Si Se Puede: Felipe Alou Stands Up to Bigotry

In the current climate of anti-immigrant, Latino-bashing, border patroling, right-wing chic, let this message ring across the land: don't mess with Felipe Alou. Don't mess with the 70 year-old Giants manager, who has stared down the U.S. Marines, the Jim Crow south, and Major League Baseball and will give no quarter: especially if you are just another dime store right-wing microphone jockey trying to make your name on his back.

Larry Krueger learned this late last week when the San Francisco KNBR  “radio personality” described the San  Francisco Giants as “brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly” and then characterized Alou as having "cream of wheat in his brain."  Krueger thought that his gutter racism would pass unnoticed. But by taking on Alou, Krueger has proven painfully overmatched.

Alou's response was immediate, political, and refreshingly unforgiving. "It made me sad to know that 40, almost 50 years later, we have comments like that, especially in San Francisco,” he said. "There are more countries [represented] in San Francisco now than when I was a player here and I never heard anything like that.  I heard it in the South and in some other cities, but not here. A man like me and the Latin guys out there, we have to be aware now that [racism] is not over yet. It is coming back."

His son Moises, who plays for the Giants, said that Krueger's comments were all too familiar to what is said by many off microphone. "In the minor leagues, people think all Dominicans, Mexicans and Venezuelans are dumb," he said. "You think if a guy doesn't speak English it's because he's stupid. You go to the Dominican and try to have conversation in Spanish, and see how easy it is."  It is this pent up frustration felt by many Latino players that explains why Felipe Alou also rebuffed Krueger's efforts to save face and apologize. "I know this individual came to apologize to me. Are you kidding? There is no way to apologize for that kind of thing. If I say I accept it, the Latin players will never forgive me. There's no way to apologize for such a sin.”  Alou also asked people to consider how many countries  comprise the Caribbean, and said, "All of these people were offended by that idiot."

In taking on Alou, Krueger was out of his league. Alou was the first Dominican player ever to play in the Majors. Couple that with his dark complexion and a minor league stint in Louisiana, and Alou's intro to the United States was “a depth of racism I never saw in the Dominican Republic.” While the rest of his team dined in segregated restaurants and stayed in "whites only "hotels, Alou ate meals on the team bus and scrounged for housing. But Alou never let it beat him down. "I was never scared. Some of my [Black] teammates were, but I was proud of who I was and where I was from." As a minor leaguer in Louisiana, Alou wouldn't listen when bus drivers would tell him to take his seat in the back.

This didn't stop in the minors. When Felipe played with his brothers Jesus and Matty for the Giants, it took just one losing streak for manager Alvin Dark to say, "We have trouble because we have too many Negro and Spanish-speaking players on this team. They're just not able to perform up to the white players when it comes to mental alertness."

Alou struck back by successfully campaigning for Major League Baseball to hire a person in charge of ensuring the welfare of Latin American Players.  In 1965, Alou won when Commissioner William D. Eckert hired Cuban born Bobby Maduro for this newly created role. "Felipe went through a lot of trouble not just for Matty and me but a lot of Dominicans as a black Latin player," remembers Jesus.  "He went through a lot to clear the path for others."

Alou's politicization continued when he saw firsthand the US Marines occupy the Dominican Republic in 1965. "Hopefully it will be the only time I will have to confront soldiers from another country," he said in a recent interview. "We lived for months under occupation from foreign soldiers. You just can't ignore that."`

Now looking at a world where military occupation and racist slander persist, Alou is wondering how much has changed. Despite the outrage over Krueger's remarks, the radio jock has been suspended by the station for only a week. "It's a slap on the hand,'' Alou said, slapping his own hand. "He could come back with something else in a week.''  Alou said that in protest, he would no longer do his pregame radio spot with the station. "My voice and the voices of others can't be coming out of the same wave,'' he said. “No way. I am a man of principle. I always have been and always will be.''

Let's see if we can rise to Felipe Alou’s level and demand that KNBR step up and fire Larry Krueger. Email sports@knbr.com and let them know that we want our sports a la carte: hold the racism.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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