On Torii Hunter’s legacy

Photo: Jim Mone/Associated Press

Torii Hunter has announced (on Instagram) that he’s retiring with plenty of baseball accomplishments to admire.

But at least for his legacy, he made a fatal mistake. He answered a question honestly, and he talked about his religious beliefs.

“For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it’s not right. It will be difficult and uncomfortable,” Hunter said in a 2012 article, which he later claimed misquoted him.

Last year Hunter campaigned on behalf of Asa Hutchinson, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in his native Arkansas, affirming that he believes marriage is between one man and one woman.

And when Hunter was introduced at Target Field after signing a free-agent contract a year ago, Pioneer Press reporter Mike Berardino asked him about his views, earning Berardino some invectives, and the scorn of local sports journalists.

Hunter’s beliefs may have nothing to do with baseball, but baseball has never had an openly gay player, and it’s fought the impression that it provides a hostile environment for the gay athlete. So the line between an athlete’s personal beliefs and the social fabric of the sport might not be as clear as Hunter’s defenders insisted.

And baseball has invited the inspection. At the 2014 All Star Game week in Minneapolis, Major League Baseball made a point to showcase its efforts to create a welcoming environment for gay players.

But some of the reaction on the day he announced his retirement carries an important reminder to today’s athlete: If it’s not about baseball, shut up, invoke the usual cliches, and preserve your baseball legacy.

Writing on Deadspin today, Kevin Draper acknowledges that Hunter’s legacy is “complicated.”

Hopefully, now that Hunter is retired, he’ll tell us everything. Hopefully “everything” will be that he was wrong; that he was scared; that leaders of his faith were on the wrong side of this human rights issue; that if he could do it all over again he would’ve used his role as a leader in the clubhouse and a respected veteran to fight for inclusion and equality; or even just that he was caught up in an issue larger than himself, and that as a ballplayer he wasn’t quite sure what to do.

More likely than not, though, he won’t, and we’ll be left to ponder for the umpteenth time how to reconcile the fact that some of our favorite athletes are some of our least favorite people. In that way, Hunter is little different than the loving grandpa who forwards racist chain e-mails or the childhood friend who says uncomfortable things during once-a-year reunions. Great people do and say bad things, and awful people do and say good things. Athletes are no different.