For Angels’ Hunter, it’s time to put up or shut up

Torii Hunter's botched fly ball Thursday provided a walk-off win for Seattle. Is the LA Angels star losing his luster? (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Torii Hunter dazzled Angels fans upon his arrival in Anaheim in 2008, making spectacular plays in the outfield and contributing heavily with his bat. But three years and several unfortunate quotes to the press later, it’s apparent that Hunter is wearing out his welcome at the Big A.

Hunter stirred up trouble last year by calling black Latino players “impostors,” a move which garnered ridicule from both the press and his fellow players. He then went on to cost the American League the All-Star Game in his own home stadium, embarrassing the Angels and their fans. And only a few weeks ago, he blamed the Angels offensive slump on inexperience at several positions.

Hunter, though, has contributed to the Angels’ struggles plenty on his own.

Thursday’s game was the icing on the cake. Hunter lost a routine fly ball in the sun that dropped in for a hit, awarding Seattle a walk-off victory. The scorekeeper was gracious enough to rule the play a hit, but it was obvious that the play should have been a run-of-the-mill out.

This humiliating play came in Hunter’s first opportunity to play center this season. Peter Bourjos sat the game out, allowing Hunter to move from his usual right field back to center, where he has played for much of his career.

With Bourjos playing center field most of this season, Hunter has had a difficult time deferring to the speedy youngster, costing the Angels a couple of bases with his inability to let Bourjos play his position fully.

At the plate, Hunter has been equally uninspiring, batting .218, despite driving in the second-most runs on the team. His batting average is third-worst on the team among regular starters, with Jeff Mathis and Vernon Wells bringing up the rear. Among those hitting better than Hunter are Mark Trumbo (.248), Peter Bourjos (.252) and Hank Conger (.273), all of whom are the very rookies he so quickly pointed out to be the problem.

The whole act is starting to get old. Hunter was signed to be “the man” – the player upon whom the team could rely on in times of duress. He was signed to set an example for the younger players. This season and the last have been prime opportunities for Hunter to step forward and become a leader with the departure of Vladimir Guerrero. Instead, the opportunity has passed him by, and he has chosen to throw the younger players under the bus, in lieu of acknowledging his own shortcomings. Hunter’s star is fading fast in Anaheim, and it’s time to start playing like the young guys or quit talking.

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