Three weeks before the start of the 2010 Major League Baseball season and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter has found himself in the middle of a pickle. In an article that was published in the USA Today on Wednesday regarding the decline of black players in baseball, Hunter was quoted as saying that Dominican players aren’t black but are “impostors.”
“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African-American,” Hunter told the USA Today. “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.’ ”
“As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us,” Hunter added. “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.”
By the end of the day, the three-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner had to clarify his comments, which were originally made two weeks ago at a USA Today roundtable, after it was viewed as potentially racist.
“I’m not going to apologize,” said Hunter. “I told the truth. I’m sorry if I used the wrong choice of words. It wasn’t a racist word. I can’t believe people take that as racism. Maybe it was the wrong word, but I do too much in the community to make this one word ruin anything.”
Hunter, who was the 2009 recipient of the Branch Rickey Award for exceptional community service, is a class act on and off the diamond.
Let’s get past the fact that Hunter is guilty of using the wrong choice of words for a second so we can focus on the real issue at hand, which is the number of black players in Major League Baseball.
According to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, black players made up 10.2 percent of major leaguers in 2008, an improvement after reaching an all-time low of 8.2 percent in 2007.
By associating Dominican players with blacks, it disguises the fact that MLB has a long way to go in competing with the NFL and NBA in urban communities.
The Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which is expanding to Miami and New Orleans, is a step in the right direction, but how about MLB promoting their black stars more aggressively?
Most sports fans are familiar with the likes of Derek Jeter, C.C. Sabathia and Ryan Howard but what about the Curtis Grandersons and Hunters of the world who are often overlooked? Sadly, Rihanna has done more in the last few months to help outfielder Matt Kemp’s popularity than the Los Angeles Dodgers have done during his first two full seasons with the club.
For every young black kid who aspires to be like Hunter, there are 100 that look up to LeBron James or Adrian Peterson.
MLB could start with Atlanta Braves prospect Jason Heyward. The 20-year-old outfielder is regarded as the top minor league prospect according to Baseball America and manager Bobby Cox compared the sound off his bat to that of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. Barring injury, you have a future young black star in the making who has unlimited potential and the opportunity to be a role model for thousands of inner-city kids.
Until it becomes “cool” to play baseball instead of football or basketball, there will be little to no increase in the number of black players and MLB will be the one caught in the middle of a pickle.