All aficionados of baseball are familiar with the pathbreaking role of Jackie Robinson in reintegrating the game back in 1947. What many fans are less familiar with are the issues that Latinos of color endured both in the minor leagues and the Majors starting back in the 1950s. How difficult was it for a mulato, a person who had never endured (or even heard of) Jim Crow, to come to grips with the “peculiarities” of life in the United States, while simultaneously trying to learn a new language as well as trying play well enough in order to move up the various rungs of a particular franchise’s farm system?
The story of Major League great (as a player and manager) Felipe Alou
sheds light on this important topic. Alou started playing organized baseball late in life (early teens), endured poverty and hardship in his native Dominican Republic, and then helped to break down barriers of language and perception throughout his long career on the field and in the dugout. All the while, he played with skill, dignity, and intelligence; helping to shatter the stereotypes that professional baseball (and many in the United States) embraced about Spanish-speakers.
Felipe utilized his position as a player, coach, and manager to help various clubs win ball games; but he also did even more important things. He challenged the notion that Latinos are lazy and not tactical in their approach and understanding of baseball. By doing this, he has opened many possibilities for the current and upcoming generation of Latinos in the game. No longer are Spanish-surnamed players merely perceived as athletes, now they have Alou, and others, to look toward as role models for entering into the off-the-field aspect of the game. The book, Alou: My Baseball Journey
(University of Nebraska Press, 2018), which is co-authored with Peter Kerasotis
, documents the life, struggles, and successes of this great ambassador of the game of baseball.
Jorge Iber is a professor of history at Texas Tech University.