176.1 The Alou baseball dynasty…Felipe, Matty, Jesus, and Moises…deserve a blog all to themselves, and this is it. But first, we must address the fact that their last name is not Alou! In Spanish, you have 2 surnames…one from your father and one from your mother. Then again, each of your parents also has 2 surnames, so what you get is your father’s first surname and your mother’s first surname…you end up named after your 2 grandfathers’ paternal lines.
176.2 The brothers were born in the Dominican Republic…their father, a blacksmith, was black…Jose Altagracia Rojas, nicknamed Don Abundio…the Abundant One. Yes, in the Anglo press and on the Anglo internet, the second surname is sometimes left off…altho I found 4 sites in Spanish that also give no hint of a second surname, so that’s a mystery. I can tell you that Altagracia is a given name…for both sexes…but Hispanic given names can be used as last names, altho more commonly there’s an “ez” suffix indicating “son of.” Altagracia had better not be his first surname…that would open a whole other can of worms, nez pah?
176.3 Jose married a white woman of Spanish descent, Virginia Alou Reynoso…thus their sons are Felipe, Mateo, and Jesus Rojas Alou. That’s their full legal name…in their home country they are known as Felipe, Mateo, and Jesus Rojas. When the eldest Felipe signed with the NY Giants in 1955, somebody got his last name wrong, and he didn’t feel it his place to correct it. His brothers and son Moises followed suit… even tho Moises’ last name is Rojas Beltre, from his parents. BTW, sometimes you will see their mother called Virginia Alou de Rojas…if she cares to, a married woman can replace her second surname with her husband’s first surname. And permit me to correct 3 misconceptions about the name Alou. First, it’s pronounced a-loe not a-loo…rhymes with Joe, not Jew.
176.4 Second, the Alous are not the only players to be mistakenly known by their matronymic surname. Baseball-research.com, which in my experience tends to get its facts pretty much straight, lists around 40 Latin players who appear to have played under their mother’s name. I say appear because it can get complicated. Beginning in the 1500s, the custom emerged of connecting the 2 surnames with “y” which is Spanish for “and.” Thus on I Love Lucy, Ricky’s full name is Enrique Alberto Fernando Ricardo y Acha, sort of a paste-up of his real name Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III…and that’s where the IV comes from, right. This convention isn’t used much anymore…I mention it only because it came in handy when somebody’s surname, patronymic or matronymic, was itself composed of 2 names, which could happen…you could be Pablo Pizarro Cortez y Balboa…Pizarro Cortez from your father, Balboa from your mother. Further, single-word surnames would occasionally get reversed and stay that way…today you can do that legally in some countries as a nod to equal gender rights. So checking out what’s what with those other “mama’s boys” (no offense intended, please!) is a project for another day.
176.5 But third, and this is most important: everywhere you look, they say the person who turned Felipe Rojas into Felipe Alou was the scout who signed him…some helpful folks go on to explain that this scout didn’t understand Hispanic naming customs. Trouble is, if people bothered to find out who that scout was, they’d discover it was Horacio Martinez, one of the first Dominican players in the Negro Leagues and a member of the Latin American Baseball Hall of Fame…makes sense having a native Dominican scouting the island players, no? He also signed Manny Mota, Juan Marichal, a host of others. So I’d say the mistake must have occurred further down the line in the Giants front office. Or perhaps he simply got the name wrong, thinking it was Alou Rojas…I wonder if anybody knows for sure? 176.6 As to the dynasty, Chart 624 shows all the professional ball-players in the immediate family. Mel Rojas pitched for 8 seasons in the 1990s, with a record of 34-31…he is often called the brothers’ nephew and Moises’ cousin, but as you can see that would be half-nephew and half-1st cousin. Before Virginia, Jose was married and had 2 children…his first wife is said to have died young. A very informative article “The Alou Legacy” in Sports Illustrated, June 19, 1995, by Michael Farber says: “[her] name was not known by most of his [Jose’s] family.” Too bad Farber didn’t speak to any of the ones that did know. Mel’s half-brother had a brief minor league career, as did Moises’ brother and half-brother. Mel’s son Mel Jr. is currently an outfielder with the Pirates at AAA and doing quite well…might be seeing him in the Bigs soon…he hit a homer during spring training against the Yankees. 176.7 Since the three brothers all came up as outfielders with the Giants…Felipe in 1958, Matty in 1960, and Jesus in 1963…it is often wondered if they ever played in the outfield together. The answer is yes…in 3 games in September of 1963…altho only in the late innings, since only Felipe was a starter at the time…they were also in 5 other games together, Matty and Jesus as pinch-hitters. In fact, in Jesus’ first major league at bat, Sept. 10, 1963, he and Matty both pinch-hit ahead of Felipe in the 8th inning…and all 3 Alous were retired by Mets pitcher Carlton Willey. But that month was their only time together, the only 3 brothers on the same team in the 20th century, the so-called “Modern Era.” Felipe was traded to Atlanta the following spring…he and Matty were reunited briefly with the Yankees in 1973. Oddly enough, for 5 years the Oakland A’s had an Alou on their roster, but just one at a time…Felipe 1970-71, Matty 1972, and Jesus 1973-74. I might also mention, the only brothers to finish 1-2 in batting average, 1966…Matty with Pittsburgh .342 and Felipe with Atlanta .327…his his teammate and countryman Rico Carty right on his heels at .326.
