A version of this story first ran on July 2, 2019.
NEW YORK -- As a result of a paperwork glitch that happened more than 60 years ago, you can't tell by his name alone that Luis Rojas, who was named the next Mets manager, is carrying on the legacy of one of the Dominican Republic's most distinguished baseball families.
Rojas' father is Felipe Alou, who in 1958 became just the second Dominican native to play in the Major Leagues (and the first to make the transition directly from the island) when he debuted in right field for the San Francisco Giants. Alou also became the first Dominican to manage in the Majors when he took the reins of the Montreal Expos in 1992.
In the D.R., Felipe went by his paternal last name, Rojas. A mixup over Latin American naming conventions led to a Minor League official listing his surname as Alou, that of his mother.
The error stuck. Two of Rojas' uncles, Felipe's brothers Jesus and Matty, also adopted Alou as their last name as they put together solid big league careers. And Rojas' half-brother Moises Alou made six All-Star teams in 17 Major League seasons as an outfielder, including six with the Expos.
In their baseball-crazed homeland, the Rojas-Alou clan is royalty.
The spotlight is now on Rojas, who is poised to take over as Mets manager just weeks before Spring Training. He replaces Carlos Beltrán, who “mutually parted ways” with the organization after Major League Baseball issued its report on the Astros’ sign-stealing operation.
Rojas, who is entering his 14th season with the Mets, first joined the big league staff in December 2018 when incoming general manager Brodie Van Wagenen named him the first quality control coach in franchise history.
As such, Rojas, 38, found himself drawing on the summers he spent shadowing his father in Montreal as a teenager in the '90s. The time he spent rubbing elbows with Moises, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker and other accomplished Expos players left him with a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of a big league clubhouse. Rojas considers it a boon to his coaching career, because he didn't make it to the Majors as a player.
"Looking back, in this role, it was very valuable to have grown up in a baseball environment," Rojas, speaking Spanish, said last season. "I got comfortable interacting with big league players ... interacting with them, watching how they worked day to day, how they interacted amongst themselves, how they got along in the clubhouse."
Back then, teams weren't concerned with launch angles, spray charts or defensive shifts -- elements of today's game that have become Rojas' bread and butter. As a quality control coach, he was a uniformed liaison between the Mets' analytics staff and the coaching staff. It was his job to help coaches and players -- in his case, hitters -- digest the information.
"He does a great job of filtering through some of the analytical numbers and stuff like that to make them a little more usable," former Mets manager Mickey Callaway said at the time.
Rojas, who also served as the team's outfield coach in 2019, emerged as a fit on the Major League staff because of his overall baseball acumen, as well as his familiarity with the young players on the Mets' roster, said former Mets GM Omar Minaya, currently a special assistant to Van Wagenen.
From 2017-18, Rojas managed at Double-A Binghamton, leading the Rumble Ponies to a playoff berth in ’17. He has also managed in Rookie ball (2011), Class A (2012-14) and Class A Advanced (2015-16). Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario, Brandon Nimmo and Tomas Nido were among the young Mets players under his watch at some point.
"When Brodie came on board, when we broke down our better, top-ranked personnel in the Minor Leagues, he ranked right up there as one of the top guys as far as managers and an overall baseball man," said Minaya, who was the Mets' GM when Rojas got his first coaching gig with the organization, in the Dominican Summer League in 2007.
"We interviewed other people for the job too, but he fit the role perfectly. He's not only a well-rounded baseball guy, but he's also open-minded to information, how to manage information, how to use information for the hitters and everything else. He fit the role because of the knowledge, and he fit the role because of the relationships with some of the players."
Manager in the making
Even before interviewing for the Mets’ managerial position last fall, Rojas would often get the question: Did he aspire to be a Major League manager?
His answer was yes.
“It's a goal that could come up at some point, so you prepare for that," Rojas said during the 2019 season. "That's something that right now I can't control. … What I want is to keep preparing, keep adding to my experience with the guys and enjoy this.”
Minaya was among those in the Mets' organization who saw this fit coming.
"It's in the genes for him," Minaya said last year. "In due time, he's going to be a Major League manager -- a very good Major League manager."
As a manager, Rojas is likely to be somewhat of a hybrid.
The proliferation of advanced analytics across baseball is reflected in the rise of the young, numbers-savvy skipper, valued for his ability to connect with players even in the absence of managerial experience. Aaron Boone of the Yankees, Gabe Kapler of the Giants and Rocco Baldelli of the Twins are among the recent hires who fit that mold.
In Moises' words, Rojas is also "a modern guy who loves statistics, analytics" and draws praise for his communication abilities. But having taken his first coaching job in his mid-20s, Rojas has also amassed the experience of a baseball lifer. His managing credentials include five seasons in winter ball in the Dominican at the helm of the Leones del Escogido (a team his father once managed), which he led to a league championship in the 2015-16 season.
The GM of those Leones teams was none other than Moises, 15 years his senior, who considers his little brother's passion for the game to be his "chief virtue."
"Luis loves baseball. He breathes baseball. He was like that from the time he was young," Moises said, in Spanish. "I've always said, and it's not just me, that Luis will one day be a Major League manager."
His former charges also speak glowing of "Louie," citing his demeanor as a strength, alongside his knowledge and pedigree.
Alonso, who played under Rojas in two seasons with Binghamton, called him "one of the most even-keeled managers I've had." McNeil, an infielder/outfielder who played for Rojas at various levels in the Minors and has worked with him on outfield defense this season, echoed the sentiment.
"I think he'd be a great big league manager," McNeil said last year. "He knows the game really well. He comes from a big baseball family. His emotions [are] real calm. He gets along well with the players. He's just a baseball guy. I think he'd be a tremendous manager."
Smith, a first baseman learning to play left field with Rojas' help, remembered the support he found in Rojas when he made the jump from high school to pro ball.
"I was 17, turning 18, playing my first full season and he was my manager," Smith recalled. "Being a young kid around a bunch of college guys, that can be overwhelming, especially [in] your first stint in pro ball. I’d just come from high school, and he definitely helped me with not stressing and putting too much pressure on myself and having fun with the game.”
"As a friend, outside of baseball, he tries to be the same with us," said Nido, the Mets' backup catcher. "Nothing changes. He's not set on one way of thinking. He listens to what we think and how in some situations we might think differently. He's willing to listen to different opinions.
"He's someone who lets you play and isn't trying to change everything about you. He trusts you and gives you confidence, no matter how good or bad things are going for you."
That's by design.
"The advice I always got from my dad was to be the same with the guys, on and off the field," Rojas said.