Torii Hunter made some comments recently that raised a few eyebrows, when he called Latino players “imposters” who are not black in a story published by USA Today:
“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.’ …
While he admitted that it was poor word choice, he declined to apologize for the comments. And to be honest, I don’t think he has to apologize–in fact, when in the Dominican a few years back, I had a tour guide pointedly tell me that the reason that he disliked the Haitian kids that were begging us tourists for a dollar was because they were black, unlike him. So I think a lot (if not all) Latino players would agree that they are not black–meaning, as he indicated, that the only problem with Hunter’s statements would be the use of that word “imposter.”
Aside from that, though, I think that Hunter did touch on one subject that is probably going to be an increasing problem with the way MLB is structured–especially if Latino players do actually “Take over [the game],” as Ozzie Guillen said in response to Hunter.
And that problem is that players outside of the U.S. are not subject to the MLB Amateur Draft.
As broken as the draft process is, with some players who have never played a professional game in their life and many of whom won’t for a few years–if ever–getting multi-million dollar bonuses, at least the draft process allows for teams such as the Nationals, Pirates and Royals to have a shot at acquiring some future stars.
With players from Latin America and Asia being allowed to negotiate with any team willing to pay, the top talent from outside of the US is frequently signing with just a handful of teams. The only way the smaller market teams have been able to compete with this is to employ more scouts, and sign more hopeful prospects at a younger age–and pray that one or two of them turn into someone like Johan Santana, who was signed as a center fielder by the Houston Astros at the age of about 15.
Although there have been a few recent cases where smaller market teams have ponied up the cash to land a hot latin prospect, like the Reds signing Aroldis Chapman, that’s still the exception rather than the norm.
Major League Baseball may be facing an unprecedented opportunity to grow their fan base in 2011, as it looks like the NFL is moving closer and closer to an eventual work stoppage due to labor negotiations.
It would be nice if they tried to take some steps to increase the competitiveness and create some parity in the league before that. Acting now won’t completely fix things by fall of 2011, but if they’ve started to address some of the issues, hopefully some of the fans turned off by the 1994 World Series cancellation, steroid scandals and salary and quality of play between top and bottom teams will start coming back.