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Hunter procures another precious medal
Hunter captures first Silver Slugger Award
By Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM -- The arrival of a ninth consecutive Gold Glove was a thrill, but it wasn't a big surprise, quite honestly.
A first Silver Slugger Award? That is another story altogether. This brought a chill, along with some moisture to the eyes of Torii Hunter.
"When I heard about this," Hunter said by phone from his home in Prosper, Texas, on Thursday, "I actually got tears in my eyes. This is a complete shock. I thought that missing 32 games with my groin injury, I had no shot at something like this.
"I'm thankful and grateful. Silver Slugger ... wow. I'm so excited."
As with the Gold Glove distinction, announced on Tuesday, the Silver Slugger Awards are chosen in a balloting of the each league's managers and coaches.
Hunter, Boston's Jason Bay and Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki were selected as the American League Silver Slugger outfielders, succeeding 2008 honorees Grady Sizemore of Cleveland, Josh Hamilton of Texas and Carlos Quentin of Chicago.
What makes Hunter's selection remarkable was his absence from those 32 games in the middle of the season with a groin injury resulting from crashing into walls at Dodger Stadium and in San Francisco.
Coming back in mid-August and feeling the effects of the injury "for another month," Hunter said it took him a while to regain his timing and comfort zone in the batter's box.
"I was basically just battling up there for a month or so," Hunter said.
Given the interruption in his season and the effort required to recapture his form, Hunter was amazed managers and coaches gave him the nod.
"They showed me much respect again," Hunter said. "All those guys played the game and were pretty good, and I'm pretty sure they didn't sit around and talk about who they'd vote for; they're voting in different cities.
"To get this award from the guys who see the game in depth, looking beyond the numbers, that's what's so meaningful to me."
2009 AL SILVER SLUGGER AWARDS
The Silver Slugger Awards are given to the players deemed to be the best offensive performers at their positions, voted on by Major League managers and coaches.
M. Teixeira, Yankees
Aaron Hill, Blue Jays
Evan Longoria, Rays
Derek Jeter, Yankees
Jason Bay, Red Sox
Torii Hunter, Angels
Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Joe Mauer, Twins
Adam Lind, Blue Jays
The one manager who appreciated Hunter most -- writing his name third, fourth and fifth on his lineup card 119 times -- could not vote for Hunter. But Mike Scioscia made it abundantly clear at every opportunity that his center fielder was a pivotal force in a lineup that produced more runs, 883, than any in franchise history.
"I thought Torii was the Most Valuable Player in the American League when he got hurt," Scioscia said. "He was performing at an incredibly high level on both sides of the ball."
Hunter established career highs in batting average (.299) and on-base percentage (.366), while his .508 slugging percentage was the second best in his 12 Major League seasons. He produced 22 homers and 90 RBIs while stealing 18 bases in 22 attempts.
"Before I got hurt, I was on my way to my best season. I was on pace for 120 ribbies," said Hunter, whose career high is 107 in 2007. "I put it all together this year, with the help of Bobby Abreu.
"All that time we spent in Spring Training at the batting cages, talking about hitting, it paid off. All the things that Bobby stressed, like making sure I swung at pitches I could hit, made a difference. I think I really matured as a hitter this year. I still have my athletic ability at 34, but I'm still learning how to get the most out of myself.
"I'm a late bloomer, because when I was a kid in Arkansas, football was my life. It was everything in my neighborhood. I was very raw when I signed my first contract with the Twins."
Abreu, a 2004 Silver Slugger for the Phillies, also was a strong candidate, batting .293 with 15 homers, 103 RBIs and 96 runs scored. What might have hurt him was a .435 slugging percentage, down from a .493 career mark. Abreu's on-base percentage was .390.
Most noteworthy about Hunter's improvement offensively was his increased discipline. He raised his on-base percentage a whopping 40 points from his .326 figure coming into the season.
"How could I go up there hacking at the first pitch I saw after watching Bobby go through an eight-pitch at-bat?" Hunter said. "Bobby showed me a lot this year."
Hunter hit .315 with runners in scoring position and led the team with 15 game-winning RBIs.
Kendry Morales, who led the Angels with 34 homers and 108 RBIs while batting .306, was blocked from earning a Silver Slugger designation in his first full season by Mark Teixeira, the man he replaced at first base for the Angels.
Helping drive the Yankees to the World Series title, Teixeira was joined by Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill, Yankees teammate Derek Jeter at shortstop, third baseman Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay and Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer on the AL Silver Slugger team, along with Hunter, Ichiro and Bay. Toronto's Adam Lind was the choice as DH.
Vladimir Guerrero's bid for his fifth Silver Slugger award as an Angel was derailed by injuries, limiting him to 100 games, primarily as a DH.
Hunter said he'll have no trouble finding a place for his first Silver Slugger Award alongside the nine Gold Gloves.
"This is one I'll treasure, for sure," Hunter said. "I'm looking forward to celebrating with my family."
Nine Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger. About all the guy doesn't have now is a bronze bust.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.