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 is carrying on the legacy of one of the Dominican Republic's most distinguished baseball families.
Rojas' father is Felipe Alou. In 1958, Felipe 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. But a mix-up 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. So did Rojas' half-brother Moises Alou. (A DiComo - MLB.com - Jan 24, 2020)
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 takes over for 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 1990s. 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, being that 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. "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.
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 2017. 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."
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), who 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." (A DiComo - MLB.com - Jan 24, 2020)
His former charges also speak glowingly 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," said Rojas. "The advice I always got from my dad was to be the same with the guys, on and off the field." (Nathalie Alonso - MLB - Jan. 22, 2020)
When asked in the past about his managerial aspirations, Luis Rojas tended to shy away from grand proclamations. His pedigree was obvious as a member of baseball’s esteemed Alou-Rojas family. His resume was growing by the year, with experiences higher and higher on the Mets’ organizational ladder. Rojas, though, tried not to let his ambition cloud his present. So he stayed quiet and patient, never publicly admitting his goals, when he slipped a No. 19 Mets jersey over his shoulders.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Rojas said. “To become the New York Mets manager, that was my dream. Standing here in front of you, I can share it with you now.”
Seeking stability in the wake of Carlos Beltrán’s departure from the organization, the Mets turned to Rojas, who joined them before the 2007 season. He quickly became a Minor League manager, overseeing future All-Stars Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and others, as he worked his way upward from Class A Advanced St. Lucie to Double-A Binghamton, then finally to the big league coaching staff last season.
“We get to promote one of our own to be the leader and face of our Major League team,” Mets GM Van Wagenen said.
At 38, Rojas becomes the second-youngest manager in the Majors behind Rocco Baldelli, and the Mets’ first Dominican-born manager. Growing up, Rojas spent countless hours in the Expos' clubhouse alongside his father, manager Felipe Alou. He called his dad “my college, my university of baseball," but Rojas learned from his uncles as well, and his half-brother Moises, and so many others.
He learned outside his family, too, even if that’s a matter of semantics. Rojas went out of his way to call the Mets his extended family, and for good reason. He has spent more than a third of his life working for them in various capacities. He started out doing grunt work as an entry-level employee. Over 13 seasons, he ascended to one of the most powerful positions in the organization. Few people on Earth know more about the inner workings of the Mets than Rojas.
“I don’t want to leave anything out that’s put me here where I am today,” Rojas said “I think every single thing has led to this, from conversations with my relatives to the experiences in the Minor Leagues and winter ball. There have been a couple of championships as a manager and as a coach. Those are the things that we can employ and use for our team, as well.”
It is such familiarity that the Mets hope will allow Rojas to make a seamless transition to manager at a time when the Mets hope to compete for a World Series title.
“We have a good team,” Van Wagenen said. “We have a collection of Major League players that are talented and built to win right now.”
Over the next few weeks, Rojas will continue the process of preparing for the season, as Alonso, Jacob deGrom and other key Mets trickle into Spring Training. He will not have to introduce himself. He will not have to define his expectations. The Mets already know Rojas and what he represents.
They also understand his goals.
Said Rojas: “I will lead this team into success.” (A DiComo - MLB.com - Jan 24, 2020)
Jan 2020: As Luis Rojas enters his 14th season with the Mets organization, his greatest asset as the club’s newest manager will be the relationships he has built with players while working his way up the ladder. That has been the message since the day he was officially hired to fill in the hole left by Carlos Beltrán’s departure. At the Mets’ inaugural FanFest at Citi Field, what became explicitly clear was just how many players have ties to the 38-year-old first-time Major League manager. Out of the seven players who spoke to the media—Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Amed Rosario, Steven Matz, Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz and Jeff McNeil—all but one (Díaz) had previous connections to Rojas, and each one spoke in glowing terms about the type of person and manager they know and expect him to be.
DeGrom, Matz and McNeil had Rojas as a manager at Class A Savannah in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively; Rosario at Class A Advanced St. Lucie in 2015; and Alonso at Double-A Binghamton in 2017 and 2018. Canó, though he never played for Rojas, did play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in 2013, when they went unbeaten and won the title under GM Moises Alou, Rojas’ half-brother. Perhaps none was more effusive in his praise for Rojas than Alonso.
