Felipe Alou Was Right
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 09, 2005

LARRY KRUEGER is not a racist, but his rant on KNBR about “brain dead Caribbean hitters” was. The Giants overreacted, for reasons I’ll get into later, but Felipe Alou’s reaction was correct Alou and his fellow Latinos went through this kind of abuse when he was a player. It understandably enraged him to have this revisited 40 years later.

Nor was this a matter of political correctness, as some have suggested. An example of PC came in Chicago recently when a black television reporter said that attacks on Dusty Baker were racially motivated. Based on what I saw of Dusty when he was with the Giants, I think the criticism is unjustified, but I seriously doubt that it’s racial, a point that was underscored when Michael Wilborn, a black columnist who was born in Chicago, also lambasted Baker.

Managers, whatever their skin color, have to know that they’re going to be criticized, no matter what they do. Alou certainly does. He hasn’t reacted to criticism at all; he didn’t even mention Krueger’s remark that his brain had turned to “Cream of Wheat mush.” Alou told me one time that he had learned to ignore criticism after his first managing job, in the Winter League, when his team led the league every day of the season en route to a championship but he was still criticized on an almost daily basis.

What he reacted to in this case was racial stereotyping of a whole group of players, including his son.

Krueger’s criticism wasn’t even accurate. He had originally thought he’d criticize Pedro Feliz and Deivi Cruz, who will swing at anything, but he generalized his criticism. He should have looked first at the Giants statistics. As of this morning, the four leaders in on-base percentage are Moises Alou, .440, Ray Durham, .372, Omar Vizquel, .350 and Edgardo Alfonso, .349. It would be hard to characterize Alou, Vizquel and Alfonso as “brain dead.”

The free-swinging Feliz leads the team in RBIs by a large margin, with 68, and he has a chance to reach 100 RBIs this season, so it’s also difficult to say he’s hurting the team.

To me, that was the most puzzling aspect of Krueger’s rant: that he singled out hitters, whatever their ancestry. The Giants run production has fallen off without Barry Bonds, but they’ve still scored 472 runs this season. Their main problem is pitching: They’ve given up 553 runs. Since Armando Benitez tore his hamstring, there hasn’t been a single Latino on the pitching staff.

When Alou played, there were outright racial taunts of Latinos and blacks, and clear-cut discrimination for those playing for Giants’ minor league teams in the South. Those of us who didn’t think of ourselves as racists nonetheless mocked the Latino players for their problems with English, never considering how lost we’d have been if we’d had to go to a Spanish-speaking country.

Thankfully, the worst of those days are behind us, but we still need to be aware of how remarks like Krueger’s can affect a minority group.

THERE IS A subtext here: The arrogance of Giants ownership and management.

Giants owner Peter Magowan once tried to get the Examiner to drop Ray Ratto’s column because of his criticism. When I sharply criticized the Giants moves in the offseason last year, Magowan lectured me in his office, though I had been the chief supporter earlier of their drive for a new park and had praised their efforts in putting together the team they took into PacBell. General manager Brian Sabean linked me with Krueger in the phrase “the lunatic fringe.” Of course, we’ve since seen how wonderfully those moves have worked out for the Giants.

With that thin-skinned approach to criticism, the Giants have hated Krueger’s rants on the radio, so they welcomed the opportunity to bash him.

KNBR’s Tony Salvadore did not join in the bashing, suspending Krueger for a week but pointedly saying he had been doing a good job and one mistake did not justify his firing.

Of course it didn’t (even Alou said that in weekend television interviews), especially since the station had been promoting Krueger’s “take no prisoners” approach to radio journalism. Even beyond that, Salvadore was encouraging Krueger to take on the Giants, trying to give the station some balance to counteract Ralph Barbieri’s homerism.

KNBR and the Giants have been linked at the hip for some time. The station was a major investor when the Magowan group took over, though their interest has since been reduced to 1.5 per cent. The Giants have provided the station with almost daily programming for nearly two-thirds of the year, as well as a method of promoting their talk shows, which has been a big boost for ratings.

Now, though, KNBR also has the 49ers, who don’t provide the same amount of programming, with only one game a week, but have a significantly larger following. In this context, the Giants now need KNBR more than the station needs them. When Alou quit his radio show, it was more damaging to the Giants because that show was a way of promoting the team.

ULTIMATELY, the Giants overreaction will hurt them because, when Krueger returns, he’ll have to resume his Giants-bashing or he would lose his credibility.

But that criticism should not include racial stereotyping. There are many reasons to criticize the Giants this year without resorting to that. I think Krueger’s smart enough to realize his mistake and learn from it.

TOMORROW: Jeff Tedford and his Bears.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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