Torii Hunter looks to douse media firestorm
Torii Hunter emerged from a lengthy closed-door meeting with Manager Mike Scioscia, General Manager Tony Reagins and team executive Tim Mead on Thursday morning vowing to be more careful with his choice of words and how he deals with the media.
"If it's not about baseball, I'm not going to talk about it," said the Angels center fielder, who was heavily criticized Wednesday for his remarks in a USA Today article examining the declining percentage of African American players in the game. "I know what I am. Don't always believe what you read."
Hunter said his comments about dark-skinned players from the Dominican Republic being "imposters" because they are perceived by some as being African American were "distorted and taken out of context," and he tried to set the record straight in a blog he wrote for the team's website.
"What troubles me most was the word 'imposters' appearing in reference to Latin American players not being black players," Hunter said. "It was the wrong word choice, and it definitely doesn't accurately reflect how I feel and who I am.
"What I meant was they're not black players; they're Latin American players. There is a difference culturally. But on the field, we're all brothers, no matter where we come from."
Hunter spoke to Angels owner Arte Moreno and Commissioner Bud Selig about the article on Wednesday, and before Thursday's workout he spoke to several of the Latin American players in the clubhouse, including Bobby Abreu and Erick Aybar.
"Those guys are not even worrying about it," Hunter said.
Abreu said he hadn't read the story or heard about it, but when told of Hunter's quotes, the Angels' Venezuelan right fielder said, "If he said that, I'm sure he didn't mean it. He's a very smart guy, so it must have been taken the wrong way. Torii is cool with the Latin players. He's cool with everybody."
Though his comments were assailed by some as racist, numerous players, managers and executives also came to the defense of Hunter, who has won numerous awards for his community service and directs a large share of his charitable efforts to the development of baseball in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
"This has to die down, because that's not me at all," Hunter said. "It's good to see people come to my defense. They know me. But there are people out there who don't know me, and I would like them to get them to know me."
If Hunter, who is about as media-friendly a professional athlete as there is, is less outspoken about off-the-field issues, it won't be because of any edict issued by Scioscia or the front office.
"Torii is as open a person as you're going to meet--that's part of what gives him strength, why people are drawn to him--and he speaks his mind," Scioscia said. "He's probably the most positive person I've been around in this game, whether it's pumping guys up when we're down by three runs in the seventh inning, playing every out hard, being a team leader or voicing his opinion on a variety of issues.
"He's aware of and educated on the issues, and he knows what he's talking about. Sometimes things are portrayed differently than what happened. It happens to all of us, and that's what we're dealing with here."
-- Mike DiGiovanna in Tempe, Ariz.
Photo: Torii Hunter. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times