It was never a question that Derek Jeter, the longtime captain of the New York Yankees and one of the most celebrated players in baseball history, was going to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The intrigue instead centered on whether he would become the second unanimously elected player, following his former teammate and fellow five-time World Series champion Mariano Rivera.
On Tuesday, Jeter fell just short of Rivera’s historic mark from last season.
Jeter was named on all but one of the 397 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — more than enough to clear the 75% hurdle for election. His 99.7% share of the vote eclipsed the previous second-highest voting mark, 99.3%, for outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016.
Jeter was joined in the Hall’s 2020 class by Larry Walker, the standout slugger who played the majority of his career in Colorado with the Rockies. Walker was in his 10th and final year of eligibility on the ballot and will now be the first Canadian-born position player in the Hall of Fame.
Walker and Jeter, who is now leading a rebuilding effort in Miami as the chief executive officer and part owner of the Marlins, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 26 in Cooperstown, New York, along with Marvin Miller, the union leader who revolutionized the sport by helping players gain the right to free agency, and catcher Ted Simmons. The latter was passed over by the writers, but both were elected by a smaller committee last month.
“Everyone told me it was a foregone conclusion,” Jeter said, perhaps too modestly, on a conference call Tuesday night with reporters. “I didn’t buy it. So it was not a relaxing day.”
Jeter said he was nervous waiting for the phone call with the news of his election. He brushed off the fact that he fell one vote short of unanimity.
“I look at all the votes that I got, and it takes a lot of votes to get elected in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “Trying to get that many people to agree on something, that’s pretty difficult to do. I’m just extremely excited and honored to be elected.”
Jeter enters the Hall of Fame with an impressive résumé. Born in New Jersey but raised in Michigan with a dream of playing shortstop in pinstripes, Jeter was picked sixth overall in the 1992 draft by the Yankees and was persuaded to sign with them instead of playing baseball at the University of Michigan.
“The only place Derek Jeter’s going is to Cooperstown,” Dick Groch, a former Yankees scout who signed Jeter, told team officials at the time. Jeter was in the major leagues by 1995 and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award the following season.
With his trademark right-handed swing that often poked balls to right field rather than pulling them to left, Jeter posted a .310 career batting average and amassed 3,465 career hits, the sixth-most in baseball history. He tied a major-league record with 17 straight seasons of at least 150 hits and is tied for second with 13 seasons scoring at least 100 runs. He played in 20 seasons — all with the Yankees, a team record — at one of the most demanding positions on the diamond. He was named an All-Star 14 times.
Jeter was part of the so-called Core Four of homegrown Yankees players — along with pitcher Andy Pettitte, catcher Jorge Posada and Rivera — who helped create a dynasty that won four World Series titles (1996 and 1998-2000) in five seasons, then claimed another in 2009. Jeter was the last of the four to retire, his final season coming in 2014. He ended his career as the longest-tenured Yankees captain, having held the title for 12 seasons.
“Every accolade that has been bestowed on Derek throughout his career has been earned and deserved,” Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, said in a statement released by the team. “He was a captain and champion in every sense of the word, a man who embodied our traditions and expectations with an unmistakable grace and dignified resolve.”
And when it mattered most, Jeter delivered. He ranked at or near the top of many career categories for postseason play: appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, runs batted in and home runs — even though he wasn’t much of a home run hitter during the regular season. He was also named the most valuable player of the World Series in 2000, when the Yankees beat the New York Mets.
Perhaps most impressive, Jeter spent two decades in New York as one of the most recognizable athletes playing for one of the most well-known franchises in the world, and he was never involved in a significant scandal.
Although he was accessible to reporters, Jeter was guarded in his answers, carefully tending his image. But that was part of what made him so beloved by fans. He was their proud, often stubborn, leader who elevated one of the great dynasties in baseball history with gobs of hits, heads-up plays and a stoic presence on the left side of the infield.
Jeter did have some minor blemishes. He never won a Most Valuable Player Award (he finished among the top three in voting three times). Probably helped by his reputation and astute playmaking (see: The Flip, during Game 3 of a 2001 AL division series), Jeter won five Gold Gloves even as his skills declined and he was rated a below-average defender. He famously refused to move from the position after the Yankees acquired a better shortstop, Alex Rodriguez, in 2004. (Instead Rodriguez took over third base.) Also some advanced statistics, such as Wins Above Replacement, haven’t been so kind to Jeter; WAR ranks him as the 10th best shortstop of all time.
“One of those names that goes along with the greats of any sport,” Walker said of Jeter during an MLB Network interview after their election. “I was thinking about it, as great as Derek is, remember those old 45s we used to listen to? They had the song on the A side and the song side you didn’t really know about? I’m the song on the B side.”
Walker, who had received steadily increasing support in recent years, tweeted hours before the announcement that he thought he would “come up a little short today.” But he received 76.6% of the votes — a stunning jump from 54.6% last year His candidacy had been undermined in previous years because he played the majority of his career in thin-aired Colorado.
Walker, who grew up