Earlier this week, Torii Hunter called Latino players “imposters” and said Major League Baseball teams bought Latino players for “a bag of chips.” While Hunter's choice of words were poor, his intent and concern over the number of African-American players in the league was lost over the "imposter" statement. Additionally, the relevance of Dominican player abuse has been overlooked.
First, the headline from Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew: “Torii Hunter believes black Latino players are ‘imposters.” Now, the quote:
“As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us," Hunter said. "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."
Hunter opened a door to talk about the state of black players (and the black community’s interest) in Major League Baseball and sensationalists chose to slam the door for shock value. Keep in mind, Hunter isn’t the first to comment on the state of black players in Major League Baseball.
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Former commissioner of MLB Fay Vincent told the Wall Street Journal in 2008 that “baseball hasn’t devoted the necessary resources to working in black communities to encourage those kids to play baseball.”
Here are some of the numbers: Around 30 percent of the league being Latinos and 8.4 percent being black, down from 27 percent in 1975. In fact, Chris Isidore wrote in 2007 that several Major League Baseball teams “have no black players” on their rosters.
Vincent and Hunter are not alone in calling for a stronger effort by MLB, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield said baseball is “outsourcing” black talent. As we analyze Hunter’s statements, we ask: Has baseball done all it can to bring in black youth?
Major League Baseball established the RBI program in 1989 in attempt to bring baseball into black communities. American-born outfielder and founder of Grand Kids Foundation Curtis Granderson wrote in a column for ESPN.com, “The RBI program has afforded nearly 100,000 kids annually a chance to not only experience this great game of baseball, but also to travel while doing it.”
Granderson also said that Tampa Bay Rays All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford is a product of the RBI program. Major League Baseball added to its program with the Jr. RBI program. Jr. RBI was launched in 2008 to be “a youth outreach program that will create playing divisions for children ages 6 through 12.” The league and commissioner Selig would likely say the RBI program’s success as well as other resources such as the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. prove that MLB cares about the black community’s involvement in baseball.
And, despite the decline of on-field black Americans, Major League Baseball still received an A- rating for overall diversity from Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
So, if MLB is doing its job in front office diversity and is expanding RBI and using its black American players such as Hunter and Granderson as role models, why the decline?
Former commissioner Vincent also said a black athlete has a better chance of “emerging from his circumstances” by playing football or basketball. Isidore, of CNN/Money, wrote an article titled “Green Behind the Decline of Blacks in Baseball, notes that “ A Division I football program can give out 85 scholarships and baseball teams can give 11.7, if you’re an African American kid and you need to go to school, do the math.”
Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen concurred saying that in America, blacks have a choice between several sports including football and basketball, in Latin countries, baseball is the only sport. Youth participation from 1995 to 2005 grew in football and even soccer but declined by seven percent in baseball. But, Hunter wasn’t looking for explanations, he was pointing directly at Major League Baseball franchises for their role in the decline of black Americans in Major League Baseball.
Hunter also said that American black athletes get agents, which eliminates the possibility of abuse and forces teams to pay what the player is worth. Guillen brought up the recent contract of Cuban-born pitcher Aroldis Chapman in dispute of Hunter’s statement. However, Dominican player scandals might justify Hunter’s anger.
Washington Nationals former general manager Jim Bowden resigned after what he called “false allegations” of the abuse of Dominican players. The allegations stemmed from an MLB investigation that determined that a prospect from the Dominican Republic who received a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Nationals lied about his age and name.
The abuse didn’t end with Danny Almonte-like acts. Bowden’s resignation was also based on skimming scandals. The investigation included then-White Sox senior personnel director Dave Wilder and two of his scouts who were allegedly skimming bonus money paid to Dominican signees. Wilder was stopped while trying to re-enter the United States after a trip to the Dominican Republic with roughly $40,000, according to ESPN.com.
Other abuses include “buscones,” or “finders,” who routinely have taken shares of players’ bonuses. In 2008, Major League Baseball announced an investigation into every MLB team’s signing practices of Dominican players and the practices involved with running baseball academies in the Dominican.
Here’s how it works according to an Outside the Lines report done in 2008: Dominican players, seeing baseball as a way out of poverty, agree to give cuts of their signing bonuses to scouts or other personnel in return for the scouts promise to get them signed. A Dominican player in the report said “Everyone that was involved, or the people that I always worked with,” was making money. “That’s normal here in the Dominican Republic.” Hunter’s question: would this happen is Scott Boras was the agent of an American black athlete?
His question went virtually unanswered. Torii Hunter’s statements were without question outrageous and his presentation was poor. However, they are relevant. They could have been a base for media to discuss black athletes in all professional sports. Instead Hunter’s words were turned against him. Hunter says he will be “cautious” from now on when talking to media. If Hunter stays silent, Major League Baseball and black athletes will lose a major mouthpiece and outgoing advocate for efforts to revive baseball in inner cities.
Matthew Coller is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network, and is a freelance writer. He can be followed on Twitter