"Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones ... I'm honored to be up there around those guys. When I thought about it, I was like, 'Man, I'm getting closer and closer to those guys.'"In his first season with the Angels after signing a five-year free-agent deal last winter, Hunter continued the superlative work in center field he'd given the Minnesota Twins while earning his first seven Gold Gloves. Only five outfielders -- Clemente (12), Mays (12), Griffey (10), Jones (10) and Al Kaline (10) -- have won more Gold Gloves than Hunter, who matches Ichiro Suzuki, Paul Blair, Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, Jim Edmonds, Dwight Evans and Garry Maddox with eight. Ichiro, playing for Seattle, also has won eight in a row. Hunter, 33, could equal Clemente and Mays by winning Gold Gloves in each of the remaining four years of his Angels contract. Hunter was flawless in the field from April through September. He did not commit a regular-season error while playing 137 games and handling 354 total chances. "That's a first for me, going through a season without an error," Hunter said. "I didn't even realize it until somebody brought it up in September." He hasn't been charged with an error since Aug. 31, 2007. He did, however, make an error in the American League Division Series against Boston when he mishandled a line drive by Mark Kotsay.
"Can you believe that?" Hunter said. "The guy hit a knuckleball, and I couldn't hold it."The Gold Glove winners were selected by managers and coaches from each American League team. They are not allowed to vote for their own players. The rest of the American League recipients were pitcher Mike Mussina (Yankees), catcher Joe Mauer (Twins), first baseman Carlos Pena (Rays), second baseman Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox), third baseman Adrian Beltre (Mariners), shortstop Michael Young (Rangers) and outfielder Grady Sizemore (Indians).
The 2008 season marked the 52nd year of the Gold Glove Award. The first were awarded in 1957 to one player at each position from both leagues, then expanded the next year to include a lineup of nine players, one from each league.As the Angels were on their way to the AL West title and the best record (100-62) in the Majors and in franchise history, Hunter's all-around play and leadership were pivotal. He also excelled in the ALDS, batting .389 with five RBIs while the Angels were falling to Boston in four games. "Even though the season didn't end the way we wanted -- I'm still not happy about that -- it was a good year overall," Hunter said. "We accomplished a lot of good things, winning 100 games, getting into the postseason. We just need to take it to the next level now." Hunter won his first Gold Glove in 2001. He has committed only 28 errors for a .992 fielding percentage in 1,309 career games. "I take a lot of pride in my defense -- it's one part of the game that can be a constant if you concentrate on what you're doing," said Hunter, who on several occasions went high above the wall to take away home runs. One such play, with Richie Sexson as his victim, saved a game against the Mariners at Angel Stadium on April 18.
Hunter stole home runs from Rangers hitters with spectacular plays in consecutive games at home in late August. He went face-first into the wall, jarring his senses, to rob Marlon Byrd, and came back the following night to bang the back of his head against the wall while taking one away from Hank Blalock."Torii is a great player," Blalock said after the Angels had prevailed, 4-3, in that Aug. 30 game. "He comes up with big-time plays in big-time situations. We've just got to hit it a little harder when he's out there. He almost makes it routine." Hunter felt the effects of those two collisions with the wall for several days. "I thought I was back playing high school football," he said. "That one where I went face-first into the wall had to be my toughest play of the season. I really got hammered there." Hunter was the Angels' human control tower in center, directing traffic and keeping everything in order on pop flies that can cause havoc. "Torii solidified our defense and was our leader in the outfield, taking charge," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He had a great season, offensively as well as defensively."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less