Torii Hunter’s recent comments about Black Latino players were poorly stated, but it doesn’t make his statement wrong. My real regret is that he didn’t fully expand into the causes behind his thoughts of a sport that has a dwindling number of African-American players and an increase of players from Latin America.
Let’s break his comments down:
“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American.”
The “people” in his comments are the fans. Both at home and at the game. Lets not forget history here, there was in fact a time when Major League Baseball was an all-white sport. It’s tough to live down that type of history, it would be like Strom Thurmond running on a platform of equality.
In fact, the integration of baseball came at a time when “White America” was resistant to this change. How resistant? After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers (my team) in 1947, it took 12 years for the Boston Red Sox to field an African American player.
In the U.S. what tends to happen around historical legacies of racism is it gets over-celebrated to the point of making us believe that history is behind us. For example, every professional baseball team has retired the number 42, Jackie Robinson’s number. On every possible anniversary, Jackie Robinson’s story is retold through exciting montages. There’s nothing wrong with that, cause I like seeing my team (Dodgers) on jumbo-trons across the U.S. but again the narrative that Robinson represents is the ugly legacy of racism as having been overcome in the 1950s.
And how many countless movies have been made about the African American (insert sport) team that against racism defied the odds to excel in their craft? It’s the belief that in the U.S. despite racism an individual or in this scenario, a team, can still achieve greatness if they only work hard enough.
Back to Hunter’s comments, “the perception is that they’re African American.” And he’s right, but he’s also wrong. The perception isn’t that they’re literally African American, it’s that they’re not white and that is proof to the fans at large that this sport and by virtue our society is a melting pot.
But why is that? First of all an all-white team would probably be bad for business. Not talent-wise but in terms of perception. You think the Red Sox don’t try to overcompensate given their status as the last team to integrate?
The second part of Hunter’s comments which drew criticism:
“They’re not us. They’re impostors.”
Poor choice of words, this I agree. But the significance is what I believe is important. Major League Baseball more so than the other major professional sports (Basketball and Football) invest heavily in scouting systems outside of the United States. Why is that? More bang for their buck.
The MLB and it’s activities in Latin America mirror the United States’ economic policies. It’s a more sophisticated form of imperialism one that extracts raw materials from different countries only to later export that raw material back as a commodity. In baseball’s case the raw material are young hungry players and the commodified export are the success stories: David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, etc. Players that came from nothing and made beaucoup bucks playing baseball.
It’s not a coincidence that today 30% of professional baseball players are Latinos. Compare to that to about 10% for African American baseball players. That number is sure to rise, you only need to look at the Minor Leagues and scouting practices by professional teams to know that more and more players from outside the U.S. will be making up the overall roster of a team in the future.
What Hunter doesn’t talk about is the exploitation that occurs in this system. To the buscon (unofficial baseball scout) who connects players to a regional baseball scout, who then connects them to a professional baseball scout and along the way each of those individuals profit off of the discovery of talent.
It’s a cheap way to import talent and “diversity” to professional baseball. So when Torii Hunter talks about the perception of “African Americans” on the field, what’s important to remember is the product that’s presented to us is “diversity” that generates revenue. And increasing profits is at the heart of personnel decisions in baseball. So if a baseball team can get a Torii Hunter-esque player from the Dominican Republic, why wouldn’t they? It’s a cheaper option, rather than drafting a player from High School or College and signing them to Minor League contracts.
I played baseball in my hood growing up but to be honest, baseball is not a cheap sport to participate in. If you look at a lot of professional baseball players from the U.S. they’ve been involved in organized team activities since they had diapers. Surprise…surprise the players that make it are the ones who can afford to do it. I had to give up when I was 16 because my league had an age limit. To continue my baseball career I’d have to join a pay to play league and unfortunately that wasn’t within my budget. Not to say I would’ve made it professionally, but my experience was not uncommon.
Torii’s mistake wasn’t calling Black Latinos “imposters”, his mistake was making this statement to a sports reporter who couldn’t connect politics to sports even if it slapped him in the face. This story fits in nicely to this practice of Black vs. Brown wedge politics. It’s no surprise USA Today followed that article with a follow up story that asks the question: Were Torii Hunter’s Comments Racist?
His comments weren’t racist. MLB’s lack of investment in low income communities is racist. USA Today’s attempts to promote polarizing comments without context is racist. The only imposters are those that believe we are a post-racial society and point to the White House and the baseball diamond for proof.