February 6, 2010

Good will Hunter

I’ve been a Torii Hunter fan since long before he ever came to the Angels. When he signed with the Angels; I was beside myself. Since landing in Anaheim, he’s been everything I had hoped for and more.

Here is a guy who loves the game, appreciates the fans and doesn’t take anything about life for granted. He’s great in the community and isn’t afraid of the spotlight.

So imagine my surprise when I learned some Twin fans didn’t miss him. I read some things that caught me totally off guard when checking out the fine blog “The Daily Something.” Bill who publishes that blog and Mike from another great blog called “The Common Man” painted a different picture of Hunter; one that threw me completely.

Mike wrote in the comments section of a post on The Daily Something, “I think many fans (and I count myself in this group) don't miss his self-aggrandizement and his tendency to criticize other players in the media. In particular, he threw both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau under the bus for not playing through injuries. I wish him well, but am ok with him playing elsewhere (especially for that much money).

Bill added “His general treatment of the Twins and their fans during his last year was just pretty questionable overall.”

These statements puzzled me; after all, Torii Hunter is very well respected athlete and widely recognized as a great club house presence. Hunter received the Branch Rickey Award last year, an award given out for exceptional community service. He also won the Marvin Miller Award in 2007, which is awarded annually to a player who’s on the field acts inspire others. The other barometer by which I measure a player’s character is by whether or not the Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia wants that player on his roster. If he’s good enough for Scioscia, he’s good enough for me.

Hunter had some solid years in Minnesota. I had never heard or read a bad word about Hunter and I had to wonder how could two die hard Twin fans could feel this way about him?

And then it hit me. Hunter is an Angel now. He’s not one of them; just like John Lackey is no longer an Angel. When players move on to other teams, our thoughts about them can quickly change. Perhaps it’s a way of justifying the loss. It’s easy to find things to “hate” about a player when they leave. I hated the idea of John Lackey in a Red Sox uniform. It didn’t matter how great he was prior to the day he signed with Boston; all the good he did was forgotten in an instance. In both cases their team wanted to keep them, but couldn’t. It’s hard to let go of players who have basically been the faces of their organizations.

When I really stop and think about all the great things Lackey did as an Angel, it really shouldn’t overshadow his going to Boston. Same goes for Hunter’s days in Minnesota. Okay, he said some things he shouldn’t have said and he signed a deal that was clearly out of the Twins’ price range. That doesn’t change all the great things he did in Minnesota.

Mike and Bill found Hunter’s comments (about Mauer) hypocritical. They’re right, his comments were very much that. Thing is, we are all hypocrites now and then. We all do one thing and say something else now and then. Hopefully, the good things we do over shadow those moments when we might not use the best judgment. Hopefully, people can forgive us when we slip up because we’ve done most everything else the right way.

I don’t think Mike and Bill harbor any deep resentment for Hunter, but it’s clear they’ve found reason (right or wrong) to move on without him.

Their loss is my gain. Well, not just my own, but the gain of all Angel fans. We are lucky to have a guy like Hunter on our team.

Last year at spring training Torii Hunter was in rare form. One day when he was done with his routine he did what he always does – signed autographs for fans. Some of the adults were a little aggressive and Hunter took note. He paused for a second to say, “Some of you adults should be ashamed of yourselves cutting in front of the kids. I know we’re all kids at heart…” With that a silver-haired lady said, “I’m waiting right here (down the line) for you Torii.” Torii looked up at the lady and said, “I’ll sign for you because you’re hot.” Next thing you know the camera was out and Torii was posing for a picture. Vintage Hunter.

Another time I saw a fan hand her cell phone to Torii who struck up a conversation with whoever was on the other end; someone he obviously didn’t even know. Who else does that?

Hunter goes above and beyond for fans. Every time I’ve seen him and I mean every single time, he’s been just awesome. Fans frequently heap their praises on him and he just smiles and says he’s just having fun. He makes every fan feel like a million bucks. You could say Torii Hunter has a little Buck O’Neil in him.

There’s no question that Hunter loves the spotlight and isn’t afraid of a camera or microphone. I’m good with that. I don’t see it as a bad or a selfish thing. It sure beats those athletes that go through their whole career avoiding the media, the fans and everyone else. When in the spotlight as much as Hunter is, you’re bound to slip up once in a while. After all, Hunter is only human like the rest of us.

I also know most of those who are sabermetricly inclined will also be quick to tell us how over-rated he is. They will talk about his OPS and his UZR and other such things. I don’t doubt it. He’s not as great statistically as some of his contemporaries – but when he’s robbing the opposing team of a homerun in the 9th inning, I’m not thinking about his UZR, I’m on my feet, screaming my head off and glad he’s on my favorite team. He’s a human highlight film and I go to games to see the incredible and Hunter often delivers just that. Years from now I’m not going to remember his UZR, but I will never forget catches like that.

Now, my friends in Minnesota might label me a casual fan because of that – but I’m betting I attend more games than either one of them. There's nothing casual about my passion for the Angels. I think those who aren’t as into sabermetrics get labels attached to them that are neither accurate nor fair. I’m fully aware of the trends evolving in baseball as it relates to statistics and I think it’s great. I just think that if the stadiums were full of people that made those things their primary focus going to baseball games wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

The Angels have historically been the whipping boys of sabermetrics and yet under Scoscia they have averaged 90 wins a season. They consistently outperform their projections and the last time I checked, winning is the object of playing the games.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Well said. But for the record, I felt the same way about Torii the year before he left that I do now, so it didn't really develop when (or because) he left.

  2. Thank god John Lackey isn't the face of the Angels anymore...he was ugly as sin ;)