Skip to content

Torii Hunter: black Dominican players are "imposters"

Mar 10, 2010, 7:57 AM EDT

USA Today continues its five-part round table on improving the game,
and today they take on a monster: race.  Torii Hunter throws a big
freakin’ bomb
:
 

Fans look down from their seats onto the
baseball field, see dark-colored skin and might assume they are
African-American players. But increasingly, the players instead hail
from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or Venezuela.

“People
see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African
American,” Los Angeles Angels center fielder Torii Hunter says.
“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
says. “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.”

I
have great respect for Torii, and I wouldn’t deign to know more about
race and baseball than he does, but this statement is 100%
unadulterated bullcrap.  I covered this topic three years ago, and it
was the first post I ever wrote that gained any attention by anyone.
The point still stands, however, so I’ll more or less quote myself:

The notion that the number of U.S.-born black players in
Major League Baseball has declined is manifest.  There are any number
of reasons for this, not the least of which is that U.S.-born black
kids are more likely to play
basketball or football than baseball these days. As a baseball nut this
bugs me because there are likely a dozen black kids playing second
string safety in the SEC or someplace who could have
been ten times the ballplayer than many of the guys on your team’s
roster. Indeed, if only a handful of black athletes chose to
play baseball instead of basketball or football guys like Mike Jacobs
would be working at a Jiffy Lube right now, and no one would be upset
about that except for some Jiffy Lube manager.  I’m greedy: I want all
the best athletes playing baseball and I’m bummed when they don’t.

But this notion that today’s diversity in baseball is some sort of sham
and that black Dominican players are “impostors” is beyond repugnant.
No, they’re not from the U.S., but if Jose Reyes and Vladimir Guerrero
aren’t black, I’m not sure anyone is.

The fact that more and more of
baseball’s black players happen to come from a couple hundred miles
south of an artificial political border doesn’t mean that there is no
one around to receive the torch passed down from Jackie Robinson, nor
does the fact that baseball has spent millions to develop Latin
American talent mean that the sport has turned its back on U.S.-born
blacks.  And while, like Hunter, I’d like to see more U.S. blacks
playing the game, to suggest, as he does, that Major League Baseball
has some plot to overlook them in favor of international players is
plain dumb. If anything baseball would love to have it the opposite
way. After all, U.S.-born blacks are subject to the draft and can be
paid peanuts for years. Dominican or Venezuelan players get big signing
bonuses. At least the good ones do.

Hunter’s comments speak to our nation’s profound immaturity when it
comes to race. A mindset that makes rigid and often artificial census
categories like “black” and “Hispanic” take on much more significance
than is warranted and causes us to lose sight of what’s really
important.  What’s important in my view? The big picture: baseball is a
truly
international, multi-ethnic game in ways that, say, American football
will never be, and that if there’s a meritocracy anywhere in this
country, it’s in professional sports.

Like Hunter I’d love to see more U.S. blacks in the game and strongly
support and encourage baseball’s efforts to make that happen.  But
claiming that the diversity baseball has successfully cultivated
is somehow illegitimate or phony is simply pathetic

180 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. Megary - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:16 AM

    Well said.
    What I don’t get is the “They’re not us” comment. The mindset of separating us and them and we and you just goes to show how far we all still have to go.
    It’s a fight worth fighting.

  2. Professor Dave - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:27 AM

    These issues present not only deep fissures in the “Black” community, but in formal thought on the definition of race in programs that might be called – Black Studies, or Black World Studies, or African & African-American Studies, or whatever neologism is being employed at the moment. Who gets to be black and who doesn’t get to be black? There’s a lot at stake in determining the answer.
    There is an interesting financial point raised by Hunter. It is, however, fairly refutable when one compares the money acquired by the pasty white Strasburg to the quite swarthy Aroldis Chapman. Were he a kid from the south side in my hometown, he would never have gotten such money. On the other hand, assuming he decided to play baseball, he would have gotten scholarships and had a life in which obstacles were removed for him on his way to the pros.

  3. crotch_jenkins - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    Torii Hunter is a moron. Stupidity is the great racial equalizer.

  4. Steve Braucksieker - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    Torii Hunter needs a Black History lesson. How does he think these players got to be black, more sunshine? They are the decendants of slaves, just like African-Americans. I too lament the dirth of black players in baseball, but it sure isn’t the result of Domenican black-skinned replacements. Kudos to you Craig.

  5. Bobs - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    Amen. Tori Hunter’s remarks demonstrate our society’s ignorance regarding race (Dominicans are from Africa!) and our bizarre propensity to propose a conspiracy theory every time reality disappoints us. I admire Hunter in many ways, but if he wants more blacks in baseball, he should spend time working with young black athletes to encourage them to play the game versus spouting his strange theories to the media.

