My country ’tis of thee….


1. Sweet Land of Liberty

When the sniper started shooting at the Dallas police on that tragic day in July, Torii Hunter was at his home just outside the city, glued to the television, watching the nearby horror in a state of shock.

When NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat and then started kneeling during national anthems as a form of protesting racial inequality, it took Hunter back to his own well-decorated, 19-year career as an All-Star outfielder, hitting just as close to home.

When Baltimore’s Adam Jones and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia both spoke out during the last several days, saying that baseball is “a white man’s game,” it hit even closer to home with Hunter.

“We already have two strikes against us,” Jones told Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports, explaining why blacks in baseball have been reluctant to become involved in sports’ recent grass-roots protest movement. “So you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us.

“Baseball is a white man’s sport.”

Now retired, Hunter answered plenty of questions during his career about the diminishing number of African-American baseball players. He fielded probably more than his share of questions about racism, too. He learned a lot along the way, about both himself and about others.

But all of those questions Hunter answered before disappearing into a life with his children and grandchildren, well, the answers have only gotten more elusive.

These are edgy, angry times in our country. And both the edginess and the anger have reached our games, provoking, at times, uncomfortable silences between family members and uneasy discussions among fans.

I called Hunter on Monday to check in, because over the past two decades, I’ve found him to be one of the most thoughtful, articulate, caring and reasonable players I’ve ever known.

“People think of it as racism,” Hunter told B/R of Jones’ comments, echoed by the Yankees’ CC Sabathia a few days later to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. “It has nothing to do with that. It’s just different cultures. You’ve got Asians, you’ve got Dominicans, you’ve got Cubansit’s different cultures. [Baseball] is diverse, and that’s good.”

Hunter’s point is that Jones and Sabathia are simply stating the facts: Among MLB players in 2016, only eight percent are African American. In the NBA, that number is 74 percent. In the NFL, it is 68 percent.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a white man’s sport,” Hunter says. “Blacks had our own league: the Negro League. We played this sport before football or anything else. It’s our game.

“I know what they mean, though. You’ve got to understand, baseball is dominated by whites. Half the country is dominated by whites. I always say baseball is life, life is baseball….It is [a white man’s game] today as we speak, but blacks used to love baseball.”

The important point that Jones and Sabathia are making, Hunter says, is this: Because of steadily dwindling numbers, blacks in baseball are in danger of losing their voice.

“It has nothing to do with [racism],” Hunter says. “I can say right now that football and basketball are a black man’s sport because [a greater percentage] of African Americans are playing those.

“It’s less in baseball, so when we take a stance for an injustice or anything else going on in the world, we get scrutinized because we are in the minority in baseball. You have more of a voice in basketball and football.

“In baseball, you can say something crazy, but you might be out of the game. So yeah, guys are afraid.”

Today, Hunter and others see baseball losing African Americans to other sports for many reasons, including the explosion in popularity at the youth level of travel baseball.

“It’s so expensive,” Hunter says. “Just be real. Don’t look at my reality, that I played baseball 19 years and made good money. That’s not reality. CC, Adam Jones, what they make is not reality. What the reality is, is that a lot of African Americans live under the poverty line. Under. How do you live under the poverty line? Why does this happen in America?

“Traveling baseball, it costs $3,000 to $5,000 to play. To get great instruction, you can’t do that [if you are poor].”

Hunter has a unique perspective in that, as he said, his life is not reality for so many of any color: During his 19-year career, he earned roughly $171 million, according to Yet, he also has been a firsthand witness to racial tension in our country throughout his life, from growing up in a poor part of Arkansas to a 2012 incident in which the police came to his home in Newport Beach, California, when an alarm accidentally was tripped while he was playing for the Angels.

Hunter was home at the time, watching a movie, when he heard someone trying to open his front door. Next thing he knew, he was surrounded by police with their guns drawn.

“It was terrible,” Hunter says. “This is home. This is my house. They walked me upstairs with a gun out to get my license. What if they accidentally shot that thing? Then I’m dead, I got no voice and nobody hears anything.

“That’s not just one incident. I had many growing up. I’m not angry, though. I got through it.”

So yes, at home in Dallas in July, watching the horror unfold with the sniper, you bet many, many thoughts were threading their way through Hunter’s head.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Hunter says. “Violence on violence creates a war. Nothing gets done…I think everybody in Dallas was shocked, in their homes, keeping up with it, watching the news.

“It’s something you don’t see happen. A sniper shooting cops…all cops are not that way, all blacks are not that way. We need to have more dialogue and understanding. Cops need to know that not all blacks are thugs, militant, aggressive. And more blacks need to understand that all cops are not bad.”

Hunter watches Kaepernick and other athletes protest during the national anthem, and there are some things he agrees with and others that he doesn’t. Like many of the rest of us.

“My dad served in the military in Vietnam, so I would never [not stand for the national anthem]. I would take a stand, but not that way. You would hear my voice; I would say it. I don’t know if that’s really going to do anything.

“But guess what? Kaepernick did it and he stood up for it. And I would never fault a guy for standing up for what he believes in.”

