Now he’s joining forces with the defending AL champion Detroit Tigers _ a team that’s come close to winning baseball’s ultimate prize each of the last two years.
“To win it all, they’re just like me. They don’t know what it feels like,” Hunter said. “If there’s no failure, there’s no progress. These guys are hungry for it.”
The Tigers introduced Hunter on Friday after finalizing their $26 million, two-year deal with the free agent outfielder. The 37-year-old hit a career-best .313 last season for the Los Angeles Angels with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs, and when he went on the open market, he began eyeing Detroit right away.
The Tigers have won the AL Central the last two years, but they’re still chasing the franchise’s first World Series title since 1984. Detroit was one step away last season but lost the Series to San Francisco in a four-game sweep.
Acquiring a corner outfielder was a major offseason priority for Detroit, and Hunter won nine consecutive Gold Gloves from 2001-09 before eventually switching from center field to right. He’ll play right field at spacious Comerica Park.
“His defense is outstanding as we know,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “It definitely makes us a better defensive club. We haven’t always been able to do it, but you want outstanding outfielders out there because there’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Smiling throughout an almost giddy news conference, Hunter joked with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and demurred a bit when asked who should have been the American League MVP in 2012 _ former teammate Mike Trout of the Angels, or new teammate and eventual winner Miguel Cabrera of Detroit.
“That’s a hot tamale _ that question right there,” Hunter said. “I would like for both of those guys to win it.”
Adding Hunter is consistent with the way the Tigers have operated over the last couple years. With a core of talent that includes Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder, Detroit feels its window to win a World Series is wide open.
“I can’t wait to get to play with Torii,” said Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly, who is from Hunter’s home state of Arkansas. “Growing up in Arkansas every place I went you heard about the legacy he left. Now to have the chance to play beside him is incredible.”
Hunter is looking forward to teaming up with a new group of stars _ and playing for manager Jim Leyland, who wasn’t at the news conference Friday.
“He is a funny old man,” Hunter said. “We’d talk to each other during batting practice, and he would have me rolling.”
Hunter will wear his usual No. 48 after right-hander Rick Porcello agreed to switch to No. 21. Hunter says he was willing to pay Porcello for the number, but the New Jersey-born pitcher preferred the money go to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.
Hunter made the playoffs four times with Minnesota and twice with the Angels, but only twice has he even played in the AL championship series. He’s played 1,947 games, third most among active players who have never reached the World Series, according to STATS, LLC.