White Sox, Hunter share mutual respect
Outfielder considered move to Chicago this offseason
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's hard to truly explain the in-person reaction Torii Hunter said he received from White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski prior to Friday's Cactus League contest at Diablo Stadium if you didn't watch Hunter describe it with a broad smile.
"A.J. kind of blew me off, just did me like that," said Hunter with a laugh, showing how Pierzynski kind of waved him aside in jest during pregame batting practice.
"But he's one of my favorite guys," added Hunter of the White Sox catcher. "We are friends for life, it doesn't matter."
In reality, Hunter spoke of conversations he had with Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on Friday morning. It wasn't so much that Hunter was trying to smooth things over after spurning the front-running White Sox multi-year offer for his services and signing with the Angels, but instead it was a matter of respect on Hunter's part.
That sort of respect comes from doing battle with these players for part of the past nine years, featuring the heated American League Central rivalry between Hunter's Twins and the White Sox. In an extended conversation with MLB.com, Hunter also explained how money wasn't the deciding factor that won him over to the Angels -- even with Los Angeles' five-year, $90 million bid standing as the most lucrative for the Gold Glove center fielder.
"This is the best fit," said Hunter of the Angels. "These guys took us out in 2002 in the ALCS and the way they played the game was the way we played the game with the Twins. That philosophy still stands. They take first to third, they play hard-nosed baseball and play the game the right way. Mike Scioscia, I've been watching him and scouting him for years.
"He's a smart manager. That's what I like about him. I came over here because it was pretty much like the Twins but a better city in Los Angeles. It's sunny. Playing baseball outside, that's how you are supposed to play baseball. Outside, in the sun. I love it and that's what I want to do.
"I've been in that [AL Central], and it's kind of a cold division," Hunter added. "You have to put that into play, too. And knowing a lot of guys in this organization, along with coming to one of my favorite hitters, Vladimir Guerrero. This team is actually the team where I love to play."
Hunter explained one more time the process leading him to the Angels. Playing in Anaheim was one of his top choices, but he didn't even contact the team after the Angels signed Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year, $50 million deal before the 2007 season began.
No less than eight teams offered Hunter five years in their respective free agent negotiations, including the White Sox. It was the people who help comprise the South Side organization, though, which truly intrigued Hunter.
Not only did Hunter watch Ozzie Guillen operate as a manager, but he also played against him. Hunter liked the style shown by the White Sox man in charge. He also developed a bond with Pierzynski from their days together in Minnesota and had a close friendship with Dye, who Hunter lists as one of the players he respects in the game.
Upon being pressed about the White Sox offseason status in his mind, Hunter admitted they were the leader for his services. But he wouldn't go as far as to say the deal was done if not for the Angels' late offer.
"I just know the White Sox were closest amongst the several teams I had, the favorite in the running," Hunter said. "I was very close, but I can't tell you that was the team I was going to sign with or whatever.
"Things change, man. It's crazy. I talked to the White Sox numerous times this offseason. Before you know it, other options came. I took the best offer and the best situation."
Guillen completely understood Hunter's decision, even if it left the White Sox temporarily twisting without a frontline outfield upgrade. But the team seems very happy with the addition of Nick Swisher via trade with Oakland, a trade that wouldn't have happened if Hunter had signed on in Chicago.
"Torii is a great player, and I have a huge amount of respect for him as a player and as a person," White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker said. "He's a winning big league baseball player, but I like my guys. Our team has evolved into what is. I'm really happy with what we got."
"When I talked to Torii about contracts and coming out [to Chicago], I told him everything and how we do stuff here," Guillen added. "He went to the people who give him more money and unfortunately, we don't have that kind of money to give him. I don't have any bad feeling about it."
Pointing to a solid starting rotation and a power-packed lineup, Hunter still believes the White Sox can be "dangerous" in 2008. He also was quick to state how the White Sox didn't rebuild this offseason but instead "put some pieces in place."
This sort of high praise pales in comparison to Hunter's absolutely glowing reviews for his new team. He clearly is happy with his West Coast baseball home, and as Hunter said, if he wasn't satisfied by what the Angels had to offer, then he would have ended up somewhere else.
Like the White Sox, for example.
"That was just business," Hunter said. "It was the same with any other club. I just did what was best for me and my family. It's not for anybody else. I was the free agent. It was my turn.
"I hear about people still talking about it, but you gotta let it go, man. It's time to move on. They are still the Chicago White Sox. They still can do some damage."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.