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First, an acknowledgement. I’m a fan of Felipe Alou. He played for the San Francisco Giants in the late '50s and early '60s when I was a fan of that team, and he was terrific.
I only met him once, years later. It was at spring training sometime in the mid '90s, when he was managing the Montreal Expos. And he was terrific.
But I didn’t know until reading his recently published biography that Felipe Alou had a tenuous connection to the activism evident among various pro athletes today.
In February 1963, the citizens of the Dominican Republic, where Alou was born and grew up, elected Juan Bosch their president. This dismayed government officials in the United States, who regarded Bosch as a dangerous leftist. In September, with assistance from the U.S., a military junta overthrew Bosch, who was placed under house arrest.
In the winter of 1965, Felipe Alou was eight years into what would become a splendid 17-year career in the Majors. As the first man who’d gone straight from the Dominican Republic to pro ball in the U.S., he was regarded as a hero. But U.S. Marines occupying the country had insulted him and threatened him with incarceration for walking down the street in Santo Domingo. When he got word that Juan Bosch wanted to see him, he visited the ousted president.
“In my own country, I’m a prisoner,” Bosch told Alou. “You have access to the United States media. When you get back to the U.S., denounce the intervention."
“I knew what Bosch was asking me to do was too dangerous,” Alou reports in his biography. “I had a wife and three children. My parents also relied on me for support.”
“He seemed to understand,” Alou recalls. And he goes on to say, “Baseball had not been important to Juan Bosch prior to our meeting, and I doubt it was any more important afterward. I know one thing for sure: it no longer seemed important to me.”
It’s a quiet acknowledgement 50 years after the fact. Maybe underneath that acknowledgement there’s a sense of regret. Felipe Alou didn’t do the dangerous thing Juan Bosch had asked him to do. Certainly there’s a wistful tone to what he has to say, and perhaps there’s a message, too.
“History has a way of happening, and sometimes it happens to you,” Alou wrote.
I like to think he’s with today’s athletes who have felt history happening to them, and who have spoken up to try to influence the direction it will next take.
This segment aired on April 5, 2018.
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