'I didn't buy it': Kalamazoo's Derek Jeter refused to believe he was Hall-of-Fame shoo-in
New York — Known for two decades as No. 2, Derek Jeter is now linked to the number 1 — as in, who was the lone Hall of Fame voter who didn’t put a checkmark next to his name?
Jeter (Kalamazoo Central) came within one vote of being a unanimous pick on Tuesday, falling just shy of the standard set when longtime New York Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera became the first unanimous selection last year.
For now, the identity and motivation of the non-conformist remains a mystery.
“Well, I look at all the votes that I got,” Jeter said. “Trying to get that many people to agree on something is pretty difficult to do. So that’s not something that’s on my mind.”
Longtime shortstop and captain of the Yankees, Jeter appeared on 396 of 397 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. His 99.7% moved above Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3%) for the second-highest share.
Jeter was listed on all 219 ballots made public by Ryan Thibodaux’s vote tracker before the announcement. The BBWAA will release additional ballots on Feb. 4 of writers who chose a public listing.
“Everyone told me it was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t buy it. So it was not a relaxing day. There was a lot of anxiety,’’ Jeter said. ”I was nervous, sitting around waiting for a phone call is something that is completely out of your control.”
Larry Walker got 304 votes, six above the 75% needed and up from 54.6% last year. He was making his 10th and final appearance on the BBWAA ballot and tweeted earlier in the day “I believe I’m going to come up a little short today” after checking the vote tracker and projecting he would finish at 73.3%.
As the announcement time approached, Walker had just about given up.
“I had it when they’re going to call, a roundabout time, and that time had come and gone,” he said. “And there was two minutes after that when the call actually came.”
When Walker’s phone rang, he uttered a profanity and then: “Oh my God!” He answered, and BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell was on the line.
“You didn’t come up short this year. You passed the 75% threshold, and welcome to the Hall of Fame,” Walker remembered O’Connell telling him.
Pitcher Curt Schilling was third with 278 votes (70%) in his eighth ballot appearance, an increase from 60.9% but still 20 votes shy. The steroids-tainted pair of Roger Clemens (61%) and Barry Bonds (60.7%) both showed slight increases in their eighth tries. Clemens rose from 59.5% last year and Bonds from 59.1%.
Jeter and Walker will be inducted on July 26 at the Hall in Cooperstown along with catcher Ted Simmons and former players’ association head Marvin Miller, who were voted in last month by the Hall’s Modern Era Committee.
Ballot holdovers could benefit next year, when the most prominent first-time eligibles are Torii Hunter and Mark Buehrle. The 2022 ballot will include David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, who served a season-long suspension in 2014 for violations of the drug program and baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.
Slick-fielding shortstop Omar Vizquel could be a riser after getting 52.6% in his third year on the ballot. The 11-time Gold Glove winner with 2,877 hits has seven more years to earn 75%. Other potential movers include third baseman Scott Rolen (35.5%), reliever Billy Wagner (31.7%) and slugger Gary Sheffield (30.5%).
The 397 total votes cast were the fewest since 1985.
A five-time World Series champion, Jeter became a face of baseball as he starred in the nation’s largest media market from 1995-2014. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996 as the Yankees won the World Series for the first time since 1978, then led New York to three straight titles from 1998-2000, the only team to accomplish the feat since the 1972-74 Oakland Athletics. The rebuilt Yankees added their 27th title in 2009.
Still, Jeter’s resume lacked a coda.
“I had a great relationship and still do with Reggie Jackson,” Jeter said. “And Reggie used to constantly remind me when he came to the park, he’d always tell me, `You’re not a Hall of Famer yet.’”
Jeter defined himself by moments more than numbers: his unexpected backhand flip from foul territory to throw out Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi in the 2001 AL Division Series; his Mr. November home run in the 10th inning that won Game 4 of the 2001 World Series; his face-first leap into the stands after catching a 12th-inning popup by Boston’s Trot Nixon in 2004; his home run into the left-field bleachers for his 3,000th hit as part of a career-best 5-for-5 game in 2011; his ninth-inning walkoff single in his final home game in 2014; his last at-bat single three days later that lifted his career average to .310.
Drafted sixth overall in 1992 after he was spotted by Yankees scout Dick Groch as a high school junior a year earlier, Jeter was bypassed by Houston (Phil Nevin), Cleveland (Paul Shuey), Montreal (B.J. Wallace), Baltimore (Jeffrey Hammonds) and Cincinnati (Chad Mottola). He debuted for the Yankees on May 29, 1995, and was installed at shortstop the following spring training by new manager Joe Torre.
Jeter became a 14-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner despite defensive metrics that were maligned. He was appointed captain by owner George Steinbrenner in June 2003, filling a position that had been open since Don Mattingly’s retirement after the 1995 season. He finished with 3,465 hits, 260 homers, 358 stolen bases and 1,311 RBIs, earning $266 million from the Yankees.
He was the ninth player elected to the Hall after playing exclusively for the Yankees, joining Lou Gehrig (1939), Bill Dickey (1954), Joe DiMaggio (1955), Earle Combs (1970), Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle (1974), Phil Rizzuto (1994) and Rivera. Jeter’s No. 2 jersey was retired by New York.
Jeter used some of his savings to join the group purchasing the Miami Marlins in September 2017, becoming CEO. Jettisoning veterans and going with low-priced youth in a way the Yankees never did, Jeter endured a pair of last-place finishes and the lowest home attendance in the major leagues.
Walker hit .313 with .383 homers, 1,311 RBIs and 230 stolen bases for Montreal (1989-94), Colorado (1995-2004) and St. Louis (2004-05), a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner. He was the 1997 NL MVP and led the major leagues in batting average in 1998, 1999 and 2001.
Evaluating his offensive performance gave some voters difficulty because he spent 9 1/2 seasons in the thin air of Denver’s Coors Field. Walker batted .381 with an 1.172 OPS and 154 home runs in 597 games at Coors and .282 with 229 homers and an .873 OPS in 1,391 games elsewhere, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
He received just 20.3% in his first ballot appearance in 2011 and dropped as low as 10.2% in 2014. He rose to 21.9% in 2017 before jumping to 34.1% in 2018.
Walker became the second Canadian-born player elected to the Hall after Ferguson Jenkins in 1991.
“You grew up in Canada, you’re born into hockey and that’s what’s in your blood and veins. And just so baseball was something I had to learn along the ways,” Walker said.
Walker played hockey until he was 16, then switched spots. He thought about what would have happened had he remained on ice.
“I would probably be missing a few more teeth,” he said.