12/11/2002 08:39 am ET
Hunter takes defensive honors
Edges Andruw Jones for first-time MLB.com award
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
56K | 300K
He's faster than a speeding (or flying) baseball and able to leap tall fences at a single bound. When there's a tough out to be made in the outfield, don't call Superman.
This is a job for Twins center fielder Torii Hunter.
The reigning two-time Gold Glove Award winner and first-time All-Star starter has become a superhero in baseball for his ability to make great plays. Some have even labeled him after another comic book star, Spiderman, for his great leaps at the wall.
It's only natural then that fans honored one of the best gloves in the game as the Defensive Player of the Year in MLB.com's "This Year in Baseball Awards."
Since the award debuted Nov. 7, more than 300,000 votes were cast at MLB.com for the six inaugural awards, which included Play of the Year, Blooper of the Year, Setup Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year. The awards were created to allow fans to have the final say on the top moments and players from the 2002 baseball season.
Hunter edged Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones for the award. Hunter's All-Star Game catch that robbed Barry Bonds of a home run was named Play of the Year. He is the only player to win in two categories.
Some consider the play to be the greatest of his short career, and it came when all eyes were on him. With a giant leap at the right-center field fence at Milwaukee's Miller Park July 9, Hunter stopped Bonds' hit from clearing the fence.
"I'll be able to tell my grandkids I robbed a Hall of Famer," Hunter said after the game. "To me, that's No. 1. That's the best catch I've had because of where it happened. I grew up in Arkansas and the All-Star Game is one everybody got to watch on TV. To make a catch against a Hall of Famer on national TV, this is one I'll always remember."
Bonds smiled with amazement and greeted his robber on his return to the dugout by picking up Hunter at the edge of the infield and hoisting him on his shoulder. Another future Hall of Famer was also impressed.
"I thought he was Michael Jordan," the Cubs' Sammy Sosa said that night. "That kid impresses everybody like a Superman right there, comes out from nowhere and jumps like that and got the ball."
Hunter has turned playing the center field position into an art form. Always hustling on every play, the 27-year-old Arkansas native is routinely seen running, diving, leaping and crashing into walls trying to make an out for his team. Sometimes, he makes seemingly difficult plays look simply routine.
While defensive statistics alone don't tell the whole story, Hunter committed just three errors in 146 games for a .992 fielding percentage, fifth-best among league outfielders. He also had 365 putouts and seven assists.
Hunter's manager believes this is just the beginning.
"He'll be mentioned with some of the greatest outfielders ever in the game," Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire said after Hunter won a 2002 Gold Glove.
That's a distinction any superhero in the game would like to have.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at
email@example.com. This report was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.