The Teflon Torii Hunter

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I was reading Joel Sherman’s column today at the Post and I came across this bit:

Torii Hunter has only enhanced his reputation as a clubhouse gem and clutch player this year — his three-run, walk-off homer yesterday carried Detroit over Oakland.

Sherman mentions Hunter in furtherance of his months-old argument that the Yankees should have signed him this past offseason. Maybe they should have. He’s having a great season.  But I can’t get past that “clubhouse gem” line. Hunter is almost always described this way. As one of the best guys in the game. But you’ll notice that the people who describe him that way are all in the media.

There’s a good reason for this: Hunter is famously accommodating and pleasant with the media. He gives great interviews, is always available and eschews athlete cliches. And it’s more than just giving pithy quotes. He says funny and interesting stuff that is also illuminating. I can’t imagine a player I’d want on a team I was covering more than Hunter because he would make my job way easier.

But is he a “clubhouse gem?”  Just last week we heard about how he once had to be physically restrained from going after Albert Pujols. From the sound of it Pujols was more factually in the wrong about the underlying dispute, but Hunter took what should have been a verbal disagreement and turned it into a physical one. That same report alleges that while in Minnesota Hunter threw a punch at Justin Morneau. Add this to his comments revealing a teammate’s personal problems to the media, voicing his displeasure with the notion of having a gay teammate and calling Dominican ballplayers “impostors” who should not be counted as black when talking about the racial makeup of baseball teams.

None of which is to say that Hunter is a bad person. He’s got strong opinions and passion and even if you disagree with him on the merits he is honest about his convictions and beliefs. As for the dustups with Pujols and his Twins teammates, I’m sure that stuff happens more than we know in Major League clubhouses. Especially late in seasons when teams are struggling. And of course he is a fine ballplayer.  Hunter is probably like a lot of other major leaguers in all of these respects.

But I can’t think of any other major leaguer who has had these sorts of dustups who is so consistently called a great clubhouse guy, wonderful person, etc. The media usually kills guys who have had way fewer controversies about them than Hunter has had. Guys who have issues with teammates, who talk out of turn about them, who say controversial things about race and the like are usually treated like problems or head cases or high-maintenance guys. Not Hunter. He is not just immune to this, he is actually held above almost all other players in the deportment department by the media which covers him.

I suppose it’s crude of me to say that the reason for this is that he is incredibly pleasant and accommodating to the media and makes their job easier. That he gets a free pass on this stuff because he’s well-liked by the people who don’t give such free passes to others who do what he does. That this is merely the flipside of the stuff I mentioned about Yasiel Puig last week: that the more separate and apart or otherwise unaccessible a player is to the reporters who cover him the more likely he is to be given less charitable assessments. Hunter is the anti-Puig in this respect.

I like Hunter. I think he’s a great ballplayer and I don’t think considerably less of him than any other player simply because, for the most part, I don’t care what players say or do when they aren’t playing. But the folks who do make those sorts of judgments as a rule — the ones who decide who are great clubhouse guys and who aren’t — always seem to give him a free pass. And it’s fascinating to me.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 16, Twins 8: Most of the time, if you take an 8-2 lead into the eighth inning, you’re gonna win that game. But just most of the time. Some of the time your bullpen is gonna give up 14 runs in the final two innings like Minnesota’s did here. Eleven of those runs came in the eighth, thanks to eight hits, two walks, a hit batter and a balk. Two of those eighth inning hits were from Carlos Beltran who singled and later hit a three-run homer. The Twins played a 15-inning game on Sunday so that pen was taxed already, but this was kinda ridiculous. Houston has won five in a row and has the best record in baseball.

Nationals 3, Giants 0: Fisticuffsmanship! As you’ve seen by now, Bryce Harper charged the mound and tussled with Giants reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a pitch in the eighth inning and both were ejected. What you may not have seen is just how “nah, not my problem” Buster Posey and Strickland’s teammates were about it all when Harper went after their man:

After the game Posey said he wasn’t going to get into the middle of a bunch of big guys tumbling around, but you have to figure that part of it was disapproval of Strickland plunking Harper over what seems to be a three-year old grudge over Harper hitting a couple of homers off of him him in the playoffs. Which is about as immature as it gets. A close second on the immaturity scale: Strickland having to be dragged off the field by his teammates like he was:

You have to figure that a lot of Giants vets are not too pleased with Hunter Strickland this morning.

