Swap Shop: Matty Alou Turns Pirate
For five seasons, Matty Alou languished on the San Francisco Giants’ bench, hitting a combined .260. Signed by the Giants in 1957, Alou made his big league debut in 1960. He was an outfielder with a quick bat and quick feet, and too many power hitters between him and everyday playing time.
With an outfield that featured, at various times, the likes of Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and even brother Felipe Alou hitting for average and power, there was little opportunity for Matty to find a place in the Giants’ lineup. From 1961-1964, he averaged only 180 at-bats per season. In 1965, with Cepeda out for nearly the entire season due to injury, and younger brother Jesus playing regularly as the team’s right fielder, Matty should have had his opportunity to shine. But he hit only a meager .231, and he became very expendable on a team in search of more pitching.
That was the Giants’ goal as the team entered the winter of 1965. On December 1, the Giants traded Alou to the Pittsburgh Pirates for utility player Ozzie Virgil and left-handed pitcher Joe Gibbon. A 10-game winner in 1964, Gibbon slipped to 4-9 with a 4.51 ERA in 1965. But the Giants liked the fact that Gibbon had been successful in the past as both a starter and reliever, and they saw Matty as the Alou less likely to succeed.
The Giants were wrong.
Alou’s career turned around with the playing time he received in Pittsburgh. In 1966, with 535 at-bats, Alou batted .342 to lead the National League. (Brother Felipe was second at .327.) Over the next five seasons, Alou would collect 986 hits (an average of 197 per season) and produce a combined batting average of .327. In 1969, he batted .331 and led the league in hits (231) and doubles (41).
Gibbon had three solid but unspectacular seasons in San Francisco, working mostly out of the bullpen with an occasional start. He was 4-6 with a 3.67 ERA in 1966 and 6-2 with a 3.07 ERA the following season.
Alou was a two-time All-Star who ended his career with 1,777 hits – more than half coming during his five seasons in Pittsburgh.