It was the last major signing of an offseason spending spree that set the stage for a surprising World Series run. On this date, December 12, 1996, the Marlins inked free agent outfielder Moises Alou to a five-year, $25 million dollar contract to be their everyday left fielder.
Alou had a high profile in baseball even before he established himself as a player, as he was part of one of the most well-known baseball families. His father Felipe, uncles Matty and Jesus, and cousin Mel Rojas all had played for significant time in the major leagues. Moises, a five-tool player, appeared to have perhaps more talent than anyone in his talented family, becoming the second overall pick in the 1986 draft by the Pirates. After debuting briefly with Pittsburgh, he was traded to Montreal, where he enjoyed success in his first significant playing time in 1992. (Incidentally, Felipe began managing the Expos that year, creating one of the few occasions in history where a father managed a team that his son played for. In another coincidence, Felipe was eventually fired by owner Jeffrey Loria, who obviously later became owner of the Marlins.) Alou broke out in his first full season in 1993, OPSing .824 with 18 home runs and 17 steals, though an ankle injury that year essentially put an end to his running days.
Alou played three more years with the Expos before hitting the market as as one of the top free agents available. Injuries were a slight concern, what with the aforementioned ankle injury and shoulder surgery in 1995, but they weren't seen as a major impediment for a team making an investment in Alou. Just a couple years before, Florida wouldn't have been a contender for signing such a big-name free agent, what with the young franchise building with young players and forgoing spending a lot of money. But owner Wayne Huizenga began opening his checkbook after the 1995 season, leading to signings such as Devon White and Kevin Brown. The spending accelerated greatly in the 1996 offseason, with major additions including Alex Fernandez and Bobby Bonilla; Alou was the final major acquisition, putting the capper on a pricy but pivotal offseason.
All told, Florida added $20.7 million in payroll, a gigantic increase when you consider that the team's total payroll in 1996 was $31.7 million. Alou's addition gave the Marlins one of the top outfields in the game, with Gary Sheffield manning right field and Devon White in center. Alou came through with the second-best performance of his career to that point in 1997, with an OPS of .866 with 23 home runs as he helped lead the Marlins to a surprising playoff appearance and eventual championship. He had just four hits and an OPS of .374 in the NLDS and NLCS combined, though he did have a walk-off single in Game 2 of the Division Series. But Alou was much better in the World Series, slugging three home runs and putting up a 1.101 OPS in the seven-game set against the Indians.
It seemed like merely the beginning to a successful stint with the Marlins for Alou, but of course it was not to be. He was traded to Houston as part of the fire sale after the 1997 season. Alou went on to play 11 more years in the majors, including very successful performances with the Astros and Cubs (for whom he was a central figure in the Bartman game against the Marlins) before retiring after the 2008 season. Though it was a brief stay, he was excellent in his one year with the Marlins. He remains one of the best players in history who have openly admitted to urinating on their hands in lieu of using batting gloves.
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