White Sox 5, Red Sox 4: Melky Cabrera hit a three-run homer and knocked in a fourth run — the go-ahead run — with an infield single in the seventh. For Boston, David Price made his season debut and was meh, allowing three runs in five innings. Dustin Pedroia sprained his wrist and is heading back to Boston for tests. In other news, while I am aware that David Price and Dustin Pedroia are big stars and the events surrounding them in this game is news, it is rather odd to read a game story about a White Sox win in which a White Sox player drives in four runs and not have a single mention of the White Sox until the seventh paragraph. 

Dodgers 5, Cardinals 1: Rich Hill made his second straight start against the Cardinals. This one went better than the last one, in which he gave up five runs in four innings. Here he allowed only one run on two hits over five. He’s still not super efficient as he’s trying to adjust his mechanics to accommodate his blister issues, but he was effective. In other news, I was watching this one with my wife. Chase Utley comes to the plate and we talk about him some. I say something to the effect of “he’s been heating up lately, but I think he’s kind of toast at this point.” Literally four seconds after I finish the thought Utley hit a homer. Cody Bellinger and Logan Forsythe homered too, but their timing wasn’t as good.

Mariners 6, Rockies 5: It’s not often that you use seven pitchers in a game and still win it, but that’s what Seattle did with rookie Sam Gaviglio and six of his friends getting it done, more or less. They had help from Danny Valencia, who had three hits and Kyle Seager who knocked in two with a double.

Orioles 3, Yankees 2: The O’s snap a seven-game slide thanks to seven strong innings from Dylan Bundy and a couple of runs knocked in by Jonathan Schoop.

Pirates 4, Diamondbacks 3Chris Iannetta of the Dbacks tied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-run homer to left off Pirates closer Tony Watson, but then Andrew McCutchen led off the bottom of the ninth with a walkoff homer. From deflating to elating in the space of mere minutes.

Indians 5, Athletics 3: Carlos Carrasco took a shutout into the seventh and ended up allowing two runs while striking out seven over seven. The Tribe got homers from Austin Jackson, Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion is hitting .348 and has three homers in the past week, so people freaking out about that signing being a bust can relax some.

Mets 4, Brewers 2: Robert Gsellman allowed two runs — only one earned — over seven innings. He also drove in one via a sac fly in the fifth and another by drawing a walk with the bases loaded in the sixth. That walk was issued by Milwaukee reliever Rob Scahill, who just prior hit a guy to load the bases. The run from the walk wasn’t charged to Scahill, who wasn’t the guy who put the guy who scored on base, but boy howdy that’s some less-than-stellar relief work.

Padres 5, Cubs 2: Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam that helped send the Cubs to their fourth straight loss. Weird stat: the Cubs had only three hits but they drew 10 walks and had two batters hit by pitches. Only scoring two runs with fifteen base runners to work with is bad, but so is a team allowing 15 bases runners in that fashion. Even in victory the Padres make you smack your head.

Tigers 10, Royals 7: The Tigers’ late rally wasn’t as impressive as Houston’s, but they were down 7-6 in the eighth and put up a four-spot. Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run single that inning and reached base four times. One of the times came when he walked with the bases loaded in a six-run Detroit fifth inning.

Blue Jays 17, Reds 2: This was a bloodbath. Troy Tulowitzki hit a grand slam, Justin Smoak hit a three-run homer and Russell Martin added a two-run shot. Toronto had 23 hits. Their franchise record for hits in a game is 25, which came against Texas back in 1999.

Marlins 4, Phillies 1: Edinson Volquez got his first win of the season after seven losses, allowing one run and three hits in six innings. Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer and Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton each drove in a run.

Rays 10, Rangers 8Tim Beckham hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the Rays’ five-run seventh inning. Colby Rasmus hit a two-run double in that same frame. Steven Souza had four hits and scored four times.

Braves 6, Angels 3Matt Adams and Danny Santana each had two-run doubles during Atlanta’s six-run third inning. The Angels were probably catatonic anyway, as they learned before the game yesterday that they’re going to be without Mike Trout for an extended period. Dead Team Walking.

Mike Trout has a torn thumb ligament, could require surgery

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Yesterday Mike Trout left the Marlins-Angels game after hurting his thumb while sliding head first into second base. After the game the Angels talked about it as if it were just a sprain. Trout had an MRI today, however, and the diagnosis is far worse: he has a torn thumb ligament.

While a treatment option has not yet been chosen, surgery is a possibility. A certainty is that he’ll miss, at the very least, several weeks of play. He has been placed on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

Trout, the reigning AL MVP and, without question, the best player in baseball, is batting .337/.461/.742 with 16 home runs, 36 RBI, 36 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 206 plate appearances this season. Even with the one of the weaker supporting casts in baseball, Trout had the Angels near .500 and in at least arguable contention in the AL West.

Without him, they are likely sunk. Without him, baseball is worse off.