Torii Hunter Channels Jimmy the Greek, Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh: Angels Outfielder Calls Latin Players “Imposters”.

Though Torii Hunter may have been on to something, he picked a poor way to tackle a taboo subject.

In what may have been a rare case of an athlete’s comments actually being taken out of context, Torii Hunter repeatedly put his foot in his mouth in a recent interview with USA Today about racial diversity in baseball. Hunter was discussing the number of African-American players in baseball when he made the following comments:   

“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African-American. They’re not us. They’re impostors. Even people I know come up and say: ‘Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player?’ I say, ‘Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.”   

But unfortunately, he wasn’t done there:   

“As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. 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?’ … I’m telling you, it’s sad.”   

Needless to say Hunter’s comments created a media firestorm that caused him to backtrack from what he said and apologize profusely. But amidst his unfortunate choice of words in regards to Latin players, was Hunter addressing a real issue in baseball?   

Yes and no.   

Just to be clear, Vladimir Guerrero is Dominican, not African-American.

Hunter’s one salient point in the interview concerned the fact that fans have the tendency to lump all dark-skinned players into the same category, which is unfair to all parties involved. Clearly the ethnic experience of an African-American player is going to be different from that of a player from Venezuela or the Dominican Republic, and those differences need to be recognized. Baseball is the most international of any American sport and it benefits from having the best players from all around the globe. The unique fusion of different cultures makes baseball a melting pot very representative of American society as a whole. What Hunter was likely trying to say is that the differences between African-American players and Dominican players should be acknowledged and celebrated by fans, rather than trying to create a homogenous sport. 

If Hunter had stopped at that point and used a different word than imposters his comments probably wouldn’t have generated such a backlash, but saying that baseball is trying to pass of Latin players as African-Americans is a bit paranoid and completely off-base. Baseball doesn’t care about the color of skin its players have, but it does want the most talented players, and for the past few decades a steady stream of superstars has been coming out of Venezuela (Felix Hernandez, Johan Santana, etc.), Puerto Rico (Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez, etc.), Cuba (Aroldis Chapman) and the Dominican Republic (Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, etc). Hunter seems concerned and maybe even jealous about the lack of African-American players in baseball (just over 10% in 2008–the most in over a decade) but the simple truth is that for quite some time African-Americans have been drawn to football and basketball, which offer quick money and more glamorous lifestyles without having to toil away in the obscurity of the minor leagues. A lack of African-American players in baseball does not make the sport racist anymore than the lack of white players makes basketball racist.  It’s a matter of talent, not race.

Hopefully Torii Hunter sticks to talking about what he knows from now on…baseball.

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7 Responses

  1. look, if you’re black, it’s because somewhere in your ancestors’ history, you came from africa. regardless of if you’re dominican, venezuelan, brazilian, or mexican, you live in the americas; thus, african-american.

    sure, your experience may not be the same as an african-american from the chicago, but my experience as a white greek-american is different from my friend’s experience as a white anglo-american. in fact my experience as a white greek american is different than my brother’s experience as a white greek-american. everyone has a different experience. in fact, i think if you assume somebody, because of their race, has had a specific experience before ever talking to them, you’re in fact actively involved in prejudicial assumptive racism. congratulations.

  2. factually, i used “in fact” waaaay too many times in that last paragraph.

  3. Easy there E.T., I mean Bud. I think this is an example of a misguided tangent that maybe Mr. Hunter should have backed out of sooner. Really liked your basketball analogy…

  4. Interesting. I didn’t find Hunter’s comments offensive. He definitely used a few poorly chosen words, and his theory seems somewhat simplistic, but at least we have a player speaking his mind and not mailing in some canned meaningless BS.

    In fact Hunter’s own words kind of destroy his theory. ‘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?’ … I’m telling you, it’s sad.’

    Well that’s right. Why should a team do that? If two players have equal talent any business would go for the lower risk, lower cost option. That’s not racism in that case, that’s cold hard business. It’s exploitation of Dominicans perhaps, but Hunter isn’t trying to make that point.

    There’s plenty of racism everywhere but his example didn’t make sense.

  5. Kyle. I agree that everyone’s experience is different and that putting them in a box before getting to know them is dangerous (or even afterwards if they are claustrophobic), but I think that the point Hunter was trying to make is that the differences between an “African-American” and a “Dominican” are so drastic that they can’t be glossed over by fans.

    I would think that my experience is more similar to yours than it is to someone who grew up in a peripheral (third-world) country where they used cardboard boxes for baseball mitts and struggled to find clean water. By that same token, my experience is also more akin to that of Torii Hunter’s than it is to that of Vladimir Guerrero. The different experiences in America are more related to socio-economic status than color of skin (although SES and race are sadly still inevitably linked) so I could conceivably compare my experience to that of Hunter, but there’s really no basis for comparision to someone who grew up in Latin America.

    Are the experiences of white and African-Americans in America the same? No, but in today’s society they are more similar than the experiences of Americans and those of Latin Americas who grow up in peripheral countries.

    I’m not sure what point I was trying to make, except that baseball could do a better job of recognizing the cultural differences in the sport.

  6. And I forgot to say, good article, Bud. Happy Brithday!

  7. Remember last year when Gary Sheffield made the comment that there are fewer black players in baseball because of racism? Not only was he missing the fact that there has been an influx of players from the Carribean nations, but there are also a significantly larger number of Asian players than there were even five years ago. In other words, it isn’t always about race.

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