MINNEAPOLIS -- Three Twins fan favorites entered the Hall of Fame ballot as candidates for the Class of 2021, but only Torii Hunter will progress beyond his first year of eligibility for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins fell off the ballot after being unable to reach the 5 percent of votes required to remain eligible next year. Hunter easily cleared the threshold by receiving 38 votes, representing 9.5 percent of ballots cast, while Hawkins received two votes and Cuddyer was not included on any submissions.
Nobody on the ballot was named on the 75 percent of ballots necessary for induction in Cooperstown, meaning the upcoming inductees will only include Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller, members of the Class of 2020 whose ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The last Twins player elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote was Jim Thome in 2018, and the last player to be enshrined in the Hall as a Twin was Bert Blyleven in '11.
Not only do Cuddyer, Hawkins and Hunter all remain in the Twins' organization as special assistants to baseball operations, but they also represent a fun, winning era of Twins baseball at the Metrodome in the 2000s, with each playing his role on several of the clubs that won six division titles in nine years from 2002-10. Though none of them will immediately represent Minnesota in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Hunter will get another shot at the ballot, while Cuddyer is remembered for his contributions to that era as part of the Twins Hall of Fame.
Also representing that Metrodome era, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau and A.J. Pierzynski are expected to become eligible on the next ballot.
Hunter entered the balloting with the best chance to remain in consideration due to his nine Gold Glove Awards as a center fielder, five All-Star selections, two Silver Slugger Awards and 2,452 career hits. Andruw Jones' struggles to garner votes at the start of his eligibility were likely an indication that Hunter would face an uphill battle to stay on the ballot, but Hunter's 9.5 percent of the vote share represented a higher percentage than Jones' 7.3 percent when he debuted in 2018. (Jones received 33.9 percent of this year's vote.)
"It is definitely an honor [to be included]," Hunter said on MLB Network. "You talk about a young kid from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who just wanted to go to college and play and get my education, but as I got drafted and went on, it was more about saving my family and living out my dream. I never played the game to be in the Hall of Fame.
"When I retired, everybody started telling me these numbers and everything, and that's when you're like, 'OK, it'd be cool to be in the Hall of Fame,'" Hunter added. "But as you're playing, you never think about those things. I went about it every day and I rested my case in 2015. It is what it is."
The longtime center fielder gained plenty of national attention for his home run robbery of Barry Bonds at the 2002 All-Star Game, and he regularly accompanied highlight-reel grabs with consistent power at the plate throughout his 19-year MLB career, including 12 seasons with the Twins. Though he played for the Angels and Tigers following his initial stint in Minnesota, he retired after one final season with the Twins as a clubhouse leader in '15.
Hawkins faced an even more uphill route to staying on the ballot as a reliever, and he received only two votes, including one from USA Today national reporter Bob Nightengale, who cited Hawkins' leadership and universal respect around the league in a column explaining his vote for the veteran of 21 MLB seasons.
Hawkins' longevity is evident in the fact that his 1,042 career appearances rank 10th among pitchers in MLB history. He spent nine seasons in Minnesota as he transitioned from starter to successful reliever, and he carried through the remainder of his career with consistency through stints with the Cubs, Giants, Orioles, Rockies, Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Angels, Mets and Blue Jays. He pitched in one World Series as a member of Colorado's 2007 bullpen.
Cuddyer knew that he was likely a long shot to garner the support necessary to make it into Cooperstown, even at the end of a 15-year career spanning 1,522 hits, two All-Star teams and a batting title in his later years with the Rockies. Eleven of those seasons were spent with the Twins, with whom he won six division championships while shuffling between the outfield and infield -- wherever the team needed him.
"To be honest with you, I have no grand delusions of making it into the Hall of Fame," Cuddyer said on MLB Network when the ballot was announced. "Just seeing your name on the ballot, seeing your name amongst all these great players and guys that will be in the Hall of Fame, people you played with and played against, I think that's the biggest thing for me. You just want to be respected as a player, a person and as a teammate, and I feel like I'm proud of my career that at least I accomplished that."
All three former Twins stars can be sure of that, and even though Hawkins' and Cuddyer's shots at Cooperstown only lasted a year, their legacies will continue to be felt throughout Twins Territory and around the sport.