If you can forgive the click bait-y title, I will confess that I simultaneously endorse and reject the sentiment within that title.
Let me explain.
Of all the Angels jerseys within my collection, I have many different players represented, both current (Weaver, Pujols, Kendrick) and not (Guerrero, Salmon, Erstad, Adenhart). Until recently, of course, Torii Hunter was in the former category. I have more Hunter jerseys (road gray, Firetruck, 2010 ASG, and bp) than those of any other player.
I loved watching him play. I know that beat reporters appreciated the way he would man up after a tough loss and take interview questions as long as necessary, not because of ego, but because the reporters needed someone to talk on the record and Torii was the de facto leader of the clubhouse; he knew the reporters were only doing their jobs and he was going to assist with thoughtful answers and great quotes.
He produced some sterling defense in CF in the first three years of his contract, but more importantly, he put his ego to the side to move to RF and allow Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout the opportunity to play even better CF. He did what he knew was best for the team, even as any CF will tell you that playing a corner position is a step down from the prestige and importance of manning center.
But above all--and there was no way any of us in 2008 would have known this would have been the case in 2012--Hunter was the exact player, the exact role model, the exact man we would have wanted to be the mentor to Michael Nelson Trout. Whether it was in sharing acquired knowledge about playing center in the different parks the team played in over the past season, or in helping Trout handle the pressure of becoming both a celebrity and a commodity in the game, or simply functioning as a surrogate dad and sounding board, Hunter was clearly the avatar for the Trouts last year. There was a heartfelt Tweet from Trout's mom the day that Hunter signed with the Tigers, thanking him for being such a huge presence in their son's life the past year.
Think of it: But for a Big Del burrito, Trout's role models could easily have been Rivera and GMJ. We as fans were tremendously fortunate that Hunter was on the roster the year Trout crashed the game and the consciousness of the entire baseball fanbase.
So you're thinking that I've come to praise Hunter, not to bury him, right?
Here's the thing: I am relieved that he won't be trying to honor a two-year deal with the Angels, because--much as I love and respect Torii--I don't think he can replicate the 2012 year two more times. Maybe not even one more time. I would have been OK with the team offering a qualifying offer and Hunter accepting, if only for a last-hurrah opportunity to reach the Series in 2013 and to see him finish his career as an Angel.
But my hunch is that 2012 was more of a mirage than a prediction of the next two seasons, and what I really did not want to see was a Torii Hunter who was increasingly a shadow of his former self. Too many players have stayed on too long--Willie Mays perhaps the most famous, but plenty of other examples exist--and wind up tarnishing the very legacy they worked so hard to build and burnish. Some hitters become "smarter" when they get older and the bat speed begins to desert them, and work on making the swing more compact and the pitch selection smarter. I think we all know in our gut, though, is that Torii will be swinging out of his cleats up to his very last PA. This doesn't bode well if his BABIP loses its high orbital slot and comes back to reality as a fireball.
I hope that I'm wrong and that he finds tremendous success in Detroit. I would never wish him anything but the best. But my gut tells me that this isn't going to be a two seasons of brilliance in Motown. Instead, I foresee accelerating decline, both at the plate and in the field, where I think balls he used to catch will increasingly fall just out of his reach.
And if that happens, I will be modestly salved by the fact that the five seasons I watched him in Anaheim were all generally played at a higher level--and that the mentor to Trout did more for the future of this team than Hunter might have done in two more years in an Angels uniform. For that, I don't think Angels fans can ever show enough appreciation.