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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This Just Doesn’t Feel Right: Milwaukee Brewers to Build Statue of Bud Selig Outside of Miller Park.

I know Bud, I can't believe they're building a statue of you either.

Perhaps it’s because of his movie star looks. Maybe it’s on account of his turning a blind eye to steroids while baseball bulked up and ultimately tarnished two decades of the sport. Or it could just be that the team had some leftover bronze. Whatever the reason, the Milwaukee Brewers decided that they owed it to Bud Selig to erect a seven-foot tall statue of the commissioner outside of their home stadium, Miller Park (I promise never to use the words “erect” and “Bud Selig” in the same sentence ever again). Selig’s statue will join that of former players Hank Aaron and Robin Yount in some sort of bizarre baseball ménage à trois.   

Selig is a former owner of the Brewers that led a group of investors who purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved the franchise to Milwaukee. According to current owner Mark Attanasio, “The Brewers and Miller Park are in this city because of the commissioner’s vision and dedicated efforts”. Be that as it may, does Bud Selig really deserve a statue? 

Selig has done a few good things as commissioner, most notably the institution of the Wild Card, which has helped add parity to a sport ruled by those with the biggest bankrolls (look no further than the Florida Marlins World Series titles in 1997 and 2003). On the other hand, Selig has also presided over some pretty boneheaded decisions, such as ending the 2002 All-Star game with a 7-7 tie (at Miller Park of all places) and then “resolving” this issue by giving the winner of the All-Star game home field advantage in the World Series (this time it counts–yeah sure). Selig has come under intense scrutiny for his role in the steroids era, and rightfully so. He was in bed with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa throughout 1998 and then feigned surprise and disgust when the truth about PED’s couldn’t be hidden any longer. Selig’s not a terrible guy, but he is a terrible liar.

Mark your calendars for August 24th and then make sure you’re not in Milwaukee. That’s the date Bud Selig will be revealed in all his glory. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take long for some vandals to get ahold of that statue.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the Most Important Player in Baseball. Here’s Why.

At 40-years-old, Ken Griffey Jr. is primed for the most important season of his career.

Ken Griffey Jr. is no longer “the Kid”. He won’t be climbing walls and stealing would-be home runs or depositing 40+ souvenirs into the outfield stands in 2010. Junior will huff and puff trying to score from second on a single, struggle to catch up with above-average fastballs and will likely spend more time on the bench than he does on the field. Yet, despite all the shortcomings of his 40-year-old body, Ken Griffey Jr. has never meant more to the Seattle Mariners or the sport of baseball than he will in 2010.

The Mariners enter the season as a threat to win the AL West and a dark horse (though that term is forever soiled by the latest Nickleback album) to make a deep postseason run. The roster has been completely overhauled by new GM Jack Zduriencik and the additions of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley give Seattle an even more talented roster than the one that went 85-77 last year. However, no offseason move was more important to the Mariners and their fans than bringing back Griffey for the 2010 season.

Junior completely transformed the Mariners last year, turning a dugout that looked like a crypt into somewhere more fun than an episode of MXC. For the first time in years Seattle players looked like they were having fun in 2009 (heck even Ichiro smiled, and he was diagnosed with a rare condition that makes it extremely painful to show any emotion) and it’s impossible to overstate how important chemistry was to the Mariners’ success last season.

Ken Griffey Jr. makes me want to be a better man.

Griffey will once again be counted on as the unquestioned leader of the Mariners in 2010, and will have his work cut out for him with the addition of the mercurial Bradley, a talented but troubled player who needs to perform at a high level if Seattle is to succeed in a competitive AL West. If the Mariners do manage to win their division (because the Wild Card will come out of the AL East), Junior is one of just a handful of players on the team with any prior postseason experience and the only remaining link to the Mariners’ magical 1995 season.

Griffey is part player, part coach and part class clown—and Seattle needs him to fulfill all three roles if the team hopes to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Junior is integral to the success or failure of the Mariners in 2010, but he is even more important as a symbol of hope for the still tarnished sport of baseball.

Though Major League Baseball would like to continue to sweep the issue of steroids under the carpet, Mark McGwire’s return to the game has once again brought the taboo topic to the forefront of fans’ minds. Nearly every prolific home run hitter from the last two decades (Barry Bonds, McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, etc.) has been linked in some way to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs…but not Ken Griffey Jr.

He stands above the fray as a man who played the game of baseball the right way, and by not aging gracefully, Griffey in fact aged gracefully. Junior’s head didn’t grow while he was in his 30’s and he peaked when he was 28 or 29, not 38 or 39 (cough Barry Bonds cough). Ken Griffey Jr. is the lone source of light in the darkness that envelops the steroids era and has shown other players and the young kids that look up to him that success can be found without the help of a needle. Griffey took the responsibility of being a role model seriously, and if there is anything that baseball can salvage from the past twenty years, it’s thanks to Junior.

Hopefully baseball fans give Griffey the farewell he deserves this season. He’s done more for the game than we may ever know.