“Seeing him manage a game, I mean, the dude never loses cool, he never hits the panic button, he’s always so prepared, and he doesn’t just use his knowledge of the game, he uses his instincts very, very well,” Alonso said. “He’s paid his dues managing in the Minor Leagues, he’s paid his dues managing in the Dominican [Winter League], he’s been in the playoffs in the Minor Leagues a ton, and he’s won championships in the Dominican. I think people don’t really understand how difficult that is. Because in the Minors, you have a shuffling of players going up, down, guys signing, guys getting released—it’s a revolving door. Same thing in the Dominican Winter League. “But now, up here, we’re going to have a solid core of guys. We know where people are going to be, we know our identity, and I just think that’s going to translate extremely well. Because if he can win with a big shuffle going on, he can for sure win with guys that are going to be staying in their spots. He’s a great guy, a great manager, and I’m so pumped, so pumped for him.”
Matz has firsthand experience with that winning culture, as Rojas guided his Savannah Sand Gnats to the South Atlantic League championship in 2013. During the long Minor League season, Matz said, the team became a family, living in close quarters and riding the bus together. The fond memories he has from that time stick with him, and he credits Rojas for fostering that type of environment.
“He’s very approachable. He’ll give you his honest opinion, which is what we need,” Matz said. “He was really even-keeled—didn’t get too high, didn’t get too low, just stayed the course and pulled for us. I really enjoyed playing for him, and now I’m looking forward to him leading the way.”
Jake deGrom, one of the longest-tenured Mets, has been around to see Rojas’ rise over the course of the past decade, and said the manager’s success comes as no surprise. “He just knows the game of baseball really well, and he communicates really well with everybody,” deGrom said. “He’s definitely looking out for your best interests. In the Minor Leagues, his goal was player development. You can tell that’s still his mindset. He wants you to be your best. And any time somebody can get that out of players, it will definitely help the team.”
Rosario and McNeil echoed similar sentiments, calling Rojas a supportive presence and citing his open style of communication as a boon to the Mets’ clubhouse.
Ultimately, though, what is most important to the Mets players is how Rojas’ hire will allow them to maintain continuity as they hope to build upon a promising second half of the 2019 season, in which they went 46-26 and at times looked on the cusp of making the playoffs.
“I talked to [general manager Brodie Van Wagenen] and asked him, ‘Well, if we get someone externally, are there going to be any changes?’ And he was like, ‘What do you mean?’ Alonso said. “I said, ‘Well, we’ve got such a great staff. At this point all the positions were taken up other than the manager spot. And I love working with [all of the coaches], all the pitching staff. It’s just a great dynamic of people, and I didn’t want that to change.
“Luis would really help get the most not only out of our players, but Luis works great with everybody, and it would make sense to have someone who works well with other people. Because at the end of the day, if someone is butting heads or clashing in the workplace, it doesn’t translate to good results. But Luis is going to be awesome. Not just me, but so many guys who came up through the system played for him. And the guys coming from other teams, I think they’re really going to take a big liking to him.” (B Ashame - MLB.com - Jan 25, 2020)
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Dominican-born Luis was joined in Florida by his wife, Laura, and the couple’s 7-year-old son, Luis Felipe. Luis Felipe’s school in the Dominican Republic, like many others around the world, transitioned to virtual instruction during the pandemic. So Rojas’ days involved helping his son with his lessons and lending a hand in the kitchen.
Rojas was still making time to exercise at home, he says, though he was not rising quite as early. Rojas' father and mentor, former Major League outfielder and manager Felipe Alou, was also home in Florida and lives about an hour away, though in accordance with social distancing guidelines, Rojas had limited his visits. (Alonso - mlb.com - 4/2/2020)
July 19, 2021: Mets manager Luis Rojas was suspended two games for what Major League Baseball deemed “excessive arguing” during the first inning of Sunday’s 7-6 comeback win over the Pirates. Rojas served his suspension July 19-20, 2021 in Cincinnati, with bench coach Dave Jauss taking his place.
Rojas vehemently argued with umpires after a Kevin Newman dribbler was ruled fair, allowing three runs to score and resulting in the manager’s ejection.
“Obviously, I’m a little upset that I’m going to be missing the next two games,” Rojas said. “I always want to be there. … But the league’s got to do what they’ve got to do.” (A DiComo - MLB.com - July 19, 2021)