The ballots have been counted, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame will reveal Tuesday night which players, if any, have been elected to the Class of 2021.
"So you wanted to interview someone who's not going to get a vote?" Michael Cuddyer said with a good-natured laugh.
Well, yes. Along with Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins, Cuddyer is one of three former Twins among the 25 players nominated for consideration this winter by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and the distinction has turned out to be not one of disappointment or embarrassment over the lack of support, Cuddyer said, but joy — even though, as he said, he might not receive a vote.
"The best part of it for me was to see what it meant to people who have supported me my whole life, people in this area," Cuddyer said from his home in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. "There are people here who followed my whole career, watched me from when I was just coming up, and I've heard from them how happy it makes them. That's fun. I have no illusions about the outcome, but it means more to people than I thought, and that's been great."
Voting is conducted annually among 10-year members of the BBWAA, and a 75% plurality is required for induction. Players receiving votes from at least 5% of membership remain on the ballot the following year, for a maximum of 10 years, shortened from the original 15-year limit.
It's possible that no player will reach 75% this year, the first time since 2013 that's happened. Curt Schilling came closest last year, but his candidacy is dogged by controversy over inflammatory statements he has made, and there are no likely first-time inductees. The Hall of Fame might not mind an empty 2021 class, however, given that the 2020 class — Derek Jeter and Larry Walker, along with special committee selection Marvin Miller — has yet to be inducted because of the pandemic.
While Cuddyer and Hawkins are likely to receive only a vote or two — USA Today's Bob Nightengale revealed Monday that he had voted for Hawkins, who "epitomized grace, class and dignity throughout his 21-year career, and you won't find a soul who will argue" — Hunter could eclipse the 5% requirement, giving his candidacy a chance to gain support over the years.
Players often pick up votes over the years, as voters reassess their careers and new voters are added to the rolls. Former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven, for instance, received only 17.5% support on his first ballot in 1998, but his totals gradually grew until he cleared the 75% threshold in 2011.
According to an online accounting of ballots made public (tracked by Ryan Thibodaux at bbhoftracker.com), Hunter's name has been checked on 4.9% of the 172 ballots revealed thus far.
Would the longtime Twins outfielder, a five-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner, like to make his candidacy an annual event?
"Well, I'd like to go in. Everybody would. That's the truth, so whatever it takes," Hunter said. "But that's not in my power. So I'm thankful to be in this position."
He is a little surprised to be in that position, actually.
"This little boy from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who grew up in poverty and then found his way to play professionally — the game of baseball has given me a life, and I love everything about it," Hunter said. "For me to be on a Hall of Fame ballot with all those guys, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez, it's not something I ever expected. So to see it happen, to hear from people about how I affected their lives, it's been really nice."
It's a bit of recognition for a group of Twins that won four division titles in five years, too, Hunter pointed out. Johan Santana was on the ballot in 2018; Justin Morneau figures to be a candidate next year and Joe Mauer in 2024.
"We had some good teams, man. Even though a lot of us didn't get to stay with the Twins our whole careers, what we learned in Minnesota allowed us to have longevity," he said. "Honestly, we had some great players go through there."
And if they fall off the ballot after Tuesday, Cuddyer, Hawkins and Hunter deserve the honor of consideration. Cuddyer was a middle-of-the-order slugger who made two All-Star teams during a 15-year career, and he won an NL batting title with the Rockies. Hawkins pivoted from subpar results as a starter to become one of the game's premiere setup relievers for the final 15 seasons of a two-decades-long career.
And Hunter was a regular for 17 seasons with three teams, amassing 353 homers, driving in 1,391 runs and patrolling the outfield with often spectacular results. He even returned to the Twins for his final season in 2015, contributing 22 homers and 22 doubles and serving as a clubhouse leader during the summer in which he turned 40.
"I did everything I could to win, that's my legacy," Hunter said. "I never thought about the Hall of Fame. I just tried to leave my mark."