Many baseball players are known primarily for their defense.
Andruw Jones, Ozzie Smith, and Omar Vizquel may be some names that pop into your head when you think of such players.
While offense-first players may gain more publicity, these defense-first players help their teams in numerous ways.
Torri Hunter was one of baseball’s best center fielders in his prime years, known for tracking down fly balls, throwing runners out on the bases, and even robbing home runs.
— Gage Ausmus (@Gausmus47) December 3, 2014
While many like to lump Hunter in with other star defensive players, he combined his defense in center field with power in the batter’s box and speed on the base-paths, becoming one of baseball’s most dynamic players of the 2000s.
Early Life/High School
Torii Kedar Hunter was born on July 18, 1975, in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas to parents Shirley and Theotis Hunter.
Hunter’s mother worked as an elementary school teacher while his father worked as an electrical engineer.
Hunter and his three brothers grew up in a working-class downtown neighborhood.
Their father worked long hours and the family often struggled to make ends meet.
As a young boy, Hunter would sleep on a mattress with a towel over the top.
The Hunter boys began to gain an interest in sports at an early age, helping them to stay away from the crime and drugs that often surrounded them.
Hunter in particular began playing baseball and football around the age of ten, and his remarkable speed at a young age made him stand out among his brothers and peers.
When he was 13 years old, Hunter traveled to Mexico for a Little League tournament where he would hit a walk-off home run and was interviewed by local reporters.
Hunter became even more enamored with baseball after this and would play baseball, football, and basketball at Pine Bluffs High School.
In his early high school years, Hunter performed better in the latter sports than he did in baseball.
As an upperclassman at Pine Bluffs, Hunter began to stand out in baseball.
He used his speed to track down baseballs on defense and steal bases, and he began developing his power.
Hunter’s combination of skills made him a five-tool player.
He made the United States’ Junior Baseball team at the age of 16, Hunter made the United States Junior Olympic team but could not afford the fee required to join.
Hunter decided to write a letter to then-Governor of Arkansas and candidate for President Bill Clinton, asking him for help joining the team.
Soon after, Hunter received a check in the mail.
Attracted by the multi-skilled outfielder, the Minnesota Twins drafted hunter in the first round, 20th overall in 1993.
His first professional experience came in the Gulf Coast League, where he struggled mightily.
He batted just .190 and struck out a lot more than he walked.
His next season in the Midwest League marked noticeable improvement, with Hunter hitting almost .300.
Hunter for the most part continued this success into the next season but had trouble hitting breaking balls.
He began gaining attention for his spectacular play in the center field.
Many scouts began to view Hunter as a prospect with a lot of raw skills but who would need some time developing in the minor leagues.
Hunter spent the next few seasons in AA with variable hitting performance.
While his defense was already Major-League ready, Hunter’s offensive output was stifled by advanced pitching.
He showed moments of brilliance, especially in the outfield, but it was clear he was not ready for the big leagues.
His breakout year came in 1998, where Hunter was promoted to AAA after a strong beginning of the season in AA.
He hit .337 in 26 games in AAA.
Hunter would make his Major League debut in 1997 as a pinch-runner but would spend most of 1997 and 1998 in the upper minor leagues.
Major League Career
The 1999 season opened with Hunter as the starting center fielder for the Twins.
He was serviceable, but the team thought he still needed some more time in the minor leagues.
His 2000 season was spent in both the Majors and AAA.
He was awarded the Best Defensive Outfielder of the Pacific Coast League at the end of the year.
Hunter’s performance in 2000 earned him a permanent spot on the Twins roster to begin the 2001 season, in which he immediately became the best player on the team.
He won his first of nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards and led the Twins in home runs, helping the team make the postseason.
Hunter’s 2002 season was more impressive than his first.
He started the year hot, winning American League Player of the Month in April.
He was selected for the All-Star game that season, where he would make his most famous play.
In the bottom of the first inning, Hunter robbed Barry Bonds of a home run, leaping over the right-centerfield fence, robbing the National League of an early lead in the game.
Following the play, a shocked but thrilled Bonds ran over to Hunter and lifted him on his shoulder, grinning at the amazing athleticism of the young outfielder.
The All-Star game made Hunter a household name, and he soon became one of the game’s most recognizable young stars.
