Beach, didn’t bother giving a pep talk when he first stood before the team as manager.

“I gave them a fact talk instead,” said Fanning, who shockingly replaced Hall of Famer and

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

two-time World Series champion Dick Williams. “I told them they had 27 days to win it.”

That’s how many games remained in the regular season and Montreal won 16 of them. How much or how little Fanning had to do with that is difficult to tell. He was, however, the only manager in Expos history to reach the playoffs, losing in the 1981 National League Championship Series when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game.

Fanning, who died April 25 at the age of 87, had managed 20 years earlier in the minor league system of the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.

Jennings’ story is still being written, but if he can match Fanning’s 116-103 record as Expos manager, that would be far more than anyone expects.