Why Torii Hunter’s comments about having a gay teammate matter

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As we noted yesterday, Torii Hunter was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that having a gay teammate would be “difficult and uncomfortable” for him because such a person is anathema to his religion.

A fairly popular response to these comments is, basically, “hey, it’s just his opinion, man.” Hunter is merely speaking his mind (as we sportswriters all wish more athletes would), and how dare we jump on a guy for merely saying how he feels? A more specific version of that response is to say that Hunter is entitled to his own religious/political/social convictions, and that we shouldn’t criticize a guy for them, even if we personally disagree.

Baloney. Hunter’s views on homosexuality and his right to speak his mind are a red herring. Totally beside the point. Indeed, one can agree 100% with Hunter’s religious views and/or his take on gay people and still find his comments here out of line. Not because of political, religious or social reasons, but purely for baseball reasons. His comments suggest he’s a bad teammate.

Hunter is essentially telling past, present and/or future gay teammates — which there likely have been, are, or will be on teams for which Hunter plays — he has a problem with them despite them never actually butting heads with him on any matter. And he’s doing so in the press, not one-on-one. Try to think of any other situation in which that would be considered acceptable from a clubhouse/professionalism standpoint:

  • “For me, as a Mike Scioscia guy … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone who manages differently than Mike Scioscia because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
  • “For me, as a guy who thinks pitchers should bean guys after home runs … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone who doesn’t bean a guy after he hits a home run because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
  • “For me, as a guy who thinks it’s OK to steal signs … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone who doesn’t steal signs because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
  • “For me, as a hitter who uses all fields … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone who always tries to pull the ball because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
  • “For me, as guy who always gives interviews … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone who doesn’t talk to the media, because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
  • “For me, as an Arkansan … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone from Texas because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”
  • “For me, as a pop music fan … I will be uncomfortable playing with someone who listens to country music in the clubhouse because it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”

If any player said stuff like that to the press, people would be all over him. Not because of the substance of the opinion — what kind of music Hunter listens too is between him and his ears — but because he is unnecessarily alienating teammates. He, as a well-respected veteran, is signaling that some stuff will fly with him and some stuff won’t, and preemptively saying that teammates who don’t adhere to his view of the world are going to have a much harder time with him. We would never find that acceptable.

And so it goes for these comments too. Even if you think homosexuality is an abomination (I don’t), and even if you think Hunter has the absolute right, as a citizen, to say what he wants about it (I do), the fact that he is calling out potential — and possibly actual — teammates in the press in a negative light is significant for baseball purposes. Teams expect players to put aside their differences and come together as a unit. When they are unable to do that, teams expect the matter to be handled in-house, among players, and not have the conflicts aired in the media.

Here, however, we have a player publicly telling teammates that he’s going to have a hard time with them and that, as a result, they are going to be less welcome in a Torii Hunter-led clubhouse than others. And if you’re the Detroit Tigers, this should bother you.

Padres, Mariners join list of teams to extend netting

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The Reds announced earlier that they plan to extend the protective netting at Great American Ball Park in time for Opening Day next season. You can add the Padres and Mariners to what will surely be a growing list.

A young fan was struck in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, which gave new life to the netting debate. Some fans and media types think Major League Baseball is not doing enough to protect fans. While Major League Baseball has issued guidelines for protective netting, it is ultimately up to the teams to decide just how much netting to use.

Zach Britton receives stem cell injection, likely done for the season

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Orioles closer Zach Britton is likely done for the remainder of the 2017 season after receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee, Peter Schmuck and Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun report. Britton has been battling knee problems for most of the season.

The Orioles are still technically in the AL Wild Card race, entering play Thursday 5.5 games behind the Twins for the second Wild Card slot. With only nine games remaining, however, the 73-80 Orioles are likely being realistic about their chances and not taking any unnecessary risks with Britton.

Britton, 29, put up a 2.89 ERA with 15 saves and a 29/18 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings this season. He will be eligible for arbitration for the fourth and final time this offseason.