  6. Say What Now? - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    What a bizarre tirade from Hunter. Poor guy will be flanked by two honkies in the outfield this summer, Rivera and Abreu.

  7. Howell - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    While Tori Hunter has clearly gone round the bend, I believe his point is that Dominicans are culturally different then Black Americans. While, that shouldn’t matter at all, he is in that respect right. Of course as a Black American I can’t even bring myself to care about such a thing. All I want from my baseball players is to hit, run, and field well. If you’re green and can do that, you’re aces in my book…well unless you play for the Yankees or Braves…then I would prefer it if you sucked.

  8. Maury Brown - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    Righteous, Craig… Righteous.

  9. Largebill - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    Whether Hunter is capable of understanding it or not, his comments were blatantly racist. If a white broadcaster made a moronic comment asserting that some black guys are not really black or similar nonsense they would be quickly suspended or fired. It is sad that he was raised to believe such nonsense.

  10. Scott - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    The bottom line is that Torii seems to believe that you have to be African-American to be black, which strikes me as overtly arrogant.
    It would be like me saying Europeans aren’t white.

  11. Jonny5 - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    Well this plainly brings to light the lack of intelligence of Torii Hunter. Dominicans are of African Decent just as much as he is. Their ancestors could be from the same region even. This is one of the dumbest comments I’ve heard in regards to race in a long time. If Torii wasn’t so good at sports, he might be lucky to get a job at Jiffy lube from my point of view. It seems to me he wants to cut out the competition from the DR. And another thing he said that bothers me.”As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us,” Hunter says. “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 sounds like he doesn’t even believe black players are good enough to play baseball, that MLB “had to get black faces”. Does he really think he’s a “token player”? That’s just sad imo. I don’t know, when I look down on the players as I sit in the stands, I see the greatest sport ever played, being played by the greatest ball players of my time. I don’t care what color face they may have. I also don’t really care which country they hail from either (although out of national pride I must admit I prefer US citizens). This guy is an ass.

  12. Alex K - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    I think the cultural differences may be the point he’s trying to make about them being “imposters”. I just wish he would have expressed himself better. His words taken at face value sound very, very ignorant.

  13. RobRob - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    I’m not Torii Hunter, and I will not attempt to get inside his mind. However, one way to interpret what he’s saying is that there is a bias against U.S.-born black baseball players. I wouldn’t necessarily call it racism, or even intentional, but the system is currently skewed against black kids picking up baseball as the athletic ticket out of poverty.

    Examples like Strasburg and Chapman are outliers, and there are at least ten times that many American or Cuban athletes that signed a big bonus and did nothing significant in the major leagues. But look at the incentives for teams to foster amateur talent in the U.S. and compare that to the Dominican Republic. In the U.S., if you invest in programs to service the kids that don’t have strong Little League or high school programs, those kids end up in the draft. You pick a few kids off the street in Santo Domingo and they end up in your organization as a 16-year-old phenom.

    It’s unfortunate that Torii Hunter views himself as a different racial class from Vladimir Guerrero. It’s sad that he feels he is fighting a battle against a tide of racist oppression. But to claim that MLB teams are willingly foregoing talented players for the sole reason that they are black is ludicrous.

  14. Cal - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Hope Vlad smacks him next Time he is L.A

  15. crotch_jenkins - Mar 10, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    There is no lack of black players in baseball. Among US-born players, there are more blacks in baseball, percentage-wise, than there are in the general population.

  16. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    I’ll grant that there’s some sort of bias at work — a systemic bias dealing with money and access to resources that favors affluent white amateur players over poor and minority players. It costs a lot to put a team and a league together, and more and more you’re seeing amateur baseball in suburban and traveling leagues, not in the cities.
    But Hunter doesn’t seem to be talking about that. He’s pretty clearly saying MLB has some plot or something. That’s a different deal altogether.

  17. Howell - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    Alex I am 100% with you. If Hunter wanted to talk about how all people with dark skin are not the same culturally then he would have had something.
    I think it’s worth noting that most black people don’t just assume that b/c your dark skinned and from Africa you’re a Black American. There is a whole lot about culture to be taken into account. It’s on par with thinking that just because someone is pale skinned and from Europe that whether they are German or Dutch they are the same. They are not of course. I really think that’s what Hunter was trying to say in his own very horrible way.
    Also it might be worth noting that Tori Hunter (to my knowledge) never went to college. So to expect a guy with a high school education who has spent his entire adult life in a system that never really makes you grow up to have a nuanced understanding of race relations that he can easily convey is somewhat crazy.

