When it’s all said and done, Torii Hunter should end up in Cooperstown.
In a baseball career that will enter its 22nd year in April – 19 in the big leagues – Hunter has not only been a tremendous baseball player, but an even better teammate and person.
Hunter is back with the Minnesota Twins, the organization that drafted him in the first round all the way back in 1993. He made his Major League debut in 1997 and spent his first 11 seasons with the Twins before splitting time with Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers the past eight seasons.
It took Hunter a few seasons before he started to produce at the plate. Once he did, he turned into one of the best all-around centerfielders in baseball. In 1,234 games with the Twins, Hunter collected 1,218 hits, knocked out 192 home runs, drove in 711 runs and stole 126 bases. He won seven Gold Gloves and was a two-time All-Star.
One of his most memorable moments came in the 2002 All-Star Game in Milwaukee. Barry Bonds hit a deep drive to right-centerfield. Unluckily, for Bonds, Hunter was playing in center and had a beat on the ball.
Everybody in the park thought Bonds had hit a homer, even Bonds, everybody except Hunter. At the last second, Hunter took flight. He jumped, reaching his arm over the wall.
His timing was always perfect, and is what allowed him to rob so many opposing players of home runs.
Hunter timed his jump perfectly; as he was able snag the ball just as it was going over the fence. The crowd exploded with “oohhhs” and “awwws,” and gave Hunter a standing ovation, but it was nothing new for Hunter. He didn’t act like a hotshot. He was always classy. He only cracked the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.
After the catch, Bonds met Hunter out near second base and both players were smiling at each other. Bonds picked up Hunter in a way as to say, “How could you rob me of a home run! It’s an All-Star Game, man!”
Both players got a kick out of it.
Hunter was the heart and soul of five Minnesota teams that won the AL Central Division during the mid-2000s. According to Baseball Almanac, only 18 centerfielders have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
From a pure statistical point of view, Hunter deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Hunter has more home runs than 13 players, including former Twin Kirby Puckett. His career on-base percentage is only higher than Andre Dawson’s, but he has more runs batted in than 11 players and, more than likely, will pass Duke Snider on that list during the season. So make it 12.
In my opinion, Hunter is worthy of a Hall of Fame spot but, as we all know, baseball voters always seem to amaze us, the fan.
It seems like they are almost permanently stuck in their ways. They have yet to get over their hatred of Pete Rose, are assuming Jeff Bagwell had taken steroids at one time or another during his career and they don’t think Edgar Martinez deserves a spot in the Hall because he was a designated hitter for the majority of his career.
On a pure talent level, all three and Hunter, deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m fine if Hunter isn’t voted in on his ballot, but he better darn sure be on it. Hunter has a better Range Factor – (putouts + assists)/ innings played – than Ken Griffey Jr., has turned the second most double plays all time among centerfielders and has nine Gold Gloves. He has also been a five-time All-Star, blasted 331 home runs and driven in 1,310 runs.
While some of his skills have diminished since he last played in a Twins uniform, Hunter’s mentoring skills haven’t. In fact, those skills have only gotten stronger.
He has spent hours with Byron Buxton – a player who has been the top prospect in baseball two out of the last three years – this spring training, helping Buxton with his swing and helping him adjust to life in the big leagues.
He has also spent a lot of time with Aaron Hicks, a player who has struggled to find his way in his first three years with the Twins.
He will turn 40 in July, but his spirit is still young and he can still give the Twins’ lineup with some pop. He has hit 34 home runs over the last two seasons and was an All-Star in 2013.
This might be Hunter’s last season in baseball, but it’s been a career filled with magical moments.
Hopefully there will be another magical moment down the road.
An induction into Cooperstown.