The wide grin that seems perpetually attached to the face of Torii Hunter was gone Wednesday morning.
The Angels’ media-friendly center fielder fumed about how he was portrayed in a USA Today article examining the declining percentage of African American players in baseball in which he was quoted as saying that dark-skinned players from the Dominican Republic are not black but “imposters.”
“People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African American,” Hunter said, according to the article, published Wednesday. “They’re not us. They’re impostors. Even people I know come up and say, ‘Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player?’ I say, ‘Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.’ ”
African Americans made up 10% of last year’s opening-day rosters, compared with 28% for foreign players.
The article also quoted Hunter as saying teams pursue Latin American talent “because you can get them cheaper. It’s like, ‘Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?”
Hunter, who directs a large share of his charitable efforts to the development baseball in disadvantaged neighborhoods and has won awards for his community service, said his comments “were distorted and taken out of context.”
And he was in no mood for an apology.
“I’m not apologizing to nobody because I didn’t do anything,” Hunter said. “I didn’t say anything like that.… I’m upset.… And people wonder why athletes don’t talk to the media. It’s stupid. They took one negative thing and ran with it.
“That wasn’t even the main topic of the discussion. That was a piece of the conversation, .5% of 100%. The main topic was that there are not enough scholarships for baseball.... It was a positive story. I try to get a lot of inner-city kids to play the game. I’ve done the research. That’s why I have all the programs.”
His comments, assailed by some as racist, sprang from a recent panel discussion that included Cincinnati Manager Dusty Baker, Milwaukee reliever LaTroy Hawkins and Boras, the high-powered agent.
“Read the whole article, please,” Hunter said. “I’m a stand-up guy. I treat people like I want to be treated. I’m not racist. I’m black. It’s hard for me to be a racist. I’m from Arkansas. I’m the one who was called all those bad words.”
Angels owner Arte Moreno said he is not concerned that the controversy would cause any friction in a clubhouse that includes several prominent Latin American players, such as Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar.
“Torii is the best,” Moreno said. “He can be so sarcastic sometimes and he has fun, but there’s not a bad bone in his body. You know that.”
Hunter said the panel discussion focused more on cultural differences and why so many blacks choose football and basketball over baseball.
“That’s a thought you hear from players around baseball, there’s nothing negative about it,” Hunter said. “They have to get talent in the Dominican because we’re not playing the game. Young African American kids want to play basketball and football because there’s more opportunity for scholarships in those sports.”
Baker said he left the panel discussion before the issue of race came up, but couldn’t imagine Hunter saying anything that would fuel a racial divide.
“Torii is one of the most respected guys in the game by all races — that either came out wrong, or it was interpreted the wrong way,” Baker said. “You hate to see any division of races in baseball and in this world, and Torii is usually one of the guys who brings people together. Like everything else, this too shall pass.”