The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
Before Joe Mauer began starring for the Twins, there was Torii Hunter, and before Chase Utley began starring for the Phillies, there was Jimmy Rollins. Hunter, a rangy, acrobatic center fielder who eventually won nine Gold Gloves and made five All-Star teams, debuted with Minnesota in 1997 and emerged as a star in 2001, the same year the Twins chose Mauer with the number one pick of the draft. The pair would play together from 2004 to ’07, making the playoffs twice before Hunter departed via free agency. Rollins, a compact shortstop who carried himself with a swagger, debuted in 2001 and made two All-Star teams by the time he and Utley began an 11-year run (2004–14) as the Phillies’ regular double play combination. The pair helped Philadelphia to five NL East titles, two pennants, and a championship, with Rollins winning NL MVP honors in 2007 and taking home four Gold Gloves.
Hunter and Rollins both enjoyed lengthy and impressive careers, racking up over 2,400 hits apiece with substantial home run and stolen base totals. From a Hall of Fame perspective, both have credentials that appeal more to traditionally-minded voters than to statheads. But in their time on the ballot, they’ve gotten little traction, with Hunter topping out at 9.5% in his 2021 debut and Rollins only breaking into double digits in ’23. Not much has changed regarding their electoral outlooks this time around; both are likely to be far outdistanced by their former teammates, whose advanced statistics are much stronger despite comparatively short careers. Still, these two may persist on the ballot, with enough support for us to keep reliving their careers and discussing their merits on an annual basis. There are far worse fates for Hall of Fame candidates.
Torii Hunter (6.9% in 2023)
2024 BBWAA Candidate: Torii Hunter
|Avg. HOF CF
|.277/.331/.461 (110 OPS+)
From the 2023 profile intro:
Torii Hunter could go get it. Fluid and graceful while patrolling center field, he was renowned for his leaping, acrobatic catches and his willingness to sacrifice his body. He made a strong enough impression upon those who watched him that he won nine Gold Gloves during his 19-year career, more than all but three center fielders, namely Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Andruw Jones. Hunter earned the nickname “Spider-Man” for his ability to climb outfield walls to steal home runs — something he did more than just about anybody else during his career — though one attempt to do so at Fenway Park left him with a broken ankle, and another a concussion.
“I’ll do anything to get that little white ball. I’ll put my life on the line,” Hunter told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Chen in 2005, sounding very much like the football player he was during his high school days in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Hunter rose from difficult circumstances in Pine Bluff, including a father who was addicted to crack cocaine and friends who fell into the dead-end life of drugs, guns, and gangs. His athleticism helped him escape, though when he entered professional baseball as a first-round pick of the Twins in 1993, his talent was more raw than most.
The development of Hunter’s bat lagged behind his glove early in his career, but eventually, he improved to became an above-average hitter with multiple dimensions to his game. From 2001-13, he averaged 23 homers and 13 steals per year while hitting for a 115 OPS+, delighting fans with his penchant for the spectacular play, and gaining a reputation within the game for being a vocal clubhouse leader. In that span, he made five All-Star teams and helped the Twins, Angels, and Tigers to the playoffs eight times, though he never got further than the American League Championship Series with any of them.
Jimmy Rollins (12.9% in 2023)
2024 BBWAA Candidate: Jimmy Rollins
|Avg. HOF SS
|.264/.324/.418 (95 OPS+)
From the 2023 profile intro:
Few players have ever been more central to the Phillies than Jimmy Rollins. In fact, with the exception of Mike Schmidt, no player spent more time in a Phillies’ uniform than Rollins, and even counting the Hall of Fame third baseman, none collected more hits or stole more bases. The pint-sized shortstop — 5-foot-7, 175 pounds according to Baseball Reference — spent 15 of his 17 major league seasons with Philadelphia, where he was at the center of the team’s return to contention following a slide into irrelevance at the outset of the Wild Card era.
Rollins was the starting shortstop on the Phillies’ five straight NL East champions from 2007-11, including their ’08 World Series winning squad — just the second in franchise history — and ’09 pennant winner. A slick fielder who offered speed and pop from both sides of the plate atop the lineup, he garnered the nickname “J-Roll” from legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas. J-Roll projected a confidence that bordered on cockiness, and carried himself with a swagger. “We’re the team to beat,” he said at the outset of the 2007 season, all but thumbing his nose at the reigning NL East champion Mets, who had outdistanced the Phillies by 12 games.
After losing their first three games and 10 of their first 13 to start the 2007 season — including two out of three at Shea Stadium, where he was booed lustily by New York fans — the Phillies didn’t spend a day in first place until September 27, when they tied the Mets with three games remaining. While they took two out of three from the Nationals, the Mets dropped two of three from the Marlins. Not only was Philadelphia back in the playoffs after a 14-year absence, setting off a run during which the team became just the fifth to win five straight division titles, but Rollins took home NL MVP (Most Valuable Prognosticator) honors. A year later, he added a World Series ring to a collection that also grew to include four Gold Gloves.