MINNEAPOLIS — Torii Hunter‘s Minnesota reunion went about as well as could’ve been expected — for both sides.
That’s the way Hunter decided to cap his career, too, as the last of 19 major league seasons.
The Twins confirmed Monday night that Hunter will retire. He told the Star Tribune he began the year believing this would be his last in baseball and wanted to focus on his family, with two of his sons playing college football.
“I didn’t want a going-away tour. I didn’t want to be a distraction,” Hunter told the newspaper.
Hunter was often in the spotlight this season, though. He finished with a .240 batting average, 22 home runs and 81 RBI in 139 games. Though his .702 OPS was the lowest since his rookie year in 1999, Hunter played a capable right field despite lacking the range of his youth and a significant role in a resurgence by the Twins that kept them in the American League wild-card race until the second-to-last day of the season.
In 2,372 games, Hunter hit .277 with 353 homers and 1,391 RBIs for Minnesota, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers, playing in one AL Championship Series with each team. After being drafted in the first round by the Twins as an 18-year-old out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Hunter finished with his original team at age 40.
He made brief appearances in 1997 and 1998 before taking over as the center fielder in 1999, one of 18 rookies who played for the Twins that season. By 2001, he was a force, winning his first of nine Gold Glove awards while hitting 27 home runs and driving in 92 runs. Hunter was picked for his first of five All-Star Games in 2002, memorably stealing a home run from Barry Bonds with a stellar snag over the center-field wall.
Hunter’s best overall year might have been 2007, the end of his original tenure with the Twins. After batting .287 with 28 home runs and 18 steals with career highs in doubles (45) and RBIs (107), Hunter signed with the Angels, where he eventually moved to right field and became more of a contact hitter who batted a career-best .313 in his last season on the West Coast in 2012.
Family was on his mind when he joined the Tigers. Torii Hunter Jr. is a wide receiver for Notre Dame, one state away from Detroit. When he became a free agent again last winter, Hunter didn’t hesitate to come back to Minnesota, even though his résumé was missing a World Series and the Twins were fresh from a fourth straight season of 92 or more losses.
He was adamant from the start that he was coming to a team with some talent and potential. Despite some obvious flaws and mediocre competition in the AL, the resilient Twins found themselves in a playoff race again, with Hunter playing no small part.
His value transcended the field, providing tenacity, enthusiasm and advice for a young team during what turned out to be a one-year farewell with the Twins. Early on, he started an amusing tradition of postgame dance parties after victories at home, even handing out “Torii Awards” for the best and worst move-busters of the bunch. He served as a sage guide to young outfielders like Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks.
“It’s a lot of fun being a part of those guys,” Hunter said after the Twins concluded their season, “and hopefully they apply it to their lives and to their game and make themselves better.”