Hunter regrets 'wrong word choice'
Angels outfielder says story 'misrepresented how I feel'
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels center fielder Torii Hunter reacted with dismay on Wednesday when he heard about a newspaper story focusing on race in baseball that contained a quote casting him in an unfavorable light.
"That's not me," he said, shaking his head as he read the story several hours later in the home clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
The USA Today article featured a quote in which Hunter, during a recent roundtable discussion of the diminishing ranks of black athletes in baseball, called Latin Americans "impostors" in relation to black ballplayers.
"I feel it's important to set the record straight on quotes that were attributed to me," Hunter said. "I am hurt by how the comments 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.
"We all come from different places and backgrounds. Coming from Pine Bluff, Ark., my hometown, is no different than being a kid from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. We all share the common bond of a love of baseball, and it pulls us together on the field and in the clubhouse."
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.
"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 continued. "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?'"
Asked about the quotes, Hunter said: "What troubles me most was the word 'impostors' appearing in reference to Latin American players not being black players. It was the wrong word choice, and it definitely doesn't accurately reflect how I feel and who I am.
"What I meant was they're not black players; they're Latin American players. There is a difference culturally. But on the field, we're all brothers, no matter where we come from, and that's something I've always taken pride in: treating everybody the same, whether he's a superstar or a young kid breaking into the game. Where he was born and raised makes no difference."
Hunter discussed the situation via telephone with Commissioner Bud Selig.
"Torii Hunter called me today and we had a very good, constructive conversation about a number of topics," said Selig. "Torii has worked with Major League Baseball on minority initiatives and is very passionate about this issue. We agreed to meet again in the near future to continue our dialogue on this important subject."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a native of Venezuela, scoffed at Hunter's remarks before Wednesday's game against the Athletics. He pointed 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.
"If you have talent, they are going to sign you," Guillen said. "I think the reason there are a lot of Latin American players is because they earn it. You look around [and ask], 'Where are the superstars in baseball right now and the people making the most money?' [and] you will see a lot of Latin American players names up there."
Reds manager Dusty Baker, a member of the panel, said he heard no such exchange during the discussion.
"I must have left, because I didn't hear it at all," Baker said. "I know Torii was probably trying to make light of the situation -- and that's not Torii Hunter, how it came out in print.
"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. 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."
Through the Torii Hunter Project and a wide range of fund-raisers, 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.
"I love the game," Hunter said. "It's changed my whole life, given me a great life. And it's important to me to spread the message to kids that the game can teach them so much and give them so much.
"I was a football player as a kid. Football was my life where I grew up. But people like Scipio Spinks, who pitched in the Major Leagues and saw me play, and my grandfather were able to convince me that I could have a long career in baseball and not tear up my body.
"I am grateful I listened to them and followed this path. Now I'm dedicated to spreading the word to other young kids. This is dear to my heart, which is why I'm so hurt that people might take it the wrong way.
"I'll continue to do the things I've always done in trying to inspire as many young kids, in every community I can reach, to get involved in this great game."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.