The Runner Sports

The Day Torii Hunter Became A Star

Today is July 9. It is far from the most famous date in history, but it is the 15th anniversary of the day Torii Hunter became a star.

Most people without more than a few years life experience know Torii Hunter as the broadcaster with the crazy antics, but before that, he was an incredibly exciting baseball player. Minnesota Twins fans knew he was a great player before July 9, with all of his defensive gems, and his success at the heart of a scrappy offense. With the love of Minnesota behind him and enough SportsCenter highlights on his side, Hunter was voted to start the 2002 All-Star Game. There was no doubt that Hunter was a likable, big time player, but he was not yet a star. When he managed only three home runs in the Home Run Derby on July 8, he had not cemented his star status.

But on July 9, he became a star. He became a star from the play that most of us probably remember best from his career.

It is this play. The play where he robbed the man who hit more home runs than anyone else in the history of Major League Baseball of hitting one in a game that most every baseball fan was watching. It may not have been Hunter’s best catch of the season, (though it may very well have been) but it was the biggest one.

First and foremost, Hunter robbed Barry Bonds. Just the year before, Bonds had broken the single-season home run record, and in 2002 would win the National League batting title and his second of four consecutive NL MVPs. In other words, Bonds, steroids or not, was the best player in baseball at the time. Torii Hunter made him look mortal. And when Bonds playfully lifts Hunter onto his shoulder as he leaves the field, Bonds accepts him as a peer, and admits that Hunter’s defensive ability could trump even his own power hitting ability.

But who is standing underneath Hunter as he makes the catch? Ichiro, the reigning American League MVP and Rookie of the Year. If Bonds was the best player in baseball at the time, Ichiro was the most electrifying. He played the game differently than most American fans had ever seen, and had led the previous year’s Mariners to one of the best records of all time. Still, all he could do was watch as Hunter took center stage.
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Who is standing nearby when Bonds ambushes Hunter on the way off the field? Alex Rodriguez in the middle of his league-leading 57 home run season. Who else does Torii Hunter pass on his was off the field? Manny Ramirez, a player so popular that he was loved even when he was the laziest outfielder in the league. (Also Shea Hillebrand, because every great story needs some comic relief.)

At this moment in time, Torii Hunter was at the center of the baseball universe. Joe Buck kindly points out that Hunter did this kind of thing for Minnesota fans on the regular, but now he was showcasing his talent for the whole baseball world, and it was taking notice. There is not much of a better way to define a star in baseball.

The Twins have had some great players since, including a two-time Cy Young winner, a three-time batting champion with an MVP award, and an MVP with a Home Run Derby crown, but none of them have ever captured America’s attention the way Torii Hunter did 15 years ago.

So next time Hunter takes to the airwaves and shocks you with his movie references and old photographs of Dick Bremer, remember that it wasn’t always that way. There was a time when Hunter could keep you, and some of the best baseball players ever, amazed with his glove.

Charlie Gillmer

Charlie Gillmer

Charlie Gillmer is a lifelong Twins fan who spends most nights dreaming of learning a knuckleball and pitching them to a World Series victory.
Charlie Gillmer

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