There are those who would prefer athletes just shut up and play. But what about private citizens who protest for a cause they believe in while they work? It’s OK for some citizens in this country to pipe up with their opinions, but not for others? So athletes are just zoo animals and not human beings?

Agree or disagree with Jones, Sabathia, Kaepernick and others, but in this big, messy democracy, if politicians can offer public opinions on sports, and actors and musicians can speak out on politics, why should thoughtful athletes with passionate beliefs be muzzled?

“What they’re doing is powerful,” Hunter says. “That’s a big stance right there. It’s about freedom. I respect them for doing it.

“[The national anthem stance] is not what I would do, but I understand and respect it…They’re trying get a dialogue going. It’s not that they hate America or hate the flag. They just want you to hear them. They want to talk about it and break it down.

“Racism is learned behavior. You’re not born with it. I love America—love it, love it, love it. But [it’s OK] to talk and debate and make a stand.

“And guess what everybody is talking about.”


2. MLB Torpedoes A.J. Preller and the Padres

On the surface, San Diego Padres’ general manager A.J. Preller being slapped with a 30-day suspension without pay over the length of a five-year contract might not seem like that big of a deal.

Symbolically, however, it is a colossally damning statement regarding Preller and the Padres: a public humiliation and repudiation.

Historically, there is precious little precedent for an executive to be censured this drastically.

According to sources within the league office, the closest parallel is way back in 1912, when Philadelphia Phillies owner Horace Fogel was tried in New York on Nov. 26-27 by the National League for making disparaging remarks questioning the integrity and intentions of NL President Thomas Lynch and some of the NL umpires during the 1912 pennant race. Among other things, he called that year’s pennant race “crooked.”

Fogel was found guilty on five of seven counts and banned for life.


There was another Phillies owner, William Cox, who was banned for life in 1943 by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Judge Landis for gambling.

There was Cardinals president Sam Breadon, who was suspended for 30 days in 1946 for his part in a dispute with the Mexican League (Jorge Pasquel, the Mexican League president, was bribing American players, and Breadon flew to Mexico to try to take care of the problem himself rather than going through proper channels).

And there was Joseph Creamer, who was a New York Giants’ team doctor who offered umpire Bill Klem $2,500 to ensure a playoff victory in 1908. Creamer was banned for life by the NL.

None of those examples are an exact comparison to Preller’s case, which tells you just how rogue he and the Padres went in deceptive practices regarding their medical records exchanged with other clubs during trade talks this summer.

And even given these other extreme examples, none of them occurred after 1946.

It is at least the third censure for Preller, who was suspended when he was with Texas over scouting practices in Latin America and who was GM last summer when the Padres were fined for holding an illegal workout in Aruba.



Mike Trout? From a last-place American League club?

Believe it. He is making a strong case. The Angels might stink, but Trout remains angelic to watch. And while you can make an MVP case for Houston’s Jose Altuve, Boston’s Mookie Betts, Toronto’s Josh Donaldson and others, Trout remains the single best player in the game today and, from here, should win the award.

He was leading the AL in on-base percentage through Tuesday night’s games (.438) and ranked among the AL’s top five in batting (.318), runs scored (113) and steals (26). He also led the AL with a 10.0 WAR (per, out-distancing Betts (8.9).

The only negative on Trout’s resume is that he is not pushing his team into the playoffs. Though, truth be told, a combination of Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente couldn’t push these Angels into October.

But he remains the best overall player in the game in so many ways, highlighted by this outstanding slide:


4. This is No San Diego Padres Stunt

While the real Padres were busted for cheating, the fake Padres are about to make history by employing the first female player in MLB history.

OK, stretch your imagination: This is for the new Fox television show called Pitch, debuting Thursday night, in which the “beautiful, tough, gifted athlete” Ginny Baker (played by Kylie Bunbury) becomes the first woman to play Major League Baseball.

Some of the series was filmed at Petco Park in San Diego, and former major leaguers Gregg Olson, Chad Kreuter and C.J. Nitkowski are working as consultants. Olson, who pitched for nine clubs over 14 seasons, is working with Bunbury to make sure she throws properly. Kreuter, who caught for seven different clubs over his 16-year career, is working with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who plays catcher/love interest Mike Lawson, on catching etiquette.

Nitkowski, who pitched for eight big league clubs over his 10-year career, is consulting with the large lineup of writers.

“Mostly being available for text messages, phone callsis this believable, would this really happen?” says Nitkowski, who today is an analyst for Fox Sports and MLB Network Radio. “Answering questions from executive producers and writers. Throwing stuff out, giving them ideas here and there.”

The show premiered at the West Los Angeles Little League fields, where the original “Bad News Bears” was filmed. Early reviews from the critics have been favorable.

The most valuable advice Nitkowski has offered so far?

“I think making sure they don’t go down the wrong path with some language that some people might perceive as corny,” he says. “You’re making sure that when a TV person says something, the average fan might think it’s OK, but it might be something that others might think is said only in TV or in the movies. I remember thinking ‘That’s too TV-ish, let’s go further here.'”