Reflecting on his signature moment, Hunter said:
“It was special for me. I grew up watching him. For him to pick me up and put me over his shoulder, I thought that was a very special moment.”
The Twins played well the rest of the 2002 season and earned themselves a spot in the postseason, winning the A.L. Central Division title.
They would advance to the ALCS after upsetting the 103-win Oakland Athletics but lost to the eventual World Series champion Anaheim Angels.
At season’s end, Hunter was clearly the Twins’ best player and one of the best players in the American League.
He won another Gold Glove and finished in the top-10 in the MVP vote.
In addition to his spectacular defensive play, Hunter showcased his power with 29 home runs and his speed with 23 stolen bases.
The 2003 season was a step back for Hunter.
He saw his batting average, on-base percentage, and stolen base numbers drop significantly but continued to play an excellent center field, winning his third Gold Glove Award.
His power was still evident with his 26 home runs, but it was not the season Hunter or the Twins were expecting.
The team did win the Central Division title for the second year in a row but fell to the New York Yankees in four games in the ALDS.
Hunter had a rebound season in 2004, improving in all of the areas in which he had regressed the previous year.
He hit 23 home runs, 37 doubles, batted .271, and stole 21 bases, 15 more than he had in 2003.
His defense in center field continued to be outstanding, and he won his third consecutive Gold Glove.
Hunter’s Twins won their third straight division title in 2004 but lost again to the Yankees.
Hunter’s 2005 season was cut short by an injury he sustained in Boston’s Fenway Park in July.
Trying to make a play in the outfield, Hunter tore multiple ligaments and broke his ankle, ruling him out for the remainder of the season.
Despite his season-ending prematurely, he was awarded another Gold Glove.
Nobody in the American League came close to Hunter’s prowess in the outfield, even in a short season.
Hunter’s injury cost the Twins dearly and they finished just third in the AL Central, missing the postseason entirely.
Coming off his injury, Hunter had fantastic seasons in both 2006 and 2007.
He hit a career-high 31 home runs in 2006, and in both years had batting averages in the high-.200s.
He continued to be a threat on the base-paths, notching double-digit stolen base totals.
His durability coming off his 2005 injury was remarkable, playing 147 games in 2006 and 160 in 2007.
His defensive play continued to be outstanding, winning another Gold Glove.
No ball was out of Torri Hunter's range. pic.twitter.com/0stXuSdhNh
— Paul St. Martin (@paulstmartin) August 3, 2021
After declining a disappointing contract extension offered by the Twins, Hunter signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels.
The Angels were looking to add solid outfield defense and additional protection in their lineup for sluggers like Vladimir Guerrero.
They beat out multiple teams to sign Hunter, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, and Atlanta Braves.
Upon signing Hunter, Angels’ general manager Tony Reagins said:
“We are very excited to have Torii joining our organization. Not only is he an outstanding ballplayer but he’s also an outstanding human being. He’ll impact our ballclub and community in a very positive way.”
Beginning his Angels tenure as the team’s starting center fielder, Hunter had another productive season in 2008, hitting 21 home runs, batting .278, and stealing 19 bases.
He again won another Gold Glove, his eighth consecutive.
The Angels won 100 games that season, the most they had ever won in their 48-year history to that point.
Winning the AL West division title, the Angels were defeated by the Boston Red Sox, who had also beaten them in the 2004 and 2007 ALDS.
They again won the AL West title the following season, where they once again faced the Red Sox, The Angels swept the Red Sox, but lost the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion Yankees.
Hunter was no doubt an important part of the Angels’ success once again, winning his ninth Gold Glove and mostly replicating his 2008 offensive numbers.
The following three seasons would prove disappointing for the Angels.
They missed the postseason in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Hunter continued to play well into his mid-30s, especially offensively.
His defense was not as great as it once was and he shifted over to right field in his latter seasons with the team, becoming more of an offensive player.
In his last three seasons with the Angels, Hunter hit a combined 62 home runs, batted .285, and had an on-base percentage of .352.
His stolen base numbers decreased as his speed in the outfield decreased, and he stole just 23 bases from 2010-2012.
Despite expressing a desire to retire as a member of the Angels, Hunter became a free agent at the end of 2012.
