Joe Nathan's major league career, the former closer is quick to acknowledge, benefited from some excellent timing. He arrived in Minnesota, via a trade with the Giants, just as Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins, the top two relievers in the Twins' bullpen, departed as free agents.
His timing isn't as good this year.
Nathan knows he won't be elected to the Hall of Fame when the Class of 2022 is revealed Tuesday evening, but he's hoping at least 5 percent of the electorate — roughly 400 Baseball Writers Association of America members — list him on their ballots, which would earn him a spot on next year's ballot, too. Next winter's election won't include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling or Sammy Sosa, controversial figures whose candidacies, which this year reached the 10-year maximum, may be crowding out his own.
"I've had [voters] tell me they would have voted for me, but they didn't have room," due to a 10-player limit on the BBWAA ballot, Nathan said. "This ballot is pretty crowded. It would be super exciting to stay on the ballot, because it gives guys a chance to take a closer look."
A closer look would reveal a seven-season tenure as the greatest relief pitcher in Twins history, and arguably one of the best in baseball history. From his arrival at the Metrodome in 2004 until his departure as a free agent after the 2011 season, Nathan saved 260 games in 288 opportunities, posting a 2.16 ERA and striking out 561 batters in 463 innings.
That last number is a hurdle for some voters, since relievers pitch relatively few innings compared to starters. Nathan has heard the argument that a lack of innings make closers less deserving of enshrinement, but he believes that roles shouldn't matter, especially one as visible and valuable as a modern closer.
"I'm like, yeah, that's what the job was. One inning at a time," Nathan said, pointing out that closers like Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman have reached Cooperstown in the past 15 years. "The criteria should be, were you dominant at your position? My position was closer, and that's who you should be compared to."
According to the website bbhoftracker.com, which counts ballots as they are publicly revealed by voters, Nathan will need a surge in votes on unrevealed ballots (voting was completed in December) to reach the 5 percent threshold for remaining on the ballot. Only four voters have included Nathan among the 177 that have been revealed as of Monday.
"It would be nice if it happens, but I'm not going to drive myself crazy thinking about it," Nathan said. "Honestly, it's just such a tremendous honor to have been included on the ballot. To even have an opportunity to get there, it's not something I would have ever dreamed of as a kid."
Nathan is one of five former Twins on the Hall of Fame ballot this year; ironically, he was traded for one of them, catcher A.J. Pierzynski. In addition, Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter and David Ortiz are also among the 30 candidates. Hunter received 38 votes a year ago, his first on the ballot, a 9.5 percent showing that qualified him for this year's vote. Hawkins and Michael Cuddyer were also on last year's ballot but did not reach the 5 percent minimum.
Ortiz is a first-year candidate and is widely expected to be elected when the final numbers are announced Tuesday. Anyone who reached the 75 percent requirement will be inducted on July 24, along with five players — including former Twins Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva — selected by a pair of veterans committees in December.