November 16th, 2012
You had to figure once the Tigers had a deal with Torii Hunter, he would end up getting his number 48 from Rick Porcello. This probably wasn’t the expected way.
As it turned out, Porcello turned the usual jersey number exchange into a very positive turn for his home state.
Hunter and Porcello had met and talked once in another offseason when both were in Las Vegas, so there was already a familiarity.
“I called Rick Porcello, and I told him that I wanted to [buy the number],” Hunter said Friday. “You know, veteran guys usually give a nice dollar amount for a number, so I offered him a nice dollar amount. And he said no. I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with him.'”
Then Porcello came at him with another idea.
“You know what, he’s from New Jersey,” Hunter continued, “and Hurricane Sandy came and destroyed some parts of New Jersey, and he knows some people that were affected by it. He said, ‘The money that you offered me, could you donate it to this organization for Hurricane Sandy?’
“That’s the kind of guy Rick Porcello is. And he really gave me number 48. I’m like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want anything? You’re OK?’ He’s like, ‘Yes, I’m straight.'”
Porcello lives in northern New Jersey, close enough that he can see New York from his hometown. He went to high school at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, which was reportedly hit hard by the storm. There was a YouTube video that circulated around showing what looked like an endless line for gas at a station in West Orange that hadn’t opened yet.
Porcello had worn number 48 since he made the Tigers rotation out of spring training in 2009. He wore 21 in high school, but Dontrelle Willis had that number in 2009. Delmon Young wore 21 the last season and a half. Porcello will wear it now.
Hunter was glad to help.
“Thank you, Rick. You the man,” Hunter said.
Dave Dombrowski called the corner outfield addition the top priority the Tigers had this winter. He did not say it was the last. Not by a long shot.
Actually, he didn’t say much about the rest of the Tigers’ offseason plans. But within his guarded remarks, it was clear the Tigers aren’t done with their offseason dealings.
“I’d say this was our No. 1 priority, finding a bat for the corner outfield,” Dombrowski said. “We’ll see where other things take us. But if we end up with this being our major move of the winter, I would be very happy.”
If they end up with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly rounding out their rotation, Dombrowski said, “we’d be fine with that.”
That was about all he was willing to say on Sanchez’s situation, other than to emphasize that the outfield was the main offseason priority. But if you remember a couple offseasons ago, he became similarly mum on Magglio Ordonez’s situation as the offseason wore on, before they eventually re-signed him in mid-December.
Dombrowski gave a little more information on left field now that Torii Hunter takes over in right:
“I don’t really know which way we’ll take that,” he said. “We have our own internal debates if [Andy] Dirks is an everyday player. He hit right-handed pitching very well last year, which is the majority of pitching you face. However, we’re also in a spot with the young guys, [Nick] Castellanos and [Avisail] Garcia, you don’t want them to come in here and play 40 games versus left-handed pitching.
“So, as we’ve told both of those guys how we would approach something like that, ‘Hey, it’s up to you. If you win the job in spring training, go win it, but you’re going to have to get a lot of playing time. So where does that leave us if they don’t? Well, we’ll just wait to see what happens as time goes on there, see if we add somebody.”
If you believe that leaves the door open for another move, you’d be right. And it’s not exactly just cracked open.
“My instinct,” Dombrowski continued, “is that we would add somebody that could hit from the right-hand side that, if those guys don’t make it, could go out there and play with Dirks. But we’ll wait and see.”
Dombrowski’s approach on the bullpen was much the same as it was a few weeks ago, sticking to the approach of letting Bruce Rondon compete for the job with other current relievers. He also didn’t rule out a move there, either.
Torii Hunter has long been one of the most personable figures in baseball. For years, he talked with Tigers players, coaches and fans on the opposing side. Friday afternoon’s press conference announcing his two-year, $26 million contract was his first chance to publicly talk about his arrival in Detroit.
His personality was on display, and it immediately put a crowd of media and team officials at ease.
“Al Avila,” Hunter said, looking at the Tigers’ assistant general manager. “Man, I did not know that was your son. That is unbelievable. Your son is one of the nicest catchers in the game. He tells me all the pitches that are coming. That was pretty impressive.”
In between laughs, Hunter also answered the big question: Why does a veteran free-agent right fielder with enough interest to pick his destination target one team from the outset and go there?
