5 best Twins players not in the Hall of Fame

January 25th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have had a few great years in regards to immortalizing their franchise legends, as the National Baseball Hall of Fame Classes of 2022 and '24 have included arguably the three greatest players in club history not to have already been enshrined in Cooperstown.

It started in 2022 with the resolution of a longtime point of contention for many Twins fans with the election of club legends Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat by the Golden Days Era Committee. And this year, was elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America on his first ballot, becoming only the third catcher afforded that honor.

When Mauer's ceremony occurs on July 21, the number of Hall of Famers inducted as Minnesota Twins will fittingly grow to seven, joining Oliva, Kaat, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven.

Many others -- like Jack Morris and Jim Thome -- have passed through the Metrodome and Target Field during their Hall of Fame careers before being enshrined as members of other teams. They won't be immortalized with Twins caps on their head, but the organization will always remain part of their Hall of Fame history.

Let's not draw that distinction as part of this list, one in which we explore the five best players in Twins history not yet enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Even so, the five players on this list would almost certainly go into the Hall as members of the this franchise, which gives fans around Twins Territory an added incentive to follow the potential paths to Cooperstown in the coming years of those whose opportunities haven't already come and gone.

1) (2000-07)
Status: Fell off BBWAA ballot in 2018

Santana got his shot at the Hall of Fame in 2018 and immediately fell off the ballot after failing to secure the 5 percent of the votes necessary for another year of eligibility. Like Oliva, Santana is almost certainly a victim of a career shortened by injury -- in this case, an anterior capsule tear in his pitching shoulder that cost him the entire '11 season and later led to his retirement after he last pitched in '12 at the age of 33.

Before Santana lost the tail end of his career, he was one of the unquestioned elites of the sport during his eight seasons with the Twins and his first three with the Mets. In his true peak from 2004-06, Santana led the AL in strikeouts in all three seasons and in ERA twice, culminating in a Major League triple crown in '06, when he won his second Cy Young Award. He would have had three consecutive Cy Young Awards had he not lost the '05 honor to Bartolo Colon, who posted worse stats than Santana across the board.

Randy Johnson and Maddux are the only pitchers to have won Cy Young Awards in three consecutive seasons. Of the eight players in MLB history with three Cy Young Awards, seven are in the Hall of Fame (the eighth is Roger Clemens). If Santana had joined that club, it would have been much tougher for him to lose his opportunity so soon.

2) (2004-11)
Status: Fell off 2022 ballot

Several players could have come next this list, but we'll highlight Nathan, the greatest reliever in club history and among the most decorated in the ranks of MLB closers. It's an uphill battle for relievers to earn induction to Cooperstown, as only eight are currently enshrined -- and Billy Wagner once again barely short with one year of eligibility remaining. With that said, Nathan actually had a reasonably strong case that could appeal to both traditionalists and analysts alike.

Going down the list of relievers according to JAWS, a benchmark for Hall of Famers by position, Nathan actually ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Bruce Sutter, Trevor Hoffman and Rollie Fingers. Nathan's career 2.87 ERA also ranks favorably among that group.

His 377 saves across 16 seasons with the Giants, Twins, Rangers, Tigers and Cubs rank eighth in MLB history and encompass an elite span from 2004-09 during which he recorded at least 36 saves in six consecutive seasons (for the traditionalists) and posted a 237 ERA+ during that span (for the analysts). In comparison, Mariano Rivera had the same ERA+ during his best six-year stretch.

3) Kent Hrbek (1981-94)
Status: Fell off BBWAA ballot in 2000

Much like Mauer two decades later, Hrbek was a hometown kid with a dream career in Minnesota. Born and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, a stone's throw from the Twins' first home at Metropolitan Stadium, Hrbek actually played his first season at that ballpark before moving downtown to the Metrodome with the team a year later. He spent the entirety of his 14-year career in Minnesota and helped to anchor the heart of the lineup for the state's first two World Series championship teams in 1987 and '91.

Though Hrbek's number is retired by the Twins and he resides in the club's Hall of Fame, his candidacy for Cooperstown fell short in his first year of eligibility in 2000, when he didn't earn the 5 percent of votes necessary to remain on the ballot. Though he hit .282/.367/.481 for his career with 293 homers and 1,086 RBIs, he isn't helped by his defensive home at first base, which has a high offensive standard for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

4) Frank Viola (1982-89)
Status: Fell off BBWAA ballot in 2002

"Sweet Music" also fell off the BBWAA ballot in his first year of eligibility and likely doesn't have the career numbers to eventually get in, with a 3.73 career ERA and 1,844 strikeouts across 421 appearances with the Twins, Mets, Red Sox, Reds and Blue Jays. Still, the left-hander is enshrined in the Twins' Hall of Fame for his place in club history -- and there's no doubt that he belongs there.

Viola was a fixture of the Twins' rotation throughout most of the 1980s and most notably helped to lead the '87 pitching staff that helped bring Minnesota its first World Series championship. He made three starts in that Fall Classic against the Cardinals, with a win in Game 1, loss in Game 4 and another win in the decisive Game 7 at the Metrodome. He also won the 1988 American League Cy Young Award, joining Jim Perry and Santana as the only players to earn that honor in a Twins uniform.

5) Torii Hunter (1997-2007, 2015)
Status: Will enter fifth year on BBWAA ballot in 2025

Hunter cleared the 5% threshold in 2024 to remain on the ballot for a fifth year in '25, but his candidacy hasn't picked up any steam across those years. That comes in contrast to fellow center fielder Andruw Jones, whose support continues to grow toward what appears to be a Hall of Fame-bound trajectory.

It's good that Hunter wasn't one-and-done, because his candidacy for the Hall is at least worthy of discussion given his peak, accolades and longevity. The five All-Star selections and two Silver Slugger Awards speak to the reputation and esteem he garnered in his prime when he hit in the heart of the order for those fan favorite 2000s Twins teams, amassing 353 homers and 2,452 hits for the Twins, Angels, Tigers, and finally, the Twins again.

But it was the defense and all-around game that shone most brightly for the man who won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards in center field. Hunter announced his arrival to stardom with the home run robbery of Barry Bonds at the 2002 All-Star Game as part of a 19-year career that saw him hit at least 14 homers in each of his final 15 seasons (winning Gold Gloves in the first nine of those) with an above-league-average OPS+ in 13 of those years.