Moises Alou, the Astro, was an epic fucking monster

Nowadays, former Major League outfielder Moises Alou is best-remembered by casual fans for his role in the Steve Bartman fiasco in 2002, when Bartman (and about 20 other people) attempted to catch a foul ball just as Alou raised his glove to try and snare it. As the ball bounced away from both Alou and Bartman, Alou reacted with visceral disgust at the perceived interference.

The Cubs would eventually give up a season’s worth of runs in one half inning in the midst of an epic collapse at home in Game 6 of the NLCS. They’d also blow a lead in Game 7 and watched as the Marlins moved on and once again snared a random World Series title six years after their first random ass title (of which Alou was a part of).

Oh, and the city of Chicago showed how low mob mentality can drag a population down by pinning the whole thing on Bartman.

Could Alou, a well below-average outfielder at this stage of his career, actually catch it? Did Alou’s reaction egg on the crowd’s eventual escalation of hostility towards a poor guy wearing a fucking turtleneck?

Well, for the purpose of this particular content, let’s just roll with, who gives a fuck?

While the images of the Bartman play seem to dominate the casual fan’s memory of Alou, let’s not let that gloss over an important detail…

Between 1998 and 2001 (with 1999 excepted due to a knee injury that wiped out his entire season and earned him a spot on Bleacher Reports 50 Dumbest Injuries list), Moises Alou was not just a star mainstay in Houston’s outfield, he was also an unholy offensive monster rivaled by only the very best and biggest names in baseball during the tippy-top peak of the steroid era.

See for yourself.

1998: 159 G/.312/.399/.582/.981/38 HR/124 RBI/84 BB/87 SO/WAR: 6.2

2000: 126 G/.355/.416/.623/1.039/30 HR/114 RBI/52 BB/45 SO/WAR:2.6

2001: 136 G/.331/.396/.554/.949/27 HR/108 RBI/57 BB/57 SO/WAR:3.0

Now, there is no evidence that Alou himself ever indulged in any form of illegal tomfuckery, nor has anyone ever publicly accused him of such activities.

We can only then assume that Alou’s career peak occurring at the exact same time as the biggest offensive explosion in baseball history was simply a coincidence.

While his performance certainly didn’t come out of nowhere (he finished 3rd in NL MVP voting in 1994 while with the Expos and 10th in 1997 in his lone year with the Marlins), his three active seasons in Houston were head and shoulders a better statistical collection than anything he did in six years with Montreal, his lone season in Florida, or anything he did afterwards.

It’s not even really close.

In six years with the Expos, Alou amassed a WAR (Wins Above Replacement, for the uninitiated) of 12.3. In three seasons with Houston, he amassed a WAR of 11.8.

That’s roughly an identical overall value provided in three less seasons, 187 less games and 593 less at-bats.

That’s fucking stupid.

Always known for his ability to make contact and minimize strikeouts, Alou took his talent to another level in Houston, walking 193 total times while striking out only 189 times.

In three years.

Eat your heart out, Mark Reynolds. Feast your eyes, Chris Carter. Go back to air conditioning the ballpark, Chris Davis. You fucking novices don’t belong in the same game as Moises Alou, Houston Astro.

In 1998, only two men finished ahead of Alou in the NL MVP race… Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

Sosa actually ran away with that award, dwarfing even McGwire because, simply put, McGwire was either hitting a home run, walking because no one wanted to give up a home run, or was being as useful as an actual bottle of androstendione with a glove in every other facet of the game. Those were his only functions.

Sosa actually had value beyond hitting home runs (though that was quickly going to change). He still struck out a ton and walked pretty sparingly for a dude who hit 66 homers, but he had historically been a slightly above average defensive outfielder (’98 was actually his first negative defensive season), but he pretty much spent the rest of his career becoming a bat-only liability.

Alou? Oh, well Alou only hit 38 homers in 1998, but he walked more than Sosa, got on base more, and — outside of slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs — was either Sosa’s equal or superior.

There was no reason outside of home runs and RBIs for McGwire to even be anywhere near Alou, but — as the commercials in ’98 often claimed — chicks dig the long ball.

So did the voters, apparently.

In 2000, after missing the previous season due to the aforementioned ACL tear that was the result of falling off of his stationary workout bike (just try picturing it without laughing), Alou came back in top form, playing 126 games and seemingly loving the new, friendly confines of then-Enron Field.

My biggest beef with that season? Oh, I don’t know, maybe that a guy can produce a line like .355/.416/.623/1.039 and only finish 20th in the NL MVP voting.

Read that again. He hit .355 and finished in 20th fucking place.

By 2000, Alou, his defensive skills further compromised by his reconstructed knee, was now solidly a below-average defender. But his offensive output was unquestionably deserving of consideration for something beyond finishing behind Rob fucking Nenn, or Darryl fucking Kile (RIP, my man!), or Edgardo fucking Alfonzo.

I’m not saying Alou was the MVP in 2000, he most certainly wasn’t. His placement wasn’t even the biggest aggrievement in that race. That would be Todd Helton, who had a legendary season, but finished fifth behind Kent, Bonds, Piazza, and Edmonds because Helton played at Coors Field, and this was what voters did back then — he plays at Coors Field half the season? Fuck him.

