Torii Hunter was an All-Star rookie in 2002 when he robbed Barry Bonds of a home run and got a big bear hug from the slugger on the field. Now he’s a veteran voice in a clubhouse with a record number of newcomers.
The always loquacious, ever-smiling 37-year-old Detroit Tigers outfielder is enjoying his role as a five-time All-Star selection.
With possible suspensions from the Biogenesis investigation looming over the game, Hunter defended Alex Rodriguez and other players who have been implicated in drug scandals over the years.
“I know how hard this game really is. I don’t care what they did or who did or whatever, Barry Bonds all those guys,” Hunter said Tuesday before the game at Citi Field. “Still impressive to hit. Still got to hit the ball.”
No matter that Yankees closer Mariano Rivera might’ve caused him much disappointment at the plate over the years, Hunter knows who he is playing this night.
“We’re down by one run. Trust me we’re going to fight to get the lead and get the man in the game. It’s about him. Today is going to be about him,” Hunter said. “Even though he broke all my bats, he killed me ... I still admire that man.”
On the lighter side, Hunter has his favorite All-Stars. Wacky All-Stars, that is.
“David Oritz, for sure, craziest forever. He sits here and holds court and tells all the jokes,” Hunter said. “He is one of the funniest guys in All-Star game history.
“Ichiro (Suzuki). Manny (Ramirez). Ah, Manny. Forgot about Manny. Ooh, boy he was crazy. Can’t tell you the stories. Pedro (Martinez) was funny. He put bubble gum in everybody’s hats.
“You got to have fun in this clubhouse,” he added. “This is how we relax.”
The one player he is certain isn’t crazy: Yankees injured shortstop Derek Jeter.
“Jeter’s smooth. He’s like a cold drink of water. Too cool for school,” Hunter said.
So what did Bonds say to Hunter 11 years ago when he scooped up the kid near second base in Milwaukee?
“ ‘Good catch kid, high five,’ ” Hunter said. “I went high, he went low and picked me up. I tried to hold him down. Too strong.”
According to a study done by STATS and the grooming products maker Wahl, All-Stars with facial hair perform on a higher level than their clean-shaven teammates in the Midsummer Classic.
Players sporting beards have won the past six All-Star game MVP awards. Melky Cabrera, who soon after winning the MVP last year tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, homered in the game at Kansas City. Meanwhile, clean-shaven players have not connected in four years and 152 at-bats.
There’s also this: Scruff-sporting sluggers over the last 10 games have hit .287 with a .441 slugging percentage. Smooth-skinned stars come in at .226 with a .382 slugging percentage.
No razor-thin margin
So do guys like Boston’s bearded Dustin Pedroia think “fear the beard,” made famous by scraggily haired Giants closer Brian Wilson, really give them the edge?
“No, no,” the 5-foot-8 second baseman said. “I’m pretty sure they don’t make you intimidating, either.”
Instant replay to grow
Major League Baseball says it is moving ahead with plans to expand instant replay for umpires’ calls next year.
MLB Executive Vice President Joe Torre says “we’re pretty confident we’ll have it in place for 2014.”
Video review has been in place for home run calls since August 2008. Commissioner Bud Selig initially wanted to add trap plays and fair/foul calls down the lines for 2013, but change was put off while more radical options were examined.
Torre said “we’re still in the tweaking stages” and “we’re not limiting ourselves.”