Hunter discusses uproar with team, media
Angels outfielder says all is well with Latin American teammates
Baseball's melting pot was set astir this week by published comments about race from Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, and that discussion continued Thursday, one day after his admittedly ill-chosen words hit the public's eyes and ears.
Hunter, one of the most prominent players in baseball and an All-Star with accolades on and off the field, made an immediate admission of a "wrong word choice" on his blog after saying in a USA Today article published Wednesday that Latin American players were "impostors" and should not be counted among the decreasing number of African-American players in the game.
In his blog entry, Hunter wrote: "I am hurt by how the comments attributed to me went off the track and misrepresented how I feel. My whole identity has been about bringing people together, from my neighborhood to the clubhouse. The point I was trying to make was that there is a difference between black players coming from American neighborhoods and players from Latin America. In the clubhouse, there is no difference at all. We're all the same."
On Thursday, Hunter discussed the uproar once more.
"I got on there and that statement is from my heart on my blog. That's the type of person I am," Hunter said. "I know what I am and so do the people who know me. You just can't always believe what you read."
Hunter also discussed the situation with some of his Latin American teammates, and said all is well with them.
"I talked to [Erick] Aybar and Bobby [Abreu] and all those guys and they're not worried about it," Hunter said. "They know me."
Added Angels manager Mike Scioscia: "Torii talks to those guys every day. I don't anticipate any problems."
In the USA Today quote that stirred controversy, Hunter said: "People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they're African-American. They're not us. They're impostors."
He also said players with "dark faces" can be found and signed more cheaply in Latin America: "It's like, 'Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?'"
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a native of Venezuela, scoffed at Hunter's comments, pointing to the contracts of two Cuban players: Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million contract earlier this year, and White Sox infielder Dayan Viciedo, who signed a four-year, $10 million deal in November 2008.
"I was laughing because when he said, 'They go there and sign for potato chips,'" Guillen said. "I said, 'Well, we've got Chapman. We've got Viciedo.' I remember in my time, one scout goes [to Venezuela and] 30 players show up. Now, 30 scouts go there and one player shows up. In our country, we play baseball. That's no choice. Here you can play basketball, you can be another athlete, you can do so many things when you have the opportunity. And that's why there's not many [African-American] players out there."
Some in the blogosphere and on Twitter have been less kind than Guillen, labeling Hunter as a racist for his comments.
Hunter's clarification in his blog and comments to the media Thursday morning were only part of what turned into a rising tide of reaction to quotes he'd given to USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale two weeks earlier. The quotes were part of a panel discussion on how to improve baseball, specifically in this segment of the conversation about developing black ballplayers in the U.S.
"The story was designed to discuss the lack of African-American players in baseball, and what can be done to rectify it," Nightengale wrote in an e-mail response to MLB.com. "The reaction that ensued has been troubling, and quite frankly, disturbing."
According to Nightengale, the eight-man committee USA Today assembled that includes Hunter as well as agent Scott Boras and Reds manager Dusty Baker, was discussing how a lot of baseball fans don't realize how few African-Americans there are playing baseball now compared to previous years: 10 percent of the players on last year's Opening Day rosters were black.
"They'll see a dark-skinned face, and assume he's black, when he's actually Latino. That's all Hunter was trying to do," Nightengale wrote. "When he used the word 'impostor,' he simply echoed another voice. No one in the room said a word, or raised an eyebrow. His intention was simply to point out the difference between the black and Latino player, and not meant in any derogatory way.
"So for this to suddenly turn into a debate on whether Hunter's statements were racist is cruel. It's completely against everything the story was hoping to accomplish. The entire message was lost."
As FoxSports.com baseball writer Ken Rosenthal put it, referring to the way the message was conveyed: "Hunter was wrong. But Hunter is right."
Longtime Sports Illustrated writer and MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci said he has covered Hunter long enough to know that the intent was not the same as the result.
"I sympathize with Torii because given his well-established advocacy for diversity in baseball and his charitable endeavors, it would seem pretty clear that he wasn't look to start a firestorm or denigrate any group of people," Verducci said in an e-mail response to MLB.com. "In fact, Torii has been one of the great ambassadors of the game, which I'm assuming is why he was invited to join in that roundtable discussion in the first place. It would seem that knowing the proper context of the comments, and keeping in mind his track record, would be important matters rather than simply rushing to conclusions on a pull quote."
Baker, a member of the panel who also is African-American, said he was not part of the exchange in question, but supported Hunter.
"He's one of the most respected players around the game by everyone in the game. All I know is that whatever way it came out, I refuse to believe Torii believes that," Baker said. "He's a unifier. He's always treated everybody the same, with respect. That's one of the reasons why he has such a great reputation in the game, along with the way he competes."
Hunter is just ready to move on.
"I think it's gotta die down because it isn't me," Hunter said. "Everything you read wasn't my article or wasn't me at all. It was a panel of eight people and it seemed like it was all me. But it wasn't me."
On the field, Hunter is a nine-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star. Off the field, through the Torii Hunter Project and a wide range of fundraisers, Hunter -- winner of the 2009 Branch Rickey Award for humanitarian service off the field -- has contributed time and resources to his passion of creating more opportunities for youth to play baseball and develop an appreciation of the sport.
"Torii is as open as a person as you're going to meet," Scioscia said. "I think it's part of what gives him strength and why people are drawn to him. He's very open and speaks his mind and is the most positive person I've been around in this game."
For his part, Nightengale remained stunned Thursday that a few choice words from a large conversation have turned into accusations of racism against Hunter.
"I've known Torii and his family for nearly a decade, and for people to accuse him of racism honestly nauseates me," Nightengale said in his e-mail response. "This guy actually brings together a clubhouse, no matter what the race or color. If you knew him, these accusations are laughable, because he may have the most diverse group of friends in the game. There's not a racist bone in his body.
"I really hope people move on because Torii Hunter is one of game's greatest role models. This game needs Torii Hunter, and it's much better with him than without him."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.