When Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter went head-first into the Red Sox bullpen during a playoff game in 2013, Boston Police officer Steve Horgan became the most famous bullpen cop on the planet.
Nearly five years after David Ortiz’s grand slam, he is still joyously re-creating his touchdown pose, which has become a famous Boston sports photo. Fans still line up before every game to get selfies taken with Horgan.
But time is running out.
The 33-year veteran is retiring in January.
“I feel it’s just time to move on,” he said in a Fenway Park interview interrupted several times by fans raising their arms.
“I want to pursue cooking. The first thing I want to do is go to the King Arthur Baking School and learn how to make bread properly.”
So it’s last call for Horgan selfies. He estimates he has taken 25,000. He always poses with his right hand open and his left hand closed, just like in the picture.
“I try to be authentic,” he said. “I had salt and pepper sunflower seeds in my hand and I didn’t want to drop them.”
It was the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, and the Sox were trailing, 5-1, and in danger of falling into a two-game deficit against the Tigers.
But Big Papi had other ideas.
Ortiz smashed a Joaquin Benoit changeup toward the bullpen, and Hunter, the right fielder, went full throttle for the ball, which was up in the lights and curving away from him.
First the ball, then Hunter, landed in the Sox bullpen. Hard.
“I think that if that wall wasn’t in his way he would have caught it,” Horgan said. “But the wall was in the way.”
The image — Hunter’s legs in the air next to Horgan’s raised arms — is one of Boston’s iconic sports moments, like Bobby Orr flying through the air to win the 1970 Stanley Cup or Carlton Fisk waving his 1975 World Series home run fair. It was a Boston Strong moment that helped heal a city stung by the Boston Marathon bombings in April of that year.
“It was joyous,” said Horgan, who was invited to ride on the duck boats after the Sox won the World Series.
Horgan was born in Dorchester and said he’s been a Red Sox fan from birth. He started coming to Fenway when a bleacher seat cost a dollar. In those days, his mother sent him to the ballpark with a can of Pepsi wrapped in tinfoil to stay cold. He loved Yaz and the Spaceman and passing the time at the old yard with his father.
Horgan landed the gig in the bullpen in 2013 (the assignment is usually at the discretion of the District 4 captain) after covering traffic outside Fenway Park since 2004. He had routinely celebrated Red Sox home runs, but “nobody noticed,” he said.
That changed when Hunter went head over heels.
The Sox won that night, 6-5, on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walkoff single in the ninth, and went on the take the series in six games.
Hunter said he lost consciousness briefly when he landed on his head and shoulder, and that he was sore for eight months.
“I didn’t realize how bad he was hurt the day it happened because he continued to play in the series,” Horgan said.
After the game, Hunter sounded annoyed with Horgan for not immediately rushing to his aid, but he later said it was in jest.
“He’s always been a gentleman,” Horgan said. “The next time Torii came to Fenway, we tipped our hats to each other.”
The bullpen cop has been Photoshopped onto the deck of the Titanic, descending Splash Mountain, and signaling a Patriots touchdown. He’s even been recognized at Wrigley Field in plain clothes.
Now, he wants to study cooking. He wants to wow friends with his signature risotto dish. He aspires to be on the TV show “Master Chef” or challenge master chef Bobby Flay to a cook-off. He also wants grandchildren and to travel with his wife, Jeannie.
“I’m going to miss the whole atmosphere of Fenway Park,” he said. “It’s been fun. I’m going to miss all the great people that work here. Everyone has treated me nice and with respect.”
Horgan is not just a bullpen cop. He rode on the Boston Police mounted unit until it was disbanded in 2009.
On Marathon Monday in 2013, Horgan was stationed on Dartmouth Street between Newbury and Boylston streets. He heard and felt the first explosion. As others ran away, he and fellow officer Tommy Antonino raced toward the scene.
“The first one went off and we started running towards it, and when the second one went off, there was pandemonium,” he said. “We just helped as many people as we could.”
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said Horgan is a great example of community policing.
“He is one of the most humble individuals that I’ve ever met,” Gross said. “You would think that he would get kind of jaded or, like, grumpy. But not once did he ever deny anyone a picture.”
The only time Horgan declines, he said, is when the person is wearing an offensive T-shirt.
“This is a great thing — how could I not?” he said. “I think it’s easier to be good-natured than not.”
Fenway usher Maureen Wood said she has seen Horgan singing “Sweet Caroline” with children, and that he has been known to give a bleacher creature a ride at the end of the night so they’ll make it home safely.
“He’s just so kind to everybody,” she said. “He’s a great police officer. He knows the spirit of the law, and he knows the letter of the law.”
The players like him, too. Craig Kimbrel always shakes his hand. Hector Velazquez always salutes him. Once during a TV interview in the bullpen, some relievers harassed him by throwing sunflower seeds at him.
Said bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, “Sometimes I play with him and say, ‘Wow, you’re really famous,’ and he says, ‘I’m not really famous. I’m popular.’ ”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.