176.8 But here’s the thing…as famous as the Alou family is, their trail along the internet is strangely spotty…everybody agrees that Jose and Virginia had 6 children…but their exact identities are inconsistent. To give you a taste of it, I will cite 3 very credible sources…(1) the SABR biographies for Felipe and Jesus (Matty’s doesn’t mention the non-playing siblings)…(2) a detailed article on the family written in Spanish posted in 2004 on the website of Hoy, a Dominican newspaper…and (3) the obituary of Matty Alou in the New York Times, Nov. 3, 2011. Now all 3 say that Felipe, Mateo, and Jesus have a sister named Virginia after their mother…it’s the other 2 that are up for grabs. (1) says they are Juan and Maria. (2) says they are Juan and Francisco…they are mistaking the half-brother for a full brother. (3) says they are Jose and Zula…the Associated Press obit, with input from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, also says Jose and Zula…but only the Times points out that Jose went on to become a civil engineer. Do they mean Juan? Could Maria be Zula? Good questions, sez me. I took my best shot with Chart 624 and for now I’m sticking with it.
176.9 And a note on Jesus Maria Alou…it’s common in Spanish to name a boy after “Jesus and Mary”…or “Joseph and Mary”…heck, there was even an Italian actor named Gian [John] Maria Volonté. There have been many Latin players named Jesus since, but Jesus Alou was the first. The Giants front office was concerned, supposedly pow-wowed with religious authorities, and were advised to come up with a nickname…which they did…Jay Alou. Needless to say, it didn’t stick…even Topps on their rookie card felt comfortable with Jesus…after all, it’s hay-SOOS, not JEE-sus. And if you want to get technical about it, Joshua derives from the Hebrew name Yehoshua, transliterated into Greek as Jesus…and nobody in our culture has a beef with Joshua. Funny tho, he could have been Chuy Alou…that’s pronounced “chewy”…a common nickname for a lad named Jesus, along with Chucho.
176.10 But you know what they say…in for a penny, in for a pound…so while I was at it, I figured I’d sketch out the rest of Don Abundio’s abundant grandchildren, starting with the 11 from Felipe’s 4 marriages.
You’ll notice that in Chart 625, I haven’t included the offspring’s double surnames…I do know that from wife #1 they are Rojas Beltre and from wife #3 they are Rojas Brens. No clue for the American and French Canadian wives. But it appears all the boys in the family have baseball in their blood…Luis Rojas Brens never played in the majors or minors, but by his early 20s was a coach and instructor with professional teams in the D.R. The first of the 3 Felipe Jr.’s was a promising high school player until his tragic death in 1976 by drowning. And I should mention that Moises did not grow up with his dad…Felipe and Maria divorced with he was 2…father and son actually became closer as adults. 176.11 As to the rest…the Sports Illustrated article from 20 years ago mentioned that
Jesus Jr. …yes, nicknamed Jay!…had graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, intending to go on to medical school…but first a stop at the Montreal Expo’s minor league camp. It seems nothing came of that…and I can find no trace on the net of a Dr. Jesus Alou. Interesting tho, in one of the obituaries for Matty, Jesus Jr. is quoted about his uncle having a pacemaker…so perhaps that worked out after all. His last name is Rojas Hanley…all 5 siblings were born and raised in the D.R. As to the Alous’ half-brother Francisco, his 2 baseball-playing sons are said be brothers, but with different maternal surnames…Medrano and Santana…I assume that’s half-brothers.
176.12 Beyond the immediate family, at least one “cousin” pops up…Jose Sosa, who pitched briefly for the Houston Astros in the mid-1970s. As you can see below, either his second surname is routinely omitted, or his mother was a Sosa and his father an Ynocencio. Sadly, I consulted 2 old-style reference books (off-line!) and while they both believe that Jose is his sole given name, they disagree on which surname is which.
176.13 Notice also that estimates of his relationship to the Alous are typically loosy-goosy…”cousin” to both a father and his son?…and they don’t even try to figure it out for Mel Rojas Sr., which is probably just as well, sez me. Assuming Jose is a 1st cousin to the Alou brothers, Mel and Jose would be in the neighborhood of half-1st cousins once removed. But then is he a 1st cousin? If there is indeed a pair of siblings amongst the 4 parents, Jose’s name should have either a Rojas or an Alou in there somewhere…that’s the beauty of the double surname system, after all…and it appears it does not. Time for me to hit the showers, till next time…
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