Torii Hunter, you’re wrong.
When discussing the dearth of black or African American players in Major League baseball today, Hunter was quoted as saying: “People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African-American. 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.'”
Hunter added: “As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela 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?’ … I’m telling you, it’s sad.”
Each April 15 baseball celebrates perhaps the most seminal event in sports history, the date on which Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. In recent years teams have all donned Robinson’s number 42 on April 15 to pay tribute to this social pioneer.
It was a color barrier and not a cultural barrier. Robinson broke the barrier for Latin players of color as well as for African Americans who lived stateside. After all, the fathers of Latin players like Orlando Cepeda and Luis Tiant played in the Negro Leagues. Despite having Latin names and Latin culture, the fathers of these star players couldn’t play in the Major Leagues because they were on the other side of the color line. So Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for them and for Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz and all the other Latin players of color we see in baseball today, as well as for Torii Hunter.
The great Roberto Clemente was originally part of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ organization. However, the Dodgers moved him on to the Pittsburgh Pirates because they didn’t want to bring him up to the Big Leagues and have a majority black lineup on days when Don Newcombe was pitching. In addition to Clemente and Newcombe, the Dodgers lineup would have featured Roy Campanella at catcher, Jackie Robinson at second or first base, and Jim “Junior” Gilliam as the third sacker. The Dodgers did not think that when Clemente was in their lineup and Newcombe was pitching they would have four blacks, one Latin and four whites in their lineup. They reasoned it would be five black players, a majority black lineup, and in the mid 1950s that was a balance they were not prepared to sign on to.
For one game in 1971 the Pittsburgh Pirates featured the first all-black starting lineup in Major League baseball history. When asked about this after the game, Manager Danny Murtaugh said, “I put my best nine players on the field and they happened to all be black.” That lineup included Latin players like Clemente and Manny Sanguillen. The Latin players were considered to be part of the all-black lineup. It wasn’t counted as seven blacks and two Latinos, or six blacks and three Latin players, etc.
The Latin players of color went through the same hardships the US-born black players went through, such as being allowed to stay in first class hotels and being able to enjoy full public accommodations. Additionally, the Latin players had the language barrier to deal with.
So it is absurd for Hunter to argue that dark-skinned Latin players like Guerrero are not black. Hunter is confusing color, race, ethnicity, nationality and culture in a way that can only lead to problems and contradictions. He is not alone in this, and in his defense, he has a solid reputation when it comes to dealing with people from all walks of life. But Jackie Robinson was a great trailblazer and there is no shortage of players in baseball today who are following on the path he cleared.