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.

Report: Braves extend Kurt Suzuki

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Kurt Suzuki will wear a Braves’ uniform through the 2018 season after signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension with the club on Saturday, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal adds that the two had been in talks for weeks and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. The team has yet to announce the extension.

Suzuki, 33, initially signed a one-year contract with the Braves back in January. The veteran backstop stepped into a backup role behind starting catcher Tyler Flowers, but still found a way to impress at the plate with a .271/.343/.525 batting line, career-best 18 home runs and an .868 OPS through 287 PA. According to FanGraphs, Suzuki’s 2.2 fWAR makes 2017 his most valuable season since his run with the 2009 Athletics.

It’s a prudent move for the Braves, who would have lost one of their most dynamic second-half hitters to the free agent market this offseason. Entering Saturday, Suzuki is second only to Freddie Freeman with 11 homers and 1.4 fWAR since the All-Star break. His stunning comeback also confirmed the team’s decision to look outside the organization for a backup catcher, rather than turning to fellow veteran Anthony Recker behind the plate.

“On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations,” Suzuki told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn’t have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit.”

Mikie Mahtook is likely done for the season

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Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.

This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.

With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.