Torii retires with no regrets, plenty of thanks
Veteran outfielder believes he will stay involved with baseball
MINNEAPOLIS -- As Twins general manager Terry Ryan sat at the podium at Target Field and read off the list of accomplishments from Torii Hunter's 19-year Major League career, Hunter couldn't help himself. The tears started flowing, as it finally set in that his playing days are behind him.
But Hunter leaves with a lasting legacy, especially in Minnesota, as the 40-year-old fan favorite played 12 seasons with the Twins, including his final season as the club's right fielder in 2015. The affable Hunter won nine Gold Glove Awards and was named an All-Star five times during his career with the Twins, Angels and Tigers.
So it was an emotional day for Hunter, who was joined by his wife, Katrina, as he said he woke up at 4 a.m. CT to write a list of all of those he had to thank for his long and fruitful Major League career. He often referenced a bible verse about how iron sharpens iron, and how man sharpens man. And given all those he touched and mentored during his big league career, Hunter sharpened many people, including those in attendance such as his former teammates Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie, as well as managers Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor.
"This is tough for me," Hunter said. "I've never been in this situation. When you're younger, you think you'll play forever. It's a kid's game, but us grownups are kids at heart. Baseball is in my blood. I know somehow in the future, I'll still be involved in the game."
Hunter was undoubtedly the clubhouse leader in 2015, helping the Twins bring back their winning ways, as they weren't eliminated from the postseason until the second-to-last day of the regular season. And on the field, his 22 homers were his most since 2011, while he hit .275 with four homers and 17 RBIs over the final month of the season.
Ryan said the Twins would've welcomed Hunter back next season, but said it was ultimately Hunter's decision and he was impressed by all that Hunter accomplished in his career both on and off the field.
"You probably never heard a bad word about him," Ryan said. "What a stand-up guy. He makes others better. He is the definition of a leader on the field and in the clubhouse."
Hunter said the decision came because he was constantly sore over his final two seasons in the Majors, and wanted to spend more time with his family, including his wife, and his three sons, Torii Jr., Darius and Monshadrik, who all play college football.
"The last two years, I've been sore and fighting through soreness," Hunter said. "Every day getting out of bed, I take that first step and my wife has to push me out of bed. So I just felt like it was time. It took me two hours to get warmed up. And also, just my family. I traveled so much and missed out on so many things."
Hunter, selected by the Twins with the No. 20 overall pick in the 1993 Draft, finished his career a .277/.331/.461 hitter with 2,272 hits, 353 homers, 195 stolen bases and 1,391 RBIs in 2,372 games. He's also one of only five primary center fielders with at least 2,000 hits, 350 homers and 175 stolen bases, joining Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Ellis Burks and Carlos Beltran.
Hunter never reached a World Series, but said he was still proud of playing in the postseason eight times. He added that 2002 was his fondest year, as the surprising Twins reached the American League Championship Series despite being faced with potential contraction, while Hunter was an All-Star for the first time and made his famous catch to rob Barry Bonds of a homer in the All-Star Game in Milwaukee that year.
"I just learned so much in this game, I wouldn't take back any of it for anything," Hunter said. "I have no regrets. I learned so much. I couldn't see myself doing anything but baseball."
Hunter said he'll take some time to relax with his family before he decides his next step, as several television networks have already reached out to him, while the Twins are open to him assuming a front-office role.
"I don't think I'm walking away," Hunter said. "I'm just transitioning. I'll just take some time off and focus on today. Tomorrow has its own set of problems. So in the near-future, I'll definitely be in baseball in some form or fashion. I just don't know what it's gonna be."