An early scene, for example, revolves around the catcher and pitcher going over scouting reports, and some of the original script dialogue wasn’t in authentic baseball language. So Nitkowski suggested ways to say what needed to be said.

The baseball players/consultants also have a cameo or two in the show. Nitkowski is not awaiting an Emmy nomination.

“Probably not,” he says, chuckling. I was in 42 (the Jackie Robinson film) and got no nods for that, and I’m pretty sure that streak will continue.

“It’s such a stretch, the first time I played a baseball player, and now I’m playing a baseball player-turned-broadcaster. My range has really been tested.”


5. Breaking It Down

File away some of these interesting numbers for the playoffs:


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Chicago Cubs: More powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet.

2. Brian Dozier: The most home runs by a Twins player since Harmon Killebrew. Somewhere, Kent Hrbek is belching in delight.

3. Clayton Kershaw: He’s back and more scary than Jack Nicholson in The Shining, too.

4. Madison Bumgarner-Yasiel Puig: They go at it for a second time in three seasons in Los Angeles on Monday night. Can we just schedule a winter charity bout and be done with it?

5. The Emmys: In the latest example of it’s pointless to compare today’s ratings to those of the past, “TV’s biggest night” hits an all-time low in the television ratings. What is this, the World Series?


7. Giants Bullpen Creates Its Own WikiLeaks

When Javier Lopez, Hunter Strickland and the Giants coughed up San Francisco’s carefully built 1-0 lead in a key game in Dodger Stadium on Monday night and lost 2-1, it probably was the death knell for them in the NL West.

Question is, can they hang onto a wild-card slot?

There are many reasons why the Giants have fallen from owning the best record in the majors at the All-Star break to nearly playing themselves out of the playoffs—chief among them a disappointing bullpen:

The Giants lead the majors with 29 blown saves.

Their 57.97 save percentage ranks 27th in the majors. Only the Angels (56.82 percent), Twins (53.49 percent) and Reds (52.08 percent) rank lower.

Santiago Casilla is tied for the MLB lead with nine blown saves. Strickland (five), Cory Gearrin (four) and Will Smith (four), who started the season in Milwaukee, can be found on the leaderboard, too.

It is not even close to the bullpen that manager Bruce Bochy had when the Giants won it all in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

And it is why their even-year magic is about to come to an end in 2016.


8. Chatter

• How about this: Anthony Rizzo has become only the second Cubs lefty to rack up at least 30 homers and 100 RBI in multiple seasons, following in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Billy Williams, who did it in 1965, 1970 and 1972.

 Yes, Max Scherzer will be vital to the Washington Nationals’ hopes in October, but the most important man on Dusty Baker’s staff will be Tanner Roark. With Stephen Strasburg’s effectiveness questionable given his elbow issues, Roark has to pitch well. So far, he’s been up to the challenge: He claimed the top spot with nine starts this summer in which he’s pitched seven or more scoreless innings. Next is the Cubs’ Jake Arrietta with seven.

 Washington’s Trea Turner scorched the Braves over the weekend with eight hits in 12 at-bats. Great line from Atlanta catcher Tyler Flowers to B/R’s Danny Knobler, in case you missed it:

It’s tough to be back there catching with him hitting. You really start to question if you know what you’re doing. But you know what? To this point, he really presents no weaknesses—at least, none that anybody has found yet, us included.

As Danny notes, the Braves swear Turner Field is not named for him. Nevertheless, with Turner on deck to star for the Nationals over the next few seasons, maybe it’s a good thing Atlanta is leaving Turner Field for new digs next season.

 And so it goes: When Jason Heyward homered for the Cubs Monday night, Cincinnati’s pitchers set an MLB record by allowing 242 home runs. The previous mark was 241 set by the 1996 Detroit Tigers.

 You’ve got until Thursday to enter a cool charity contest sponsored by the Giants’ Jake Peavy: The “too grateful to be hateful” pitcher has launched a “Grateful for San Francisco” campaign that will give the winner and a guest the chance to attend the Giants’ final regular-season game Oct. 2 against the Dodgers and watch from a suite with basketball legend Bill Walton and former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Details in this video and here.

 Prayers for Padres infielder Yangervis Solarte and his family after Solarte’s wife, Yuliett, died of cancer on Saturday. So, so sad.

 Purely personal: I just want to wish all the best to Marly Rivera, the talented journalist and longtime friend, who has been named as a co-host of ESPN’s new Spanish language talk show entitled Nacion ESPN.


9. Streets of Oakland

Noted (and cool! Feel free to start humming Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”):


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week 

This one goes out to the beleaguered Giants’ bullpen:

“She fired up my old hot rod
“Ran it in the pond
“Put sugar in my John Deere
“I can’t even mow my lawn
“And I got nobody to blame but me
“She built her a bonfire
“With my old six string
“Took all my good whiskey
“And poured it down the drain
“And I got nobody to blame but me
“I got nobody to blame but me

 Chris Stapleton, “Nobody to Blame”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained first-hand, unless otherwise noted.

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