  18. Professor Dave - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    The instant criticism (especially #3) seems to miss the bigger point. It’s not that Hunter is right about the facts, but we should understand that the definition of “black” is contested in American thought. Hunter is making a case for one kind of definition, and I think his definition is packed with logical flaws and poorly thought-out conclusions, but he’s not alone in pushing this definition.
    Yes, you can make a definition based on descent from African slaves, but “Black” arguably means more than that in terms of shared experience and cultural development. It’s just as reasonable to work with “Carribean” and “Black American” and argue that shared African origins from over 300 years ago does not govern.
    At any rate – my point is that all of this is contested and it’s useful to keep this in mind. Hunter is speaking as if there’s no discussion or debate on the meaning of race – and THAT’s the criticism that counts.

  19. Joey B - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    “I’m greedy: I want all the best athletes playing baseball and I’m bummed when they don’t.”
    I thought the mantra of the liberals was that everyone was created equal, and blacks aren’t better athletes?
    “And while, like Hunter, I’d like to see more U.S. blacks playing the game,”
    That’s just plain silly, imho. I’m not sure you’re old enough to remember this, but once upon a time, the mantra was that we needed more black kids interested in becoming doctors and lawyers rather than BB players. Now we need more blacks in BB? Makes no sense. Take off the blinders for a second and close your eyes. Say to yourself ‘we need more white basketball players, or we need more white CBs and WRs’. I don’t know about you, but that sounds crazy to me. I’m a RS fan. Cameron represents better value than Bay, EOS. Do you think for one second I care that he’s black?
    You don’t need more blacks in BB. You don’t need less. The day that Americans care about the ethnic composition passed about 30 years ago.

  20. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    I guess what I say does seem silly if you completely miss my point. I don’t care about race one way or the other. I care about the best athletes playing baseball. There are, without question, more young athletes — including black ones — choosing sports other than baseball today than there used to be. I want every good young athlete to play baseball no matter who they are.

  21. Joey B - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    “Torii Hunter needs a Black History lesson. How does he think these players got to be black, more sunshine? They are the decendants of slaves, just like African-Americans. I too lament the dirth of black players in baseball, but it sure isn’t the result of Domenican black-skinned replacements.”
    Actually, the decline in blacks is related directly to the increase in Latinos. It’s a zero-sum game. The more Latinos, the less of someone else. The more Asians, the less of someone else. The greater the scouting, the more non-Americans will get into the game.
    But beyond that, you’re absolutely right. There is no difference between American blacks and Dominican blacks, except for census purposes. Like someone else said, stupidity is the great equalizer.

  22. Grant - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    There are, of course, some differences between the way that Latin American societies approach the physiology (or physiognomy) of race and the way that those of us in the United States do. There is a bit more subtlety and nuance in, say, the DR as compared to our “one drop” society.

    That said, Hunter is clearly in the wrong, as Craig and the above commenters have amply demonstrated. Cultural differences in the perception of race do not change: (a) that Vlad and many of his compatriots and colleagues are dark-skinned in a way that we in the States consider to mean they are “black” and (b) that teams are clearly looking for what they perceive to be the best talent regardless of race. There may be a slight bias in favor of “scrappy” white role players, but I tend to think that that bias exists more in the sports media than it does in baseball front offices themselves (at least in the majority of front offices that aren’t stuck in the past, player evaluation wise).

  23. Curious George - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    “Yes, you can make a definition based on descent from African slaves, but “Black” arguably means more than that in terms of shared experience and cultural development.”
    .
    I certainly agree with this but it is worth pointing out that Hunter also specifically used the term African-American, seemingly missing the point that his ancestral roots are shared by many of the “imposters” in his life. If he is going to invoke Africa, he should know a little history.

  24. berselius - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    ‘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?’
    Hunter answered his own question right here. Obviously baseball is going to be more interested in signing Latin players if they’re cheaper to train and have higher interest. To claim that there’s a deliberate (or even implicit) racial motivation to do so by MLB is quite absurd.

  25. BC - Mar 10, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    What he said is true, but I think a third grader could have chosen his words more carefully. I think it was last year or the year before that CC Sabathia basically said the same thing, but said it in a constructive way. Efforting the quote.

1 2 3 8
Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Yanks, Cards and Reds hit with injury bug
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. V. Martinez (2534)
  2. M. Tanaka (2425)
  3. J. Hammel (2370)
  4. C. Kershaw (2264)
  5. M. Trumbo (2255)