Former Angels center fielder and consummate fan favorite Torii Hunter announced his retirement today, calling it a career after 19 seasons and retiring with the same Twins club that brought him into the bigs. Torii was a five time all-star over those 2,372 games and finished with a career .277 average, 353 homers, 1,391 RBI and nine Gold Glove awards. What a career, filled with exciting moments and ever-growing fan appreciation. Of course, we got to know and love Torii in his stint with the Angels, a five season long feast of highlight catches, big hits and great interviews.
Torii was brought into the Angels fold in November of 2007. It was the dawning of the Tony Reagins era, when we were unsure of what this new, untested GM was capable of. Torii Hunter was in town to talk with the Dodgers, and the Angels were nowhere on the rumor radar. Then, on Tuesday the 22nd of November, a call was made from Tony Reagins to Hunter's agent, and a surprise and clandestine meeting was arranged...at a Del Taco in Corona, CA. Yes, it was at that famed Del Taco that Reagins and Hunter tentatively agreed on a 5-year deal to the tune of about $90 million. It was match made in Halos Heaven, and we not only had a new favorite center fielder, but we also had an AWESOME new GM in Reagins. With his stealthy Mexican fast food move, he gained the loving nickname of Del Ninja. We even made shirts to celebrate the man that brought us Torii Hunter. It would be the last time we celebrate anything pertaining to Tony Reagins for years to come...but we had Torii!
Hunter would play 713 games with the Angels, batting .286 in that time with 105 homer, 432 RBIs, two Gold Gloves and two All Star appearances. Really, it was one of the better deals we saw in the Angels glory days of the 2000's, and the fact that it came from Tony Reagins is the cherry on top. Torii was always playing with fire, too. There was the shoves, the trash talk, the "we fly flags" moment...he was a gamer, and while i'm veering into horrible cliche territory, he played the game the absolute, utmost right way if there ever was a right way.
After the 2012 season, with the Angels thinking they were going to land some big fish in free agency, they didn't offer Torii a contract and a chance to return to the team and fans that considered him family; Arte Moreno said there was no more money, and then would then go on to give Josh Hamilton a boatload of cash. Torii was publicly saddened by that revelation, and it stung this fan's heart down to it's core. A few years down the road, we'd learn that Torii and newly signed Albert Pujols almost came to blows once, in the 2012 season. Perhaps the Angels, and Arte Moreno, were sending a message about who is their cash cow, and who is expendable. It's just another black eye on the front office. They did Torii dirty, and all he ever wanted to do was will this team to winning. Sometimes I let it sink it, and picture an alternate reality, where they kept Hunter and Josh Hamilton got a job at at food court Sbarro in a distant, Texas mall. Ouch.
Torii still had some good seasons left in him, and enjoyed success in Detroit, before heading back home to the Twins, who were the team he began his 19 season-long journey with in the first place. He went out on his own terms, and that's about as special and perfect as it can get. He was an MLB original, a vicious competitor and an eye-opening baseball talent with a killer smile to match. We'll miss ya, Torii.