On Wednesday it was revealed that the Detroit Tigers were signing free agent outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year deal. The acquisition shores up a big hole for the team – the corner outfield spot and the need for a strong right-handed bat.
Hunter is an exciting player who is well respected in baseball. His addition to the Tiger lineup will make the team even better in 2013. He is one of the best defensive outfielders in the history of the game and he has great extra-base power from the right side of the plate.
Here are nine things you probably didn’t know about the newest Tiger.
1. The I’s have it
Apparently there’s no special story behind Hunter’s unique spelling of his first name. “I think, when my mom filled out the paperwork after I was born, she accidentally put two ‘I’s,” Hunter has said. That’s okay, Detroit fans are used to strange configurations of letters looking at you Jhonny Peralta).
2. He’s built for Comerica’s wide-open spaces
A gazelle in the outfield, Hunter has long strides that make it look as if playing defense is easy. He’ll fit in perfectly at Comerica Park, which has one of the largest outfields in baseball. Tigers fans who are used to seeing the shaky play of Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, and Ryan Raburn in the corner outfield spots will be delighted to watch Hunter. He won nine Gold Gloves for the Twins and Angels, one of the largest totals for any outfielder in baseball history.
3. Only current Tiger to have played in Tiger Stadium
Back in 1999, the final season of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium, Hunter was just getting a feel for the big leagues. It was his first season as a regular in the majors for the Twins and he made the most of his opportunity. On April 15, in a game at The Corner, Hunter belted his first major league home run, a solo blast off Detroit righty Brian Moehler in the 5th inning. The ball soared into the lower right-center bleachers. It was just the 15th game of Hunter’s career, but it’s surely something Torii has never forgotten. As of his signing, Hunter will be the only member of the Tigers who ever played at Tiger Stadium.
4. Torii emulated Bo
Hunter grew up in a large, middle class family in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he excelled at football and baseball. One of his sports heroes was Bo Jackson, who starred in both sports professionally. Like Bo, Hunter was also a great sprinter in high school. He’s not as fast as he once was, but Hunter remains one of the quickest and best baserunners in the game. When he, Quintin Berry and Austin Jackson are in the Tiger outfield, few fly balls will fall in. Tiger fans may wonder about Hunter’s age, since he’ll turn 38 in 2013, but no need to worry. Hunter keeps himself in tremendous shape – he’s a sculpted athlete with long, strong legs, a fantastic throwing arm, and power that comes from those legs and his chest. He has been fairly healthy his entire career and has appeared in at least 140 games in nine of the last 12 seasons.
5. As a teenager he got help from Clinton
In 1992, the 16-year old Hunter was chosen for the U.S. Junior Olympic baseball team. When he could not afford the expenses that were associated with being on the squad, Torii wrote a letter to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Shortly, a check for $500 arrived in the mail from Clinton.
6. Plays with emotion
Throughout his stellar career, Hunter has displayed his passion for the game. The Tigers are getting a player who will smile, laugh, and willingly interact with the fans. But Hunter also has a fiery competitive side that can pop up. Early in his career with Minnesota he had famous run-ins with manager Tom Kelly, with whom he never had a good relationship. Hunter was suspended once when he became enraged after being hit by a pitch. But those incidents occurred early in his career, Hunter is more mature now. However, he will show emotion on the field when things are going well and when they are not. For Tigers fans who at times felt like the team was sleep walking through the regular season in 2012, that might be a welcome addition.
7. Home run milestone on the horizon
Torii needs only three homers to reach the 300 mark for his career. This will mark the second straight season that a Detroit player will have reached the 300-HR milestone, Miguel Cabrera having done it in 2012. Prince Fielder is 40 shy of the mark. Not since the Tigers had Eddie Mathews on their roster for parts of the 1967 and 1968 season have they had three players with so many homers in their career. The trio back then was Mathews (with more than 500), Al Kaline, and Norm Cash.
8. Memorable catch against Bonds in All-Star Game
In 2002, Hunter became the first Twin to start in center field at an All-Star Game since Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. It was quite an honor for the young player. In the very first inning of the game, played in Milwaukee, Hunter went back ona deep fly ball off the bat of Barry Bonds, leaped at the wall, and took a home run away from the slugger. In a playful moment, Bonds grabbed Hunter and lifted him over his shoulder in mock disgust after the play. The catch helped catapult Hunter onto the national scene as a star player. That was the All-Star Game that infamously ended in a 7-7 tie when the teams ran out of players in extra-innings.
9. Helped sink Tigers to Wild Card spot in 2006
In 2006 the Tigers surprised many in Jim Leyland’s first season by owning baseball’s best record for most of the year. Unfortunately, the team faded down the stretch and squandered their AL Central lead to the charging Minnesota Twins. On the final day of the regular season, as the Tigers were being swept in their weekend series against the Royals, Hunter helped the Twins defeat the White Sox to clinch the AL Central title. Hunter smacked a two-run homer in the 4th inning to give the Twins a 3-0 cushion. As a result of the Minnesota victory, the Tigers were relegated to the wild card spot, though they went on to defeat the Yankees and A’s to advance to the World Series.