Torii Hunter hit 353 Major League home runs. His first came in 1999 in old Tiger Stadium. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he hit it a long way but sliced it a bit.
On Monday, Hunter was again trying to hit the ball long and (mostly) straight in an effort to win the Nancy Lieberman Charities Celebrity Golf Classic. Golf has fared better than some other sports in the pandemic and a field of the charity’s supporters and some local sports celebrities felt comfortable enough to take to the links for the cause.
The sport Hunter played professionally has had its ups and downs, something we talked about in the video interview that is the centerpiece of this post. He had some interesting observations about how ballplayers might handle this less-than-ideal situation.
One of his insights revolved around minor league players. Hunter first played professionally at the age of 17 in 1993. He was toiling for the Minnesota Twins’ low Class A affiliate the next season when the Major League players went on strike, but that didn’t really affect the young men competing at his level. What he did wonder about was how they would handle missing a year of development, this season with minor league (and college) baseball seasons cancelled.
At that age a young hitter or pitcher still has a lot of work to do to reach the Majors. Even as a first-round pick, Hunter only hit .246 the next year in High A and .231 two years later at Double A. He was young for those levels, but still didn’t really establish himself as a bona fide big league candidate until he excelled in a final trip to the minors in 2000.
Six of the players drafted ahead of him never made it to the Major Leagues. The minor leagues were set to contract next season anyway, so between that and the pandemic-induced development gap, who knows how many would-be All-Stars won’t get the chance to blossom in their mid-20s like Hunter did?
Lieberman’s charity hopes to raise money to cut into development gaps for young people. That’s not necessarily directed at turning kids into pro athletes, although there is a sports component to what they do. They address educational development, too.
Unfortunately, Hunter can’t do much for the young players missing out of their baseball seasons. And he wasn’t able to lead his golfing fivesome to victory – they finished 12th. But he might have helped some other young people with his efforts on Monday.