Baseball Player | Class of 2008
Torii Hunter was considered one of major league baseball’s biggest stars during his career. An elite center fielder, he won nine consecutive Gold Glove awards, was a five-time All-Star selection, and won two Silver Slugger awards as the best offensive player at his position. He also recorded the most home runs by an Arkansan in major league history (353). In 2,372 games, Hunter hit safely 2,452 times—890 for extra bases—for a lifetime batting average of .277. He stole 195 bases, drove in 1,391 runs, and committed only fifty-two errors in center field (and later right field). He played for the Anaheim Angels and the Detroit Tigers but ended his professional career on October 26, 2015, with the Minnesota Twins.
Torii Hunter was born on July 18, 1975, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Shirley Hunter (an elementary school teacher) and Theotis Hunter (an electrician). He had four brothers and a sister. He excelled at any sport, and in fact would later call football his first love and the position of quarterback the best expression of his talent. However, at age thirteen, he flew to New Mexico to play in a Little League tournament. After he hit a walk-off home run (one that ends the game), he was interviewed by reporters. From then on, he considered baseball the more sophisticated, preferable route to the kind of professional athletic life he had in mind for himself.
Hunter was the Minnesota Twins’ first pick in the 1993 draft, but it was not until 1997 that he actually made an appearance in a big-league game (as a pinch-runner). It was 1999 before he entered the game as a starter. He was perhaps the best hitter in the Twins’ 2002 run to the American League Championship Series, when he led the team in home runs, runs batted in (RBIs), and slugging percentage. He finished third in hits.
Though he would continue a streak of Gold Glove–winning campaigns in center field through 2009 (he won his first in 2001), his hitting dropped off slightly in 2003 and 2004, and a broken ankle placed him on the disabled list for much of 2005. His numbers peaked again when he hit a career-high thirty-one home runs in 2006 and 107 RBIs in 2007. Perhaps on the strength of this stretch of hitting—helped no doubt by his stellar fielding—he was offered a five-year, almost $90 million contract with the Anaheim Angels.
In some ways Hunter underwhelmed the California fans, and indeed his home run production dipped (he never again hit more than twenty-five home runs in a season after 2007), but in 2012, he had a career-high season for batting average and on-base percentage. Except for an injury in 2009, he played in at least 140 games each of the five seasons he played in Anaheim.
After the 2012 season, the Angels failed to extend his contract, and the Detroit Tigers offered Hunter a two-year, $26 million contract as a right fielder. With career highs in at-bats (606) and hits (184) while striking out only 113 times, Hunter finished the 2013 season with a .304 batting average, and the Tigers reached the American League Championship Series.
Hunter’s production in 2014 tailed off a bit— with fifty-seven fewer at-bats, he posted a .286 batting average (with the same home runs, seventeen, as the year before)—and in the fall the team did not compete for his contract. He was picked up by the Minnesota Twins for about $10.5 million. In 2015, though he stepped to the plate 521 times, hit twenty-two home runs, and collected eighty-one RBIs, he hit just .240, his lowest career batting average over a full season. He announced his retirement in late October 2015.
Hunter is the philanthropist behind the Torii Hunter Project (in partnership with the nonprofit Heart of a Champion). He is also active in his church, New Life Community Church, in Frisco, Texas.
Hunter’s relationship with his hometown of Pine Bluff is ambivalent. He has said the smell that most immediately triggers nostalgia for him is that of a paper mill, which “remind[s] me why I left that area of Pine Bluff.” He has also made a significant contribution to the baseball field and complex that now bears his name on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). Hunter has said that in retirement he would like to transition into the business of sports and/or sports analysis.
Hunter and his wife, Katrina, have a son; he has three other sons.