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.

Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.