Crisp learned about being big leaguer from Hunter
A's outfielder, Tigers outfielder have known each other for more than decade
OAKLAND -- The influence of the Tigers' Torii Hunter is so far-reaching, it even extends to the lively clubhouse of the American League West champion A's.
Oakland's catalyst, Coco Crisp, gained valuable insights into the qualities of leadership as a young Indians outfielder from Hunter, the perennial Gold Glove center fielder of the AL Central-rival Twins at the time.
"I remember coming up with Cleveland and he's in Minnesota, and I'm kind of looking up to him," Crisp said on Thursday as the A's readied for their AL Division Series against Hunter and the Tigers that opens Friday night (9:30 p.m. ET on TBS). "He would invite us over to his house when we came to town. I learned from Torii how to take care of your guys.
"He's definitely more experienced and has been around the game a lot longer than me. I was able to spend that time with him and learn some important things. Now I feel fortunate to be around these young guys and their personalities. We've got a good group of guys here."
When A's players chose Crisp as the Catfish Hunter Award winner for his leadership, it was a gratifying moment for the well-traveled athlete. At 33, he has found a home with his fourth team.
"It's a cool thing that they voted me the leader of the clubhouse, sort of the unofficial captain," Crisp said. "It definitely means a lot to me that my teammates feel that way about me."
Hunter recalls a young Crisp hanging out with him in Minnesota, asking questions, getting the straight answers Torii always delivers.
"Coco's been playing 12 years now," Hunter said. "He's played with a lot of good players along the way, like David Ortiz in Boston. Coco's a go-to guy for other players now; he knows so much.
"He's their Energizer bunny -- he never stops. Coco's a special player. He can start a lot of things, using his speed. You expect that from your leadoff man, being that igniter. He's always hit the ball hard but couldn't get it in the air. Now he's doing that, hitting home runs."
Hunter has made an impressive transition from slugger to complete hitter the past two seasons, batting behind the Angels' Mike Trout and in front of Miguel Cabrera. Hunter batted .304 this year on the heels of .313 in his final season with the Angels. His 17 homers, 84 RBIs and 90 runs scored made him one of the game's most productive No. 2 hitters.
"I'm a better hitter, a better player," said Hunter, who turned 38 in July. "The older you are, the smarter you are. I'm not chasing a lot of pitches now. I started driving the ball more in the second half after I was stuck on 299 [career homers]. Once I got to 300, I took off."
Hunter made the Tigers his free-agent destination of choice while watching them get swept by the Giants in the World Series and observing their need of a quality right fielder who could get on base in front of Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
"I want that championship," Hunter said. "That's what keeps me going."
Manager Jim Leyland appreciates Hunter's clubhouse presence but values most his work between the lines.
"I've been on record saying he's one of the toughest guys I've ever managed," Leyland said. "I like the stuff he does when the umpire says, `Play ball.' The other stuff is a sidelight that you will enjoy at some point."
In spite of the franchise's colorful, successful history, the A's remain, as Crisp put it, "underdogs -- even when we're winning." They won three more games than the Tigers and were on the verge of a four-game sweep in Detroit in late August when Hunter launched a walk-off homer.
Oakland is expanding seating capacity for a loud fan base that was muted in Game 5 of last year's ALDS by Justin Verlander's shutout, sending the Tigers on to a sweep of the Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
Elevated by Hunter's multiple gifts and Victor Martinez's bat, Detroit has been a popular choice to take it one step beyond this fall, to a World Series title.
The A's surround Crisp with a group of driven young players. Third baseman Josh Donaldson has been their best player, at a position dominated by Cabrera. Even in a diminished condition with a groin ailment, Miggy commands total respect.
"It's hard to compare guys, especially when you're talking about an [AL] MVP in Miguel Cabrera," Crisp said. "J.D. is a fantastic third baseman, and he's still learning the game over there. He's been our MVP. If he continues to do these things through the future, it would justify [Cabrera comparisons]."
Cabrera and Fielder combined for 69 homers, but the balanced A's out-homered Detroit by 10. Crisp had a career-high 22, producing more homers (by one) than steals.
"I think they did a study and [Ian] Kinsler and I had the shortest average distance on our home runs," Crisp said, grinning. "I have enough power to do it, but 20-plus home runs kind of caught me off guard. Next year I'll probably get back to around 10 to 15 and, hopefully, more steals."
A switch-hitter who led the AL in steals with 49 in 2011, Crisp scored a team-high (and career-best) 93 runs while missing 31 games.
"You can chalk me up for missing about a month a year," said Crisp, who doesn't hesitate to throw his body around in pursuit of fly balls and extra bases. "That's the way it's been for me. Nobody wants to get hurt, but it happens -- to me."
Crisp turned on the power late with 13 homers and a .482 slugging percentage in 58 games after the All-Star break.
"I think everybody feeds off Coco here -- not necessarily just experience, just how good he is," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I've said often when we're playing well, he's playing well."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.