MLB All-Star Game: Remembering the Night Torii Hunter Robbed Barry Bonds
It all happened in the first inning of the game when Barry Bonds came up to the plate to face the American League starting pitcher Derek Lowe with two outs in the first inning.
When Bonds sent the Lowe pitch high into the air at Miller Park it was an absolute shock when Hunter leaped up and came down with a home run that could have put the National League ahead early.
That series of events is what fans may remember from one of the greatest plays in All-Star history, but there were several things before and after that have made the play so important in both men's careers.
Torii Hunter Finally Gets His Opportunity To Shine
The first couple years in Hunter's major league career didn't go as smoothly as the Twins had envisioned when they selected him in the first round of the 1993 MLB draft.
Hunter would spend parts of eight seasons in the minor leagues before having his breakout season in 2001 when he hit .261 with 27 home runs and 92 runs batted in for the surprising Twins that finished five games behind the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central.
The Twins looked ready to add to their success in 2002, but word surfaced in November 2001 that team owner Carl Pohlad had offered the team to Bud Selig as part of a contraction plan in MLB.
After the Twins had gone through a decade of losing, it would have been devastating for the state of Minnesota to see a team finally show promise and have them disappear from baseball all together.
Fortunately, the contraction plan never came to fruition and the Twins became one of the hottest teams in baseball headed into the All-Star break.
For Hunter, the 2002 All-Star game was an opportunity for a coming out party. As I mentioned, Hunter had a solid season in 2001, but he still wasn't a big name nationally despite participating in the Home Run Derby the night before the game.
Still, Hunter had won over the hearts of several baseball fans with his play in center field and was voted as the starting center fielder for the American League. (The first Twins player with that honor since Kirby Puckett was voted in by the fans in 1995.)
It had to be a long time coming for Hunter to be on this stage, and he was ready to go when the 2002 All-Star Game started.
Bonds Becomes One of the Greatest Sluggers Ever
When Barry Bonds came over to the San Francisco Giants from the Pittsburgh Pirates after the 1992 season, he had already earned a reputation as a slugger. The two-time National League Most Valuable Player had already hit 176 home runs, but that was just the beginning.
By the time the 2002 All-Star Game hit, Bonds had won two more NL MVP awards (1993, 2001) and clobbered a record 73 bombs in 2001 for the Giants.
Bonds had hit so many home runs for the Giants at this point, that teams would just intentionally walk him. In fact, if the All-Star Game would have been just another game the American League may have just decided to put him on first base instead of pitching to him.
That of course would have deprived baseball fans of one of the greatest defensive plays in the history of the All-Star Game.
When the menacing Bonds ripped the ball toward the National League bullpen, the crowd oohed and awed. Unfortunately for Bonds, this was nothing compared to the reaction of the crowd when Hunter came down with his inferred home run ball.
Bonds stood between second and third in disbelief as Hunter charged in from the outfield and was hoisted onto Bond's shoulder in what was one of the most memorable moments of that All-Star Game (Well, that and the look on commissioner Bud Selig's face when he had to declare the game a tie.)
The End of the 2002 Season
Ten years after Hunter robbed Bonds, there are plenty of things that have completely changed in the world of baseball.
The first being the new found labor peace that baseball had struggled to find since the late 1980's.
Less than a month after the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball struck an eleventh hour deal with the players association on a new collective bargaining agreement. Without it, neither Hunter's Twins or Bonds' Giants would have had the opportunity to go to the playoffs.
This almost set the stage for Hunter to have another opportunity to rob Bonds on a big stage as both teams were legitimate World Series contenders.
While the Giants made it to the Fall Classic, the Twins fell just short losing to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (then known as the Anaheim Angels) in five games.
Meanwhile, the Giants came up just short in their quest for Bonds' first World Series ring as they would lose to the Angels in an epic seven-game battle.
After that 2002 season, Barry Bonds had 149 home runs left in him. That would be good enough to pass Hank Aaron as the all-time home run leader.
However, Bonds' accomplishments have been clouded by allegations that he was linked to a scandal with a company named BALCO that handed out performance-enhancing drugs including steroids.
Because of this, Bonds has become the face of the Steroid Era in baseball in which many of the top sluggers in the game including Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa had their career accomplishments tainted.
In Minnesota, Hunter would become the new face of the franchise. The Twins had longed for a popular player since the retirement of Puckett in 1996, and Hunter had the athleticism on the field (and the charisma off of it) to fill that void.
After the 2002 season, Hunter would hit .271 while bashing 122 home runs and driving in 444 runs for a team that dominated the American League Central until his departure after the 2007 season.
Even though Hunter has moved on to Anaheim, his stardom was instrumental in energizing the fan base in Minnesota, which had been dormant throughout most of the mid-to-late 90's. Without that boost, the Twins may have never been able to build Target Field and the Twins might have been extinct.
That brings us back to that catch on a warm July evening. If Bonds' ball goes just a couple of inches over Hunter's glove, maybe the Twins don't capitalize on that momentum and history is completely different.
The play was not only one of the greatest moments in Twins history, but one of the greatest moments in the history of the All-Star game. For Twins fans, that has to be a great feeling even ten years later.
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