As he was still a productive veteran player, Hunter had many would-be suitors wanting to sign him.
Coming off a World Series loss in 2012, the Detroit Tigers wanted to add veteran leadership and improve their lineup, and decided Hunter was the perfect fit.
Hunter returned to the AL Central on a two-year $26 million deal.
Both of Hunter’s seasons in Detroit proved successful, as the Tigers made the postseason in both seasons and Hunter played well.
In 2014, Hunter made his fifth and final All-Star team at the age of 37.
He once again became a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, opting to sign with the Twins for a final season.
Returning to Minnesota on a one-year, $10.5 deal, Hunter hit 22 home runs but declined in most other offensive categories, including a .240 batting average and just two stolen bases.
The Twins competed for a Wild Card spot for most of the season but fell short with 83 wins.
Despite a disappointing season, Hunter was able to reunite with the team he started his career with and played with for the majority of his career.
He would retire after the 2015 season.
Life After Baseball
Torii retired as one of the greatest center fielders of all time and is remembered as the game’s best outfielders of the 2000s.
He finished a successful Major League career with 50.7 WAR, nearly 2,500 hits, 353 home runs, a career batting average of .277, and 195 stolen bases.
He was named to five All-Star teams and won an astounding 10 Gold Glove Awards in a row.
Hunter played on successful teams for nearly his entire career, making the postseason with the Twins, Angels, and Tigers.
One of the Twins’ most iconic players, Hunter was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2016.
Hunter’s 12 seasons in Minnesota were honored in a pregame ceremony at Target Field in Minneapolis.
In his speech to the home crowd, Hunter said:
“When I was drafted, I was hoping to just have one day in the big leagues, but I was blessed to play 19 years, and now to be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame, I am extremely, extremely, grateful. This goes to show you, if you work hard, no matter what obstacles are in your way, you can reach your dreams and goals.”
Shortly after being inducted into their Hall of Fame, Hunter joined the Twins’ front office in November of 2016, serving as a special assistant in the baseball operations department.
In this role, Hunter focuses on organizational culture and helps to make decisions in regard to organization staff.
He also has a hand in scouting, the draft, and trade deadline preparation.
Hunter spends time with players within the organization, assisting with player development and coaching.
He has also spent time in the broadcast booth for the team, serving as an analyst for certain home games.
In his post-career, Hunter has been involved in charity work.
He and his wife Katrina founded the “Torii Hunter Project Education Initiative”, a charity organization that helps to grant scholarships to students in Hunter’s home state of Arkansas and other states.
While still with the Tigers, Hunter won the Branch Rickey Award in recognition of his charity work within the city of Detroit.
He launched a charity called Hunter’s Homies, which donated tickets to Tigers games to local organizations to hand out to baseball fans who otherwise could not afford to attend a game in person.
He remains active in charity work in his hometown of Pine Bluffs.
Over the course of his career, Hunter has gotten himself in hot water with his comments on racial and LGBTQ+ issues.
In 2010, Hunter claimed that the influx of Latin American baseball players had a large effect on why there were low numbers of black players in the big leagues, saying that teams would rather sign foreign-born players for a “bag of chips” rather than saying a young, black player from Chicago.
He also came under fire for comments suggesting he would be uncomfortable having a gay teammate, saying it would be “difficult and comfortable.”
He later starred in a radio ad for Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, in which he supported Hutchinson’s claim that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
Hunter became eligible for induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021, one of the highest honors for any baseball player.
While he had an impressive 19-year career, Hunter received just 10.5 percent of the vote.
Prospective inductees need to garner 75 percent in order to be inducted.
On the ballot once again in January of 2022, Hunter’s share of the vote decreased to just 5.3 percent.
David Ortiz, one of Hunter’s teammates in Minnesota for a short time, was the only player elected.
Torii Hunter had an extremely impressive and memorable career in the Major Leagues.
Playing for 19 seasons, Hunter had immense success as a player and was no stranger to postseason play.
Hunter anchored his teams with his performance on the field but also with the leadership and friendliness he provided to his teammates.
He is remembered as not only a great player, but as a mentor to young players and a charitable individual.
Hunter is one of the greatest Twins of all time, his defensive prowess remaining unmatched in the years since he retired in 2015.