After 2,372 games in 17-plus big-league seasons, Torii Hunter has called it a career.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” the 40-year-old Hunter said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I usually start working out at the end of November or early December, but I can see myself in February getting that itch when everybody’s going to spring training and reporting to camp, I think I might go a little crazy. My wife might kick me out of the house.”
Hunter ended his career where it began – in Minnesota. He was a five-time All-Star, a nine-time Gold Glover and a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He was extremely productive until the end, hitting .240 with 22 home runs and 81 RBIs in 139 games this season.
Most guys would do anything for a season like that. Why retire now?
“It was just time,” Hunter said. “For the last two years, I’ve been thinking about that. My knees were hurting, my lower back – I was just kind of getting through it. Your adrenaline kind of takes over and your body doesn’t really hurt anymore. It’s like your painkiller, your anti-inflammatory. But when I (woke) up in the morning, I was just so stiff – and that was a part of it. But mentally, I was kind of burned out. The game has changed so much and I didn’t want to ever be the one who complained a lot. I always said, ‘If I become a salty vet, I’m out.’ So I started complaining about the instant replay, the pace of play, and I saw myself doing that and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It was next man up. So you kind of give that next young guy that opportunity instead of me plugging up a hole. I just wanted to go ahead and step down and really focus on family, health and having my mindset back.”
Hunter, who entered the bigs in 1997, said the game has gotten softer over the years. From removing home-plate collisions to the backlash over breaking up double plays, Hunter didn’t like some of the new rules and attitudes toward things that made – and make – the game great. He could also do without the cockiness of younger players who grew up in the social-media era.
“These guys are stars before they even get to the major leagues and a lot of them want big-league treatment,” Hunter said. “You don’t get a trophy for doing nothing. You have to do something and put time in and work and get some sweat in the game to get some of the perks as guys that have been in the league five, six, seven years and done something in the game. But you get a lot more younger guys that come up and they’re a little cocky, which has always been the case, but you got a lot more now. . . . It’s just a different game all around. I still think it’s a little softer. Those are the little things that I complained about, so if I’m complaining about it, it’s time for me to go.”
Hunter’s top priority for the rest of the fall is, without question, watching his son, Torii Hunter Jr., play football for Notre Dame. Hunter Jr. has 19 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns this season for the No. 4 Irish (8-1).
Hunter has been one of the best baseball players in the world for more than two decades, but there’s nothing quite like watching his son play major college football.
“Oh man, I’m a fan,” Hunter said. “I’m a fan. Torii Jr. is my son. I love him. I have fun. When he makes great plays, I’m going crazy. But I think I’m a fan of the game because I know (guys like) Will Fuller, I know Jaylon Smith. I get to know these guys – (DeShone) Kizer and Malik Zaire and Tarean Folston. I know most of these guys and I’m rooting for them. I’ve become a fan. Anybody that makes a play or don’t make a play, I (react emotionally). I can’t believe I’m screaming with everybody else. I’m used to being on the field and everybody screaming at me. Now I’m the one who’s making those comments. It’s a lot of fun. I can really see how fans really get behind their team and enjoy everything about it. Now I see it.”
Gottlieb asked Hunter to dole out some retirement superlatives. Hunter’s all-time funniest teammate was Austin Jackson or David Ortiz – with Big Papi likely getting the nod – and his cheapest teammate was Jacque Jones. As for the most talented player he ever encountered? That would be none other than a young Josh Hamilton.
“He had all the tools,” Hunter said. “If all this other stuff off the field didn’t happen, he could have been a Hall of Famer – for sure.”