Like most contracts the Angels deem necessary to sign, I wasn’t happy with what the team did when they inked outfielder Torii Hunter to a five-year, $90 million deal after the 2007 season. At the time, Hunter was a 32-year-old coming off a solid season, but it seemed that the Angels were viewing him as a star rather than the merely good player he really was. In the end, Hunter mostly made good on his half-decade contract thanks to two very good seasons (2009 and 2010) and a BABIP-fueled comeback in 2012 that featured his highest FanGraphs WAR figure to date (5.3 WAR).
Hunter’s continued relevance as a hitter and his transition to a corner outfield spot from his former center field home surprised me in a good way, but now it looks like the extremely likable Hunter has found a new way to confound my expectations. When asked by the Los Angeles Times how he would feel about having a gay teammate, Hunter responded by saying that he would feel uncomfortable. He then launched into his reasoning, which is that all of his biblical teachings had instilled in him that homosexuality was wrong.
Now, Hunter has been in some potentially hot water before when it comes to media exposure. Last spring, he made comments implying that all Japanese pitchers were basically the same when asked about the emergence of Yu Darvish. Maybe Hunter’s phrasing was unfortunate, but his words could at least be defended in a sense that many Japanese pitchers who had made the jump to the Major Leagues had employed a similar approach to going after hitters. Hunter also lamented the influx of Latino baseball players two years ago, saying that they were “impostors” and were desirable over black players from the United States solely because they could be had cheaply. Again, the phrasing was terrible, but it could be taken as a commentary on the financial aspects of baseball rather than an all-out racist remark.
This time is different. Nothing involved in Hunter’s comments has anything to do with baseball. He’s not talking about a player or a group of players’ performance, and he’s not talking about financial injustices that might arise from the way the game is handled in its current era. There simply isn’t another way to spin Hunter’s most recent public incident other than to say it’s ignorant and in terrible taste. Who’s Torii Hunter to get to say that he’d have trouble accepting a gay teammate because he’s just so thoroughly well-versed in the ways of the Bible, so educated in morality, that he simply can’t be comfortable around someone with a different sexual orientation? How is he an authority on right and wrong? Then again, how is anyone?
In the wake of his previous comments that could be considered controversial, I was always fairly eager to give Hunter a free pass. A lot of my attitude toward Hunter came from his generally good-natured attitude in interviews; he has always genuinely seemed like a good guy, a highly-paid professional athlete who was actually worth rooting for and applauding. Hunter has also gained plenty of attention for his charity work. He’s done everything from start the Torii Hunter Project Education Initiative to help generate scholarships to help with Big Brothers and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Hunter even took home an award for his outstanding charity presence in 2009, and there hasn’t been much of a reason to ridicule him off the field at any point given how committed to helping the world he has always been.
But now Hunter has painted himself into a bit of a corner by taking a clearly short-sighted stance on an important issue that continues to rage across the world even as we find ourselves ringing in the year 2013. Rather than making sure any homosexuals who may play the game of baseball are insecure in being around him, perhaps Hunter would be best served to worry about what his seasons are going to look like as he approaches 40 and doesn’t have BABIP luck to fall back on. Maybe his new teammates in Detroit will be “uncomfortable” playing with him when he’s making $13 million in 2014 while posting a .300 OBP.
Hunter has always done his best to help others, but now it appears he has changed gears when it comes to one particular community of people. That’s sad; I don’t think Hunter’s a bad human being, just one who’s less than enlightened when it comes to segments of the population he doesn’t understand. As a fan who always considered Hunter a player who could be pointed to when it comes to doing things right away from the field, it sucks to see him publicly take a stance so devoid of actual thought or compassion. No, Hunter doesn’t have any publicly gay teammates, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t (or hasn’t) shared the field with a gay athlete before. The odds of every single current Major League player being straight simply aren’t good. It’s attitudes like Hunter’s that are only going to hurt when it comes to players being able to be honest with themselves, and that’s a shame.