MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins inducted Torii Hunter into the team's Hall of Fame on Saturday, and the popular outfielder concluded his acceptance speech with a plea for unity in the wake of two recent police shootings that have sparked unrest across the country.
Speaking in front of a near sellout crowd before the Twins hosted the Cleveland Indians, Hunter wrapped up a joke-filled speech by addressing shootings, one of which happened in a Twin Cities suburb.
"This is the United States of America," Hunter said. "The word united means togetherness. United we stand, divided we fall. A house divided cannot stand."
Philando Castile, who is black, was shot and killed by a police officer in Falcon Heights during a traffic stop on July 6. His death followed the police killing of another black man, Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana., and has sparked demonstrations across the country. Just last weekend, demonstrators shut down a major highway connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul to try to draw attention to the situation.
"We have to take action and we have to make change," Hunter said. "But before we make change in our country, we have to change ourselves and our hearts."
"We must love the one next to us no matter the color of someone's skin, gender, views or religious preferences," he continued.
Hunter, who is black, has never been shy about speaking out and has been a big part of Major League Baseball's efforts to address the shrinking number of black kids who play the game at the youth level.
Hunter also came under criticism during his playing career for several comments directed toward gays, including when he said his Christian upbringing would make him "uncomfortable" if he had an openly gay teammate. He also recorded an ad in 2014 for Asa Hutchinson, now the governor of Hunter's native Arkansas, saying he supported Hutchinson in part because he was for "keeping a marriage between one man and one woman."
"In order to change mindsets we have to replace hate with love in our hearts," Hunter said on Saturday night.
He quoted Albert Einstein, "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but those who watch them without doing anything."
Hunter received his blue Twins Hall of Fame blazer from Rod Carew. He spent 12 of his 19 big league seasons with the Twins, appeared in two All-Star games for them and won seven Gold Glove awards while playing center field.
"We have seen a lot of hate being displayed," Hunter said. "We are not born with hate. Hate is a learned behavior."