Report Indicates That Sammy Sosa Tested Positive in 2003: Sosa’s Response “No Se”

Wait, this guy used steroids? Couldn't be!

Wait, this guy used steroids? Couldn't be!

Well, perhaps after yesterday’s news, it won’t be such a calm wait for induction into the Hall-of-Fame. The anonymous report, which proved what had long been suspected, indicated that Sammy Sosa tested positive for a banned substance in 2003, joining Alex Rodriguez as the two players whose identities have been leaked from the list of 104 names.

While the specific substance Sosa used wasn’t revealed, the indication is that it was some sort of performance enhancing drug (i.e. STEROIDS, STEROIDS, STEROIDS). Sosa’s legacy had already been tarnished from the corked bat incident and it certainly seemed to the naked eye that Sosa grew rather unnaturally throughout his time with the Chicago Cubs (see photo above).

Despite the fact that his career numbers are outstanding (609 HR, 1667 RBIs, 2306 Ks) this latest revelation destroyed any chance that Sosa had of being elected to the Hall-of-Fame. After all, Mark McGwire hasn’t been able to garner anywhere near the number of votes necessary for induction in the HOF, and there is nothing against McGwire but anecdotal evidence (and one very poor appearance in court).

Sosa rose to national prominence in 1998 when he and McGwire engaged in an epic assault on Roger Maris’ single season HR record. While McGwire eventually won the race to 61 and ended up hitting 70 longballs, Sosa smashed 66 HRs on his way to capturing the NL MVP and winning over the hearts of fans in both America and his native Dominican Republic. Between 1999 and 2002, Sosa continued his prodigious display of power hitting 63, 50, 64 and 49 HRs respectively.

In 2003, Sosa received immense scrutiny after he was caught using a corked bat in a game, but was quickly forgiven by his ardent fans and the Wrigley faithful (give the guy a break, he did say it was an accident, and he seems honest). Sosa spent one more year in Chicago before toiling in Baltimore and Texas during his final seasons. He didn’t play in the major leagues in 2008 and just recently had announced his retirement from baseball, ending his career sixth on the all-time HR list.

The Sosa allegations are just another sad chapter in baseball's steroid era.

The Sosa allegations are just another sad chapter in baseball's steroid era.

Sosa was part of the group of players including Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and McGwire that testified before congress in 2005 about the use of steroids in baseball. During the hearing Sosa mysteriously lost the ability to speak English but through his lawyer issued the statement “to be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” This statement, so blatantly erroneous on the surface, actually has some truth to it. Sosa, a native of the Dominican Republic, could have easily acquired steroids in his home country where they’re not illegal. More than anything, Sosa was guilty of a lie of omission, and this report finally brought the truth to the surface.

In an interview about the allegations, Bud Selig seemed to ignore the past, and professed his affection for Sammy Sosa and repeatedly brought up the fact that baseball now has the toughest drug testing of any sport. Selig wasn’t exaggerating, baseball’s testing is extremely stringent and effective (just ask Manny Ramirez), but he can’t simply gloss over what has happened in baseball during his regime.

If the sport is to truly move forward and leave the Steroids Era, baseball will need to continue to purge itself of cheaters, past and present. Revealing the players on that list from 2003 is an act of carthasis for baseball, the only the way the sport will be able to regain its reputation. Exposing Sosa and A-Rod is a step in the right direction…now let’s bring those 102 other players forward.

Twin City Thunder: Is Joe Mauer the Best Player in Baseball?

The Man. The Myth. The Sideburns.

The Man. The Myth. The Sideburns.

Joe Mauer is as American as apple pie. He wins over the ladies with his matinee idol looks and the men with his talented play. He hits well, runs well, throws well and plays exceptional defense at a premium position. He’s got sideburns that would make Joe Dirt Elvis blush and fittingly  he stars for his hometown team, the Minnesota Twins. Oh yeah, and he just discovered his power stroke, begging the question: is Joe Mauer the best player in baseball?

Since being recalled from the disabled list on May 2, Mauer has been hotter than Roy Hobbes after he got back with Glenn Close in The Natural (yes the same Glenn Close who cameoed as a pirate in Hook; say what you will about Roy’s choice in women, but the man sure could hit a baseball). In just 25 games and 87 at-bats, Mauer has hit at a ridiculous .425 clip, to go along with 11 HRs, 32 RBIs and 26 runs. Eleven longballs in one month is a lot for anyone not named Sammy Sosa, let alone someone who only smacked 9 HRs in all of 2008.

It’s no secret to the league that Joe Mauer can hit (.322 career BA), but he’s mainly been a doubles and singles guy in his first 5 years in the league. Now that he has begun to flex his muscles, pitchers are grappling to find any weakness in Mashin’ Mauer’s game. His career high in homeruns (13) is already in sight, a year (2006) in which he went deep once every 40 ABs. This season Mauer is sending a ball into the bleachers every 7.6 ABs; that’s Barry Bonds circa 2001 territory. Besides providing fans with ample souvenirs thus far, he is also establishing himself as one of baseball’s elite players.

