Torii Hunter: black Dominican players are "imposters"

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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

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.