From Felipe Alou’s Perspective, Silence Was Not An Option

By Bryan Burwell
Updated: August 21, 2005

ST. LOUIS — From the perspective of the man with no sense of sound, the view was positively delightful. He could stand there soaking in the intoxicating panorama of a breathless sunset and believe it was heaven on earth.

He could see the birds soaring above the horizon. He could feel the sea breeze splash on his face. But because he could not hear, he was unaware of the commotion behind him.

He did not notice the menacing light show of rumbling thunder and electric lightning bolts illuminating a dark and angry sky. To the man with no sense of sound, the view was just fine.

From the perspective of the man with no sense of smell, the view was practically poetic. He too thought it was a picturesque slice of heaven. But because he could not smell, he never bothered to look beyond the high sandy dunes where all those soaring sea birds were coming from.

Because he could not smell, he failed to absorb the wafting odor of the wretched garbage dump just beyond that sandy hill. To the man with no sense of smell, the view was just fine.

We are in a strange place today, where too many folks prefer to admire the view from their one-dimensional worlds. Your heaven on earth could be my looming storm or pungent landfill. But if you don’t see the thunder and lightning, there’s no storm. If they don’t smell the stench, then the world is a rose garden.

So remember this now as we enter Felipe Alou’s world. Remember this now, as you keep thinking (from your perspective) about how the 70-year-old Dominican manager of the San Francisco Giants is the perfect example of a world gone haywire on political correctness.

Remember this now as you chafe at the aftermath of Alou’s relentless, proactive public backlash that got a radio talking head and two other station employees fired because of their highly insensitive racial remarks on the Giants radio network about Caribbean baseball players.

“It is a like a defeat for everyone that three guys lost their jobs,” Alou said as he sat behind a small desk inside a cramped office in the Busch Stadium visitor’s clubhouse.

“That was never my intent. I’m sorry that happened, but I’m not sorry for what I said. I feel very bad for them, but I didn’t start this mess.”

It was late Saturday morning, a little more than an hour before the start of the Giants’ 4-2 loss to the Cardinals, and we were talking about the power of perspective.

And a soft smile creased Alou’s face as he admired three vintage 1930s black and white photos that hung on the cinderblock wall just above his head. To the left was a shot of Babe Ruth standing in a suit and tie on the dugout steps at old Sportsman Park posing with members of the Cardinals and Detroit Tigers before a 1934 World Series game.

In the center was another shot of an unidentified player sliding into home plate. On the far side of the wall, Ruth and Lou Gehrig were on a fishing boat.

To most folks who’ve visited this shoebox-sized office, those photos represent a charming slice of baseball’s good ol’ days. Yet to this 70-year-old Latin man whose skin is a rich caramel brown, and whose soft voice dances with a Latin lilt, he viewed that baseball art from a prism tinged with darker images of those supposed good ol’ days.

As he motioned toward the photos, in a voice barely above a whisper, Alou said, “That’s from a time when I couldn’t have played in the major leagues.”

Like I said, it’s all about perspective. So now can you at least try to understand what caused Felipe Alou’s visceral passion when he heard those hurtful words spill out of the radio?

“I grew up in a time when people weren’t afraid to fight or even risk dying to change things,” Alou said without a hint of anger in his voice. “But things are different today. People are so busy, and so compromised now that they are sometimes afraid to say or do anything when something wrong happens.”

As Alou sat there, he found a small amount of amusement and irony in his conversation. Here he was attacking the emotional handcuffs of political correctness, even as a whole lot of people with entirely different perspectives believe he’s the eye of baseball’s most recent perfect politically correct storm.

He understands all of that. But he wants you to understand this. “What I did wasn’t just for Latin players. I did this because I want to live in an America where no one regardless of their skin color has to hear that stuff anymore. For too long, I had to listen to that stuff, and it wasn’t right and it isn’t right now.”

Here’s a little history for you. When Felipe Alou arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1956, he spent three years in the minors, playing his first season in Cocoa, Fla., and Lake Charles, La.

He was a young black man with a foreign accent living in the heart of the Jim Crow South. As a powerless but angry 21-year-old kid, he had to silently tolerate that abuse.

As a 70-year-old man with the clout of a well-respected baseball lifer, he refuses to tolerate it again.

We all know the story of how he kept public pressure on KNBR, the Giants’ flagship station. He quit his pregame show on the radio station, then complained that the weeklong suspension of talk show host Larry Krueger was a “slap on the hand,” and continued his complaints against the station and Krueger, until six days later, when KNBR fired Krueger, the program director and a producer.

“If at all possible, I want to be at peace with all men,” Alou said as he scanned the starting lineup card. “But at some point you have to stand up and defend yourself and your people. No one wants to be called stupid, and that’s what he was saying about (the Latin players)”.

“That’s a very hurtful and insulting thing. So you try to be at peace with everyone, but if someone is calling you an ass … how can you be at peace?”