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Blame misplaced, but Hunter is right

Angels outfielder Torii Hunter lost a lot of fans when he labeled black Latin American players as "impostors" and "imitators" in a story published by USA Today regarding the decline of African-American players in Major League Baseball.

His comments were very surprising, more so coming from a guy who plays in Los Angeles in the only sport in the United States where Latinos have a fair share of the top players in the game, including some of his own teammates.

Calling black Latin American players "impostors" came across as an ugly gloss over Afro-Caribbean heritage and as an affront to all Latin American players, no matter if they are black, white or Amerindian.

However, to err is human. I was glad to see Hunter take a quick step back to the center field fence and show regret about his poor word choice.

"What I meant was they're not black players; they're Latin American players," Hunter said in his blog after USA Today published his initial comments. "What troubles me most was the word 'impostors' appearing in reference to Latin American players not being black players. It was the wrong word choice, and it definitely doesn't accurately reflect how I feel and who I am."

I appreciate Hunter's concern with the decline of African-American players in the majors, and more -- much more -- should be done to ensure that the great legacy of Jackie Robinson never dies. It is the same legacy that allowed Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda to shine high and bright in America's national pastime.

Many people in Latin American countries, just like in the United States, don't really care about segmenting people by skin color.

And when it comes to baseball, a sport that is nothing short of a century-old religion in Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, the biggest producers of top-notch players in the Caribbean, all that matters is the speed of your bat, the swiftness of your legs, the dexterity of your glove or the power of your pitch. Can you play?

In my own country, Puerto Rico, there is indeed a lot of concern about the decline of Puerto Rican talent coming up the ranks. Just like with African-American kids in the states, baseball just hasn't been able to keep up with the growth of other sports, mainly basketball.

Even with the figure of Pirates legend Roberto Clemente as the most important folk hero for Puerto Ricans, there's no competition with the passion and talent born in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Worse yet, hardly any fans show up in the stands in Puerto Rico's professional league these days, a league that featured Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige back in the day.

But Dominicans and Venezuelans are not to blame. If anything, they are to be commended for keeping baseball alive and kicking with some of the best athletes in the world.

Maybe the ultimate collateral question to this whole argument should be: Where would baseball be without (black) Latino players?

Pedro Zayas is an ESPNDeportes.com writer and editor. Reach him at pedro.espn@gmail.com. Read more by him.

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