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 Alouâ€™s level and demand that KNBR step up and fire Larry Krueger. Email [email protected] and let them know that we want our sports a la carte: hold the racism.
Second Essay: Firing Fallout Falls on Felipe
So you say you wanna be a racist? Put down that burning cross! Rip up your white hood! Throw away your CD of “Trent Lottâ€™s Favorite Negro Spirituals!” The quickest way to be branded a racist is to stand up to racism.
Just ask San Francisco Giants’ manager Felipe Alou.
Last week, KNBR’s Larry Krueger called the Giants a team of “brain dead Caribbeans.” Alou straightened his spine and said, “Hell no.” In the ensuing storm, Krueger was canned. Now Alou, in the eyes of a whole strain of the sports industrial complex, is the bad guy and Krueger has morphed into Mario Savio with gravy stains: a free speech martyr sacrificed on the altar of “political correctness.”
When Krueger got the boot, Alou was sympathetic but remained firm . “I feel bad about people being fired.
It wasn’t my intention, but I didn’t start it and I took a stand. I want people to understand that [racism] is a social issue. I want to make people aware of that so they will know that in the United States, it won’t be tolerated.”
But it is the 70 year old manager’s anti-racism that is meeting with a tide of intolerance. The mainstream media has called Alou called “divisive,” “venomous,” and even “Machiavellian.” In one theory oozing its way through talk radio, Alou has masterfully used the uproar to draw attention from the Giantsâ€™ hideous season. The real students of Machiavelli, however, are those who have reframed the debate to be about Alou instead of the issues he was striving to bring to light.
As Chuck Carlson in the Reno Gazette-Journal wrote, “Felipe Alouâ€™s bizarre reaction has only hurt his case for racial sensitivity in this country…[I]n this instance, Alou looks like an overwrought bully who may need his own course in sensitivity training. Should Krueger have said it? Of course not. It was a dopey comment said for a cheap laugh and itâ€™s done a thousand times a day in a thousand different places…the truly strange part of this story is how Alou has reacted.”
Carlson is absolutely right that racism raises its ugly head “a thousand times a day in a thousand different places.” But to him and his ilk, injustice is the tolerable status quo. To actually speak out is “truly strange” and “bizarre.” It’s like George W. Bush sneering at Cindy Sheehan for ruining his vacation.
Krueger meanwhile has been called a “sacrificial lamb” destroyed by “political correctness.” Gary Radnich, a San Francisco television sportscaster said, “Felipe Alou got rolling, got a head of steam up, and in this politically correct world, you don’t get a second chance any more.”
Another wrote that Krueger is being railroaded because he is some kind of populist hero. “KNBR is the Giants’
flagship station but Krueger’s opinions aren’t always popular with the suits and ties. It makes you wonder if the Giants are trying to rid themselves of their most outspoken critic.”
This is simply a rotten, red herring. The issue is not whether Alou “went too far,” but the banal, persistent, thudding reality of racism in the United States. Every day, on both sports and talk radio, gallons of spew are projected across the airwaves. Every day we condition ourselves to just ignore it, absorb it, and move on.
Alou, to his eternal credit, refused to play that game.
He stood tall and attempted to shine the brightest light possible on some deeply ugly ideas. One of his points that has his detractors in a lather was when he called Krueger a “messenger of Satan.” Asked if he didn’t think the statement about Satan was too harsh, Alou explained: “I didn’t call him Satan and I never would. I said he was a messenger of Satan, because his message was a message of division. We should be past all that after so many years.”
I was asked on sports radio if the Satan remark was somehow “worse” than the statement about “brain dead Caribbeans.” The feeling was that Alou was somehow “meaner” than Krueger and therefore worthy of equal contempt.
Once again, this goes back to having the most basic understanding of what racism is and is not. Racism is not about hurtful words, bruised feelings, “political correctness,” or refusing to call short people “vertically challenged.” Racism is about power. To be Latino in the United States means living with a bullseye on your back. In California, it means living in a state where the Republican governor welcomes an armed militia to hunt you down at the border. In New Mexico, it means Democratic Governor Bill Richardson declaring a “state of emergency” to appeal for the National Guard to stop “the flood” of “illegals.” Right now, anti-immigrant fear-mongering is political gold. Alou referenced this racist renaissance when he said, “We’re not out of the woods yet, and the thick wood is coming.” To ignore the “thick wood” means to invite a knock on the head. Our hope for the future lies in doing exactly what Alou did: calling out racism as loudly and sharply as possible, without regret and without a pause. As Alou’s friend, Hall of Fame slugger Orlando Cepeda said, “Trust me, you have to fight. When people are wrong, you’ve got to let them know it.”
[Dave Zirin's new book "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States" is published by Haymarket Books. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports- [email protected]. Contact him at [email protected].]