“I just looked at the ballclub,” Hunter said. “I was scouting clubs [during the season] just in case the Angels didn’t sign me back. I knew they had contract restraints over there [in Anaheim], so I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But I definitely was scouting. I saw this was the best team in baseball. The early start was just a funk. You always go through a little funk. The early start that the Tigers had, but you saw what they did going down the stretch. They really wanted to win, and every bit of talent that they had came out of them. So I just continued to watch those guys and I saw they might have a spot open over there. …
“I know talent. That’s one thing over my years playing Major League Baseball, I know talent. I know what team wants to win, and I know what team is going to win. And I see the Tigers winning in 2013.”
By the time Hunter was done explaining, this much seemed clear: He recruited the Tigers as much or more than the Tigers recruited him.
“Tuesday, I flew in. I wanted to come here and just look at these guys and get to know these guys too,” Hunter said. “Dave Dombrowski, Mr. I and Al Avila, man, they were sitting down at the table and I told [owner Mike Ilitch] to his face, ‘I want to be a Tiger. I want to win a World Series. I know this is the team I want to be with. Let’s get it done today.’
“I mean, I don’t want to sit around and just wait. I really wanted to get something done that day. I know what team I wanted to play for, and he saw it in my eyes. And we just knocked it out right away. It wasn’t about being greedy or anything like that. We came with something that was fair for us, and I’m excited to be a Tiger. And thank you for allowing me to be that guy.”
More from Torii Hunter …
- On manager Jim Leyland: “Funny old man. He cracks me up, when I was with Minnesota and the Angels we talked to each other during batting practice. He would have me rolling. He would tell some kind of joke and I’d say, man, that dude is crazy, I want to play for him one day.’ So we’re here, we had lunch last Tuesday, we talked about life, about players, about baseball, about WAR, about numbers guys, the way the game is changing. He’s a very good man.”
- On Detroit: “I’ve been here several times. We stayed in Birmingham and Troy, we’d come into the city and I ate at Fishbones for years. For me, I’ve seen growth. I’ve seen the face of Detroit change. It looks better downtown. Ten, fifteen years ago, it was totally different. It’s a lot better, but we’ve still got some work to do. I want to give back to the community, get involved. If there’s investment opportunities out here, I will get involved. We can always get better.”
- On character, leadership: “I try to lead by example. I don’t go around and be that rah-rah guy. I counsel guys. I sit one of my teammates down and fill them up with positive thoughts, positive sayings, try to lift them up. That’s what we should do as veteran players, not sitting there in their locker quiet, not sharing all the wisdom that they have and not being fruitful. I want to give back to those guys and lift them up. Because if you lift your teammates up … as a veteran guy, I’m going to do what I do. For me not to lift my younger guys up, then who’s going to do that? That’s what helps a team win.
- More on lifting guys up: “Baseball is a negative game. Three out of 10 times [succeeding], you’re a hero. Three out of 10 at your job, you’re fired. Three out of 10 in other sports, you’re probably released. Three out of 10 in school, that’s an F. In baseball, you’re succeeding, so I’m able to tell these guys; Three out of 10, you’re a freaking hero. When I give them that, make them see it in a different light, that’s what helps a team.”
- On having his son nearby at Notre Dame next fall: “Honestly, this is a perfect fit. You’re talking about playing in the Central again, a division I know about. I look at the Tigers and see the Tigers winning this division. … And then when I got outside of baseball and look at my family situation, only 2 1/2-3 hours away from my son in South Bend. Not just talking about catching football games, but on a day off I can go out there and hang out with him for a day. We can have lunch, talk, or he can come here when he has time. It’s just a perfect marriage, a perfect fit, and I really think I can win my World Series here in 2013 and ’14.”
- On the American League MVP race: “That’s a hot tamale, that question. I would like for both of those guys to win that.”
- On the impact of making the playoffs on the AL MVP race: “I like Trout and I like Cabrera. Those two totally different players. But the last I checked, since we were kids, MVP was always for the winning side. You talk about Michael Jordan, he’s a winner, the MVP. You talk about when you’re a kid at school, you get an MVP, I’ve never seen a losing guy get MVP. It’s my take on it. I’m a Tiger now.”
The Tigers made it official on their two-year deal with Torii Hunter, formally announcing the contract. He’ll be introduced to Detroit in a press conference at 4pm.
“Torii Hunter is a quality Major League player who is a tremendous addition to the Tigers organization both on and off the field,” team president/general manager David Dombrowski said in a statement. “He continues to be a consistent contributor at the plate, in the outfield and on bases, and we feel Torii is a great fit for our lineup.”