Joltin' Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball right now.

Joltin' Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball right now.

Joltin’ Joe has always been viewed as one of the rising stars of the game, an abnormally large and athletic catcher who could handle a pitching staff (2008 Gold Glove) and make solid contact at the dish (2006 and 2008 AL batting champ). He also flashed good speed for a backstop (28 SBs between 2005-07) and a keen batting eye (career 309/246 walk-to-strikeout ratio). Even though he is entering his sixth year in the league, Mauer is still just 26-years-old, and it appears that his continued maturation as a hitter has allowed him to discover which pitches to drive and how to make pitchers pay for leaving balls out over the plate.

Extrapolated over the rest of the season his current stat-line suggests that Mauer is on pace for 61 HRs and 178 RBIs. While he probably won’t finish with those otherworldly numbers, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he finishes with 30+ bombs to go along with his usual .300 BA. This new facet of Mauer’s game should put him the same breathe as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera. Yes, he’s that good. In fact, if this recent power surge is for real (and there is every reason to believe it is), Joe Mauer may just be the best player in game, hands down. Offensively, defensively–you name it, Mauer is firing on all cylinders at a time when the sport desperately needs a face lift.

Baseball’s savior has arrived…and his name is Joe Mauer.

Manny being Manny? Ramirez suspended 50 games for violation of MLB’s drug policy.

Ramirez's suspension will cost him 50 games and nearly $8 million.

Ramirez's suspension will cost him 50 games and nearly $8 million.

It appears that Alex Rodriguez’s confession in March was only the tip of the iceberg. When news broke early this morning that Manny Ramirez had violated MLB’s drug policy, two questions came to mind: Was he simply ignorant about what he was putting into his body? Or did he actually have the audacity to try and circumvent the rules and still use steroids even after the A-Rod debacle?

The reports that went out today indicated that Ramirez tested positive for a women’s fertility drug, which caused an increased level of testosterone in his body, leading to a positive drug test and the resulting 50-game suspension. Ramirez claimed that the positive test was triggered by a medication that he recently received from a physician for an unspecified medical condition. However, the drug hCG has been linked to other players such as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, and is commonly used by body builders to restart testosterone production following a steroid cycle. Ramirez has not yet explained why he was taking hCG and does not plan to appeal the suspension.

This shocking revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time for baseball, with teams already struggling to sell tickets in a down economy and A-Rod set to return to the field for the first time since he admitted to Peter Gammons that he took steroids. Ramirez, despite his numerous shortcomings, is one of the most popular players in the game and was seemingly above the cloud of suspicion surrounding baseball’s best hitters over the past decade. Manny is 17th on the all-time HR list with 533, and fans had hoped that he would be able to pass tainted sluggers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. But in today’s society, it doesn’t take long for the players once praised to become the target of jeers and insults.

Besides the long-term effects to his reputation, Ramirez’s suspension will clearly hurt the Dodgers (who will be without his services until July 3rd) as well as his teammates from the Indians, Red Sox and Dodgers who will all be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism moving forward. Does Ramirez’s suspension mean that his former bash brothers Jim Thome and David Ortiz took steroids? No, but it certainly doesn’t help their case, or that of any player from this current era. Fans, still reeling from the A-Rod scandal and continued allegations, will find it more and more difficult to believe that any player is truly clean. The titans of the game continue to fall at an alarming rate; how long until another hero falls from his pedestal and how long will fans continue to support this kind of hypocrisy?

The Dodgers may still make the playoffs, but the chances of Manny entering the HOF took a serious hit.

The Dodgers may still make the playoffs, but the chances of Manny entering the HOF took a serious hit.

The Dodgers had raced out to a MLB best 21-8 (including 13 in a row at home) thanks to stellar pitching and the steady bat of Ramirez, who was batting .348 with 6 HRs and 20 RBIs. The team will now be without its best hitter for nearly one-third of the season, and Ramirez will be forced to return about $7.5 of the $25 million he was set to make this season. Baseball Prospectus indicates that Ramirez’s abscence will cost the Dodgers about 3 games, which still puts them on pace for 95 wins, tops in the NL.

The Dodgers will probably still make the playoffs and Manny will still probably put up big numbers throughout the remainder of his contract. But what happens when Ramirez becomes a free agent? Will any team be willing to gamble on a poor fielder and teammate who tested positive for a substance linked to steroids? And what about when Manny retires? A sure fire Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, Ramirez will likely join other convicted cheaters like Bonds, Palmeiro and A-Rod on the outside looking in to Cooperstown.

It’s a sad day for baseball. The once sunny and free-spirited Manny Ramirez will be covered in a dark cloud for the rest of his career. The red-hot Dodgers will be without their best hitter for 50 games. And most tragically, fans will once again lose a hero of the game, as another of their idols falls from grace into the bleak oblivion that is the Steroids Era.

Are there brighter days ahead for America’s past-time? I’m not so sure anymore…