But Alou’s season was absolutely worthy of more than just a cursory 20th place nod that only gets noticed when some asshole like me goes onto baseball-reference and sees it.

(SIDENOTE: I’m not over the Helton thing just yet. In 2000, that dude hit 42 home runs with 147 RBIs, and produced a sizzling line of .372/.463/.698/1.162. His WAR value: 8.9. Outside of home runs, Helton led the NL in everything, including hits with 216. He blew everyone away and finished FIFTH. Fucking unbelievable.)

The best way to explain why Alou’s tenure in Houston is so widely overlooked comes in three parts.

  1. The Era
  2. The Guys Around Him
  3. Low Home Run Totals Relative To His Peers

This was an era of inflated EVERYTHING — homers, hits, walks, heads, arms, back acne. By comparison, Alou’s offensive output in 1998 was still buried in the upper tier of performers behind the likes of steroid poster boys like McGwire, Sosa, Andres Galarraga, Juan Gonzalez, Manny Ramirez, and Rafael Palmeiro, among others.

If you didn’t hit 50 home runs, you didn’t matter. You REALLY didn’t matter if you couldn’t even crack 40, which Alou never did.

To compound matters, he was in a lineup with future Hall of Famers in Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, as well as mashers like Derek Bell and Carl Everett. As the years went on, he’d also play alongside more heavy hitters like Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo, and Ken Caminiti.

The Astros were routinely one of the best offenses in the NL during Alou’s tenure, with much thanks to Alou, but his contributions were routinely overshadowed by his own teammates, not to mention players around the league.

But make no mistake, the Astros are not the team they were in that period without Alou.

When Alou signed with the Florida Marlins before the 1997 season, he did so with the intention of sticking around Miami for a while, signing a five-year, $25 million deal.

By the time the Marlins capped the ’97 season with a stunning World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, Alou, 30, was a cemented All-Star entering the peak of his career.

Then came the fire sale.

The Astros had spent the ’97 season finally breaking their 11-year postseason drought, winning the NL Central with a flimsy 84–78 record. Their playoff return would be brief, as they were quickly swept by the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS and their unholy trio of Hall of Fame assassins — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.

Realizing that their offense needed punch to relieve pressure from Bagwell and Biggio, GM Gerry Hunsicker joined the crowd of executive buzzards flying over the Marlins’ fresh carcass and executed the greatest trade in Astros history up to that point, dealing minor league pitchers Manuel Barrios and Oscar Henriquez, along with a PTBNL (which would be infielder Mark Johnson) to the Marlins for Alou.

1998 would end up being the greatest season in Astros history up to that point, as the team became the NL’s deadliest offense, pulled off a last-second deadline deal for future Hall of Fame ace Randy Johnson, and saw the team post a then-franchise record 102 wins.

Hunsicker couldn’t miss that season. He grabs Alou for peanuts, then finds a diamond in the rough with Carl Everett, reshaping the team’s outfield for dudes who could easily be in the witness protection program, they’re so anonymous, and then capped it off with the Johnson deal.

Oh, and that June, he drafted future stars Brad Lidge and Morgan Ensberg, just to show off.

The Astros still got rolled in the NLDS, this time by the underdog San Diego Padres, but that was the Astros’ M.O. back in those days — dominate the regular season, build up our hopes and dreams, and then get jammed by Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine, Kevin Brown, and even Sterling fucking Hitchcock.

Playoff failures aside, ’98 was magical and it all started with the acquisition of Alou. He relieved so much pressure from Baggy and Biggio and helped create a murderer’s row of sluggers that simply wiped most of the National League out.

Alou retired after the 2008 season, having left the Astros after 2001 and moving on to the Cubs, Giants, and Mets.

Almost from end to end, Alou crafted a brilliant 17-year career in The Show. But his three-year stretch in Houston was far and away his peak. While he falls short of Hall of Fame credentials, he’s certainly in the Hall of Very Good.

I often wonder, had the Astros re-signed him after 2001, what his career would have looked like. In retrospect, it turned out to be a decision I’m sure Hunsicker would like to take back.

While Alou went on to continue his productive ways in Chicago, though not quite to the level he had in Houston, the Astros watched a once-promising young outfielder in Richard Hidalgo continue to fall from grace after a menacing campaign in 2000.

The Astros also hoped youngster Daryl Ward could fill the void with regular playing time, but his production paled in comparison to Alou’s.

Could you imagine even a 37-year-old Alou in the Astros’ 2004 lineup with Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent?

Granted, the presence of Alou probably negates the whole Beltran trade that June, but still. In 2004, Alou hit a career-high 39 home runs for the Cubs and produced a WAR of 4.0, which would stand as his last great season.

It’s a shame the Astros let him walk when they did, but the three years of production that Alou gave the Astros was otherworldly and the trade to get him on November 11, 1997 still stands as one of the best trades in Astros history.

Joel Roza Jr. is an at-large writer covering a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from sports to politics and other special interests.