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: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Angels 11, Blue Jays 6: Mike Trout was a beast, homering twice and driving in seven. The second homer was a grand slam in the fourth. Honest question: do you not consider intentionally walking Trout with the bases loaded there? I guess you don’t do that when it’s tied at three and it’s so early but the thought probably at least briefly crossed Charlie Montoyo’s mind. Trout has now hit 10 home runs in his past 19 games to move into a tie for the AL lead. He’s a fairly solid ballplayer as far as these things go, yeah?

Reds 3, Astros 2: The Reds are hard to figure. A lot of the time they look like the second division club their record suggests they are. Other times they’re fun and interesting and do things like sweep the Astros. Baseball, man. Here they rallied for two in the bottom of the ninth with two outs for the comeback win. Nick Senzel singled home the tying run, took second on a throwing error and Jesse Winker singled him in for the walkoff. It was the first time the Astros have been swept all year.

Yankees 12, Rays 1: More like Blake Shelled, amirite? The reigning Cy Young winner walked four guys and gave up six runs in the first inning and was chased after getting only one out. The game at that point was basically over. CC Sabathia, meanwhile, picked up his 250th career win. Gary Sánchez hit a three-run homer and drove in four. Gleyber Torres hit a grand slam to turn an 8-1 game into a 12-1 game late. Just a general blood bath. The Yankees have won five straight games and have now built up a 3.5-game lead over the second-place Rays in the AL East. The Rays and Yankees meet again in a couple of weeks. The Yankees have to like that. They’ve taken seven of nine from Tampa Bay.

Nationals 6, Phillies 2; Nationals 2, Phillies 0: Patrick Corbin was strong, allowing one run over seven, with both Gerardo Parra and Brian Dozier homering and doubling in runs. The nightcap was the Max Scherzer show, of course, with a broken nosed and black (and brown and blue)-eyed Scherzer tossing seven shutout innings while striking out ten. He’s one of the few men who could use that “you should see the other guy” joke and have it be true. He mowed the Phillies down, jack.

Athletics 8, Orioles 3: Chris Bassitt took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and Josh Phegley had a three-run homer as the A’s completed a three-game sweep. Baltimore has lost eight in a row and is on a pace to lose 116 games.

Padres 8, Brewers 7: Franmil Reyes hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh inning. Eric Hosmer hit a two-run shot earlier. Manny Machado, as we noted last night, thought he had a three-run homer but didn’t, but since the Pads won they’re all probably fine with it. Yasmani Grandal, Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun all homered in a losing cause.

Mariners 8, Royals 2: Hello! My name is Domingo Santana. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Or something. Two homers and five RBI for the Mariners’ right fielder. Who is not left-handed.

Pirates 8, Tigers 7: The Tigers led 7-1 after their half of the third inning but woofed it away anyway. Bryan Reynolds hit a three-run homer in the sixth to complete the Pirates’ rally. He had three hits in all.

Braves 7, Mets 2: Freeman hit a two-run shot in the first, the Mets tied it at two in the fourth and Josh Donaldson broke that tie with a two-run homer of his own in the sixth. From then on the Braves just added with RBI doubles from Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis, whose pinch-hit two-bagger drove in two. In the end the Braves won their eighth of ten on their ten-game home stand and pushed their NL East lead to four games over Philly.

Cubs 7, White Sox 3: Willson Contreras hit a three-run homer in the first and homered again in the third en route to a five-RBI night. Lucas Giolito lost for the first time in 13 starts, going back to April 6.

Indians 10, Rangers 4: The Tribe put up a five-spot in the first thanks to a three-run homer from Jason Kipnis and a solo shot from Roberto Pérez. Kipnis would add a second homer in the fifth. The Indians have won 10 of their last 14 games.

Red Sox 9, Twins 4: A day after a 17-inning game often comes down to whose starter can simply show up for the longest amount of time. Eduardo Rodríguez did that for Boston, going seven to pick up the Sox pen. Brock Holt drove in three with a single, a sac fly and by drawing a bases-loaded walk. Boston has won seven of eight. The Twins have dropped three of four.

Cardinals 2, Marlins 1: Offense was hard to come by here but Paul Goldschmidt — who didn’t even enter the game until the ninth inning — hit a walkoff solo shot in the bottom of the 11th to end it:

Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 4: Arizona took an early 2-0 lead but it wouldn’t last as the Rockies got to Zack Greike for five runs on 11 hits over seven. Ryan McMahon was the big bat for Colorado, going 3-for-4 and driving in three. Daniel Murphy homered as well as the Rockies’ mastery of the Dbacks continued. They’ve taken seven of nine from Arizona this season.

Dodgers 9, Giants 2: Chris Taylor homered twice and Cody Bellinger went deep as the Dodgers picked up their 50th win on the season in their 75th game. The bad news: starter Rich Hill left after one inning because of left forearm discomfort. He’s going to have an MRI today but he’s headed to the injured list.