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Original Issue

To improve an Alou, age him

Rafael Trujillo, the former strongman in the Dominican Republic, at one time would not allow Felipe Alou to leave the country and sign a professional contract with the Giants. Not unlike another Caribbean dictator, Trujillo knew a good baseball player when he saw him. It was only after Alou led the Dominican Republic to the baseball gold medal in the Pan-American Games of 1955 that Trujillo revised his export policies and lifted his embargo not only on Felipe but all ball-playing Alous. Matty and Jesus soon followed their brother to the United States, where each came up with the Giants and each flared into stardom as he passed his 27th birthday.

It is the Giants' misfortune that they did not discover this latter quirk in the Alou nature early enough. Felipe enjoyed his first superb season with San Francisco when he was 27, hitting .316 with 98 RBIs and 25 home runs. The Giants, however, failed to recognize this as a precedent or to realize that a little patience yields big rewards from an Alou. They traded Matty to Pittsburgh just before he turned 27. In six seasons with San Francisco he had hit .263. In his first year with the Pirates he won the batting title with a .342 average. He has batted over .330 during his four years at Pittsburgh, including last season when he chopped 231 hits.

Even though Jesus was always considered the Alou with the greatest potential, the Giants lost patience with him earlier than with the rest. He was dealt to Houston when he was a mere 25. After batting .248 for the Astros a year ago, Jesus turned 27 in March and this season has become the third .300 hitter in the family. With seven hits in a doubleheader last Sunday, he has increased his average to .321.

"My brothers became really good players when they were about my age. I would like to think I am at that point, too," said the youngest Alou, who falls halfway between his two brothers in both personality and power. Talkative Felipe could hit his 200th major league homer by the end of this season while shy Matty, who is the master of the downward swing that sends low liners and high bouncers scattering into the outfield, has only 17 for his career.

If Jesus' post-27 play continues in a pattern with his brothers, the Alous could become the best hitting family in baseball history. They already have 3.793 hits among them, putting them in range of the three DiMaggios (4,853) and the five Delahantys (4,217) for career hits, and even within a long shot of matching Lloyd and Paul Waner, who hold the record for hits by a family, 5,611. And none of the Alous shows signs of weakening. Felipe is hitting .286 for Oakland this year while Matty, after a slow start, is just under .300 but coming on strong for the Pirates. Life, as the old Dominican saying goes, begins at 27.