Torii Hunter belted a home run into the third deck in Target Field on July 11, a week before his 40th birthday. He dared Father Time to show his face.
But Hunter knew he couldn’t stiff-arm retirement much longer. He knew it as he addressed the Twins in late September. And he really knew it once he was home for the offseason.
So Hunter has made it official. The Twins right fielder is retiring from baseball, closing the books on a 19-year major league career that included five All-Star Games and nine Gold Glove Awards.
“I’ve been married to the game 23 years,” Hunter said. “I put it almost No. 1 in my life. My family kind of second. I made sacrifices for my family. And now it is time to give them more time.”
Hunter, who said he had contemplated retirement during the previous two offseasons, entered 2015 thinking it would be his last season. He kept those thoughts private, however.
“I didn’t want a going-away tour,” Hunter said. “I didn’t want to be a distraction.”
‘Like a marriage breakup’
On Oct. 3, the second-to-last day of the regular season, Hunter addressed the team following a loss to the Royals that knocked the Twins from playoff contention, saying he was 80 percent sure he was done.
“It was hard to tell those guys. I loved those guys,” Hunter said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to cry. I’ve been playing since I was 20. And I almost did. It was like a marriage breakup.”
Twins players, of course, tried to talk him out of it. His agent, Larry Reynolds, also tried to get him to play another season. But after speaking to his wife, Katrina, and the rest of his family since the season ended, Hunter decided it’s time.
“I think he is a rare combination of passion, integrity and talent on the baseball field,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think we’re going to see too many guys like him because I guessing there haven’t been too many like him. One thing I’m sure of is that God’s got great plans for Torii and Katrina moving forward.”
Hunter turned down overtures from the Royals and other teams last offseason to return to the Twins, the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 1993 out of high school in Pine Bluff, Ark. In 139 games this year, he batted a career-low .240 but hit 22 home runs with 81 RBI for a team that finished 83-79 and missed a playoff spot by three games.
Over a 46-game span from July 1 to Sept. 4, he hit .159 with six homers, 20 RBI, a .222 on-base percentage and a .280 slugging percentage. He rallied to hit .293 with four homers and 17 RBI over his last 24 games.
“I had a little doubt in myself,” Hunter said of the slump, which spanned his 40th birthday July 18. “I was physically and mentally tired. I was worn out. And it just happened. The last month I did what I had to do. But that’s not why I’m retiring. I’m retiring because I want to focus on my family.”
Twins manager Paul Molitor, who spoke with Hunter last week and learned of his intentions, said it’s easy to measure Hunter’s contributions in his numbers, but his ability to make teammates better and develop the right clubhouse atmosphere was invaluable.
“I think we’ll see fruit from that for years to come,” Molitor said. “I think there’s going to be a day where somebody in that clubhouse is going to be 38 years old and talk about retirement and say, ‘I remember what Torii Hunter did for me and I’m trying to do that for someone else.
“He’ll be perpetuated, no doubt about that.”
Pinch running, Torii Hunter
Hunter finishes a career .277 hitter with 353 home runs (90th all time) and 1,391 RBI. He played 2,372 games (91st) and had 2,452 hits (112th) and 498 doubles (63).
He began his major league career with one game for the Twins in 1997 as a pinch runner, and he became the starter in center field two years later. Gifted in the field, Hunter ran into anything while trying to catch everything.
The question was if he would ever be an offensive threat. He began to break out in 2001, batting .261 with 27 home runs and 92 RBI. He helped the Twins reach the postseason in 2002. That also was the year he made one of the great catches in All-Star Game history, robbing Barry Bonds of a home run at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
Hunter went to the postseason four times over his first 11 seasons with the Twins before signing a five-year, $90 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels before the 2008 season. He made the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 with the Angels, and he also reached the postseason in each of his two seasons with Detroit, 2013 and ’14. Everywhere he played, he became a motivational force.
First up: Watching football
Hunter will take some time off before deciding what his next step will be. He mentioned television commentary, coaching and pursuing business interests as options. He will spend the next several weeks watching his sons play football. Torii Hunter Jr., is a wide receiver at Notre Dame. Monshadrik Hunter is a defensive back at Arkansas State.
“I thank the Angels for adopting me and making me part of the Angels family, all the teammates I had over there,” Hunter said. “The Angels fans, love them. There’s the Tigers organization, Mr. [Mike] Ilitch and their fans.
“But most of all, the Minnesota Twins fans and organization. The Pohlads, Terry Ryan, the coaching staff. Ron Gardenhire, Tom Kelly. I thank those guys for showing me how to take responsibility, how to carry yourself. The Twins fans, you can’t beat them. That’s my family. The city is my love.”