Buck Showalter’s comments on Felipe Alou are on the back cover of “Alou: My Baseball Journey.” When the Orioles skipper received an advance copy, he was kind enough to let me read it. I’m glad he did.
This is an important book. This is a Jackie Robinson story from a different place in a different time.
The baseball stories are here. Three Alou brothers playing in the same outfield in a major league game; Felipe Alou’s assessments of the best players he saw at the different positions; his relationships with so many Hall of Fame members, like Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Pedro Martinez, who wrote the introduction.
However, these stories, good as they are, are in the wrappings of a baseball life that reminds me of the Jackie Robinson story, only this life began in the Dominican Republic and it is about the uphill battles against discrimination of Latin American players at every baseball level.
The story is also about those who had his back and the friendships that evolved.
He begins in the hardscrabble childhood of wooden sticks and anything round for a ball and takes you through this life journey that happens to be shaped by the game he loves: dictators in the Dominican, family bonds that tie, the loss of a child, teammates of every perspective, four marriages and a return home.
Alou was a tremendous major league player, manager and executive. He did not mince words in those jobs and does not here. “I arrived in American to a parade. And then the rain thundered down, a torrent of racism.”
On his manager in San Francisco, Alou says, “My immediate concern was Alvin Dark, who wasted no time confirming my darkest thoughts, setting the tone almost from day one with the Latino players.” Dark would later change his ways and Alou explains why.
Alou lays out what happened to the Montreal Expos in 1994, a team he managed, when a players’ strike probably cost them a pennant and cost the city a team.
“I think the only people happy about the strike was our ownership group, lead by Claude Brochu. ... Had we gone to the World Series, and especially if we won it, there was going to be tremendous pressure to keep this young team intact and pay some big salaries,” Alou writes. “I don’t believe ownership wanted that. ... No matter how cheap the Expos could be, it always seemed as though they were looking for new ways to be cheaper.”
He is no kinder to later owner Jeffery Loria.
Nor is he kind to sabermetrics.
“I fear that before long they’re going to have analytics on how a player hits on a cloudy day with the wind blowing from the east to west between five and 10 miles per hour just after he got a haircut,” he writes.
He speaks to steroid use, George Steinbrenner, managerial philosophy and so much more.
As with all good books, you must read it to appreciate it.
“The hardest thing I had to overcome in life? I think racism. That’s so difficult because I don’t think anyone can ever understand it. It’s not that people don’t want to understand it, but they don’t want to touch it.” - Herschel Walker
Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2018 season is his 12th with the club and 33nd covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County, for the 7th consecutive year, have partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium in March. 180 children participated last year.
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