TEMPE, Ariz. -- How important is leadership, particularly in a professional sport and on a team loaded with established, veteran players?
The Angels may find out this season, their first in a long time without one of Major League Baseball's most esteemed and engaging players.
"My reign is over," new Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said -- and now, it's time for someone new to emerge in the Angels' clubhouse.
"He's a guy everybody looked up to and looked to to lead him in the right direction," Angels ace Jered Weaver said at the start of spring. "It's going to be tough to fill those shoes. Somebody's going to have to step up and do it."
The Angels don't have another Torii Hunter-like personality to single-handedly fill the void he left behind. But to be fair, nobody really does.
Hunter was a sportswriter's dream, always available and honest and charming. But that's beside the point. On the Angels, with whom he starred from 2008-12, Hunter was the bona fide leader. He was the one who lightened the mood, who called the team meetings, who took the young players -- particularly Mike Trout -- under his wing and who, if he had to, got in your face.
In short, he made them go.
But if ever there was a clubhouse that could absorb a loss like that, perhaps it's this one, with a collection of veterans and the strong -- albeit less involved -- presence of guys like Weaver and Albert Pujols.
"I think we have a good core," Pujols said. "Torii was a fun guy and a leader here, and he left his footprints here. But I'm going to be the same guy. If I have to help, if I have to say something, I'll be there."
Pujols, a tireless worker who's mainly an introvert, epitomizes leadership by example. But there's no clear answer as to who fills Hunter's all-around presence in the clubhouse.
The question becomes: Is it needed, specifically on this star-laden team?
"You don't have to be a babysitter," Pujols said. "Everybody knows what we need to do. You let your work take care of that."
"If every guy knows what his role is and understands how he plays the game, I don't think any guy relies on any one other player to pick him up or get him going," second baseman Howie Kendrick added. "Every guy knows what he needs to get going. Certain guys just have that fire, and it rubs off on other people."
Erick Aybar is fiery, but the language barrier is always an issue. Trout is the star, but he's only 21. Josh Hamilton is a big name, but so much of his focus is spent on staying on the right path. Weaver has long been the clear-cut ace, but he's laid back off the field. Mark Trumbo is wise beyond his years, but still may not boast a prestigious enough resume. And several others -- Kendrick, Vernon Wells, Chris Iannetta, C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson and Scott Downs -- are accomplished veterans, but don't have that presence.
If Hunter's void is to be filled, it'll probably be done by committee.
"He's going to be missed, for sure," Trumbo said. "Anybody who's come across him understands how important he is to the equation. But we have a ton of guys who are capable of ... not doing what he did, but we all kind of fill in the void and make this a good environment for everyone."
Hunter's memory is rather faint by now, more than four months after he signed a two-year, $26 million deal with the Tigers. Spring Training is almost over, his Angel Stadium poster has already been taken down, and the nine fans that always held up placards spelling TORIITOWN in right field have unveiled a new sign: HAMILTOWN.
But when times get tough -- and at some point, they always do -- others will now have to step up for the Angels.
"It's not premeditated," Hunter said of his leadership approach. "It's actually ad-libbed. And that's what I do. I just go in and if I see a guy sitting at his locker and he's sad, he had a rough day yesterday or the day before, I go in and try to lift him up and say, 'Hey, it's a different day, have amnesia, let's go.' That's just me, though. That's just one-on-one. Nobody knows, just me and him. And that's a leader, just do things behind the scenes."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. Jason Beck contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less