Hunter, now 39 years old, won nine-consecutive Gold Gloves from 2001-09, patrolling center field for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels.
He dominated the position for the good part of a decade.
As Hunter plays in the final year of his contract with the Tigers, it’s becoming more evident that the mileage on his body is limiting his performance on the field.
There has been no indication that this will be Hunter’s last season as a professional baseball player, but the end of the road is nearing.
When any great player is inching towards retirement, the Hall-of-Fame debate surfaces and Hunter is no exception.
In order to solidify my final judgement, I wanted to examine Hunter’s career in three comparisons: to Hall-of-Fame outfielders, outfielders who didn’t quite make the Hall of Fame and future Hall-of-Fame eligible outfielders.
In order to compose a relevant list of HOF outfielders, there are two criteria that players have to meet: (1) The player has to be selected into the HOF by the Baseball Writers Association of America and (2) be an active player as recently as 1980.
Here is how Hunter compares to the nine players that meet the above criteria:
Obviously this list of players includes some of baseball’s all-time greats, each individual being successful in their own way. Hunter doesn’t necessarily have jaw-dropping career statistics like most of these players, however, his numbers are very comparable to those of Jim Rice.
Using the same criteria as previously, I wanted to see if Hunter’s statistics were more comparable to those who were not voted into the Hall.
With that being said, the numbers don’t always paint the entire picture.
Future eligible outfielders
The final comparison that I find necessary is to look at other outfielders who played in the same era as Hunter.
Numbers alone, Hunter would be the fifth outfielder on this list that I would cast a vote for.
Aside from Ken Griffey Jr, Hunter was the best center fielder of the 2000’s.
For the majority of the decade, Hunter was the best defensive center fielder and could hit anywhere in the top-half of the batting order.
Not only are his numbers worthy of making him a member of the HOF, but his character and the way he plays the game makes him a Hall-of-Famer in my eyes.
Unfortunately, I don’t find it likely that the BBWAA will agree with me. He played his career during the heart of the long-ball era, and failing to reach the 400 career homers plateau could single-handedly ruin his HOF chances.
If Hunter finds a way to reach 400 homers, his chances would greatly improve but if he retires following this season, his odds of being voted in are slim.