In November of 1963, a very different article appeared in SPORT magazine. It was entitled, “Latin American Ballplayers Need a Bill of Rights” by Felipe Alou and Arnold Hano.
The Alou name represents one of the most storied families to play Major League Baseball. The Alou brothers had long careers in the big leagues, and two of them, Mateo and Felipe, lead the NL in batting average in 1966. Felipe played 17 seasons from 1958-1974, racked up over 2,000 hits, 200 HRs, and was a three-time all-star. As a manager, he won over 1,000 games with a .503 winning percentage.
I found Felipe to be warm, personable and an excellent interview. He made me feel at home in the villa the Giants provide him and his family during Spring Training in Scottsdale. His memory recall was strong, stretching back some fifty years to recount racism and discrimination in the majors and the minors, from 1956-1964.
The article came about because MLB fined Felipe and other players $250.00 for competing in an off-season tournament in the Dominican Republic. MLB had no idea of the cultural and national sensitivities in play. National players were expected to represent their countries and to sit out would be a slap in the face to their countrymen. One of the games featured Cuba vs. the Dominican Republic, Camilo Pascual facing Juan Marichal. What I’d give to have been able to watch that game!
Felipe, a proud man who attended the University of Santo Domingo in Puerto Rico, was incensed. If the fine was not paid, he would not be allowed to attend Spring Training. He refused to pay the fine and was content with staying home to start the season on principle. The dust-up spurred SPORT editor Al Silverman to assign Arnold Hano to conduct a series of interviews with Felipe to air his side of the story.
SPORT was escapist fare: there were no stories tied to the Vietnam War, Civil rights or other issues of the day. Their stories typically focused on the athletes and games. “Latin American Ballplayers Need a Bill of Rights” was off the beaten track, and gave national exposure to Major League Baseball’s lack of cultural understanding of Latino players and their obligations to their own countries.
A month after the article came out, Felipe was traded by the Giants to Milwaukee. “It broke my heart to be traded”, said Felipe. He felt he was let go due to his perception as a militant, even though he was one of the star players on a team (he had 98 RBIs in 1962) that was crowded with outfield talent, two of whom were Felipe’s brothers.
Felipe, now near age 80, continues to work with the San Francisco Giants as a special advisor. What a pleasure to speak with someone who loves the game and had such a long and distinguished career as both a player and a manager. His interview was heartfelt and moving, and I look forward to sharing it with the world.