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The complicated legacy of Torii Hunter

Hunter is a Rorshach Test for baseball fans.

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Torii Hunter.

Torii Hunter.

I don't know what to write about Torii Hunter. The man was an institution in Major League Baseball for 17 years (let's not count his one game in 1997 and six in 1998). He spent 10 of those with my Minnesota Twins. He was an excellent defensive center fielder with a good bat who parlayed his incredible range and ability to make highlight reel plays into five All Star appearances and nine Gold Gloves. He was, beyond a doubt, a very good baseball player.

But he was more than that. For as much as he was loved (particularly by the media), Hunter was a divisive figure. He once called dark-skinned Latino players "imposters," when discussing race in baseball, as if their own histories were somehow illegitimate in comparison to those of African-Americans in the game. He cut commercials for anti-gay political candidates in his native Arkansas and said that he wouldn't be comfortable playing with a gay teammate. He once punched Nick Punto in the face while trying to deck Justin Morneau. He was, hopefully, one of the last relics of an era that tolerated intolerance.

He was also a leader. For as little credit as I want to give him, he was instrumental in helping to bring enthusiasm back to the Minnesota clubhouse after four years of living in the doldrums. Do I think that that enthusiasm and all those dance parties helped the Twins win any extra games in 2015? Probably not; at least not more than one or two. Still, in helping to make Minnesota a fun place to be again, Hunter may have improved the club over the long run, revitalizing it as a viable landing spot for free agents who don't want to be miserable and reminding younger Twins that it's ok not to view a baseball season as an endless Bataan Death March shuffling toward October. And, that time he tried to deck Morneau aside, his teammates professed to love him.

So what are we left with? A human being. Not a human being that I would want to hang out with, necessarily, but one who made friends and influenced people and whose legacy is more complicated than any player who was really good but nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber has any right to. We will remember him fondly. We will remember him with derision. And with his last moment as a player, I will remember that he gracefully decided to leave the game on his own terms, thankfully taking a complicated decision out of the hands of the Minnesota Twins, who can now move on without another dispiriting debate about leadership vs. social responsibility vs. effectiveness. If nothing else, I'm grateful for Torii Hunter for that.