Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the new Angel right fielder… Torii Hunter!!!
We all knew this day would come, but nobody thought it would come so soon and so abruptly. But even with the shock of it all, Torii Hunter once again showed why he is better than the rest of us by handling the positional shift with his standard class and grace.
Don’t expect Torii to be robbing anymore homers now that he has a 20-foot wall in right field to deal with.
A lot has already been said about defensive metrics and how it was clearly time for Hunter to move out of center. That is all fine and good and pretty much beaten to death, so I won’t belabor either side of that argument anymore. Whether you believe UZR or your eyes, almost anyone will agree that Hunter isn’t the same fielder he was five years ago. Nor should anyone expect him to be.
The man is 35 years old, he is slowing down as his body breaks down. It is just a fact of life; old age sucks. He was going to have to move out of center field someday, but I certainly never would have bet on August 3rd, 2010 being that day.
Torii has been run ragged this season trying to cover for the complete and total lack of range of his flanking outfielders, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu, not to mention trying to carry the Halo offense at the same time. That would take a toll on any player, even if they were in the middle of their physical prime.
Moving over to right field should ease the workload on Hunter’s weary legs, but what about the mental toll of giving up playing the position he loves and made him a star in this league?
If it were almost any other player in the league getting booted out of their position to make way for some wet behind the ears rookie, there could be hell to pay in the Angel locker room. Good thing for the Angels that Torii Hunter might just be the best dude in all of baseball. Remove his poorly-worded comments about Latin Americans from this last off-season and Torii Hunter is essentially a saint when compared to most modern athletes. As the best player on the team and a guy enjoying one of his best seasons ever, nobody would blink an eye if he made some snarky comments to the press or if he staged a behind the scenes temper tantrum to the Angel brass, but that just isn’t Torii’s style.
Hunter may not have played right field since 1999 because he is so adept at the center field, but that doesn’t mean he is abandoning his best position. That’s because as great a center fielder as Hunter has been, he’s become even more skilled in his position of clubhouse leader. His decision to voluntarily step aside (literally) for Peter Bourjos is just his latest grand act in leading by example. While he has talked openly about how he struggled for days with the decision, don’t expect it to haunt him. It just isn’t in Hunter’s make up to let such a selfish excuse interfere with his ability to contribute to the rest of the team. He may not enjoy playing the corner outfield as much, but he enjoys seeing his teammates grow and succeed, so whatever reservations he might have about his decision should fade away quickly.
If anyone is going to struggle under the mental burden of Torii shifting to right it will be Peter Bourjos. Can you imagine the pressure of getting called up to the bigs for the first time and not only taking over for a living legend but then having to just turn your head slightly to the left to see said legend looming over you?
Bourjos probably is a better center fielder at this stage than Torii Hunter, but that won’t make it any easier for him to cope with the gravity of this situation. What will, however, is the guidance of Hunter. That selfless act of giving up his position isn’t quite enough for Torii; Hunter must now calm the nerves of the Angels’ young (hopeful) star by taking him under his wing to make sure that this transition goes smoothly as it appears to be permanent.
Yes, it seems a good leader’s work is never done. While sliding to right field might mean less work for his tired leg muscles, it is only going to create more work for the big muscle between his ears. Fortunately for the Angels, that muscle is happy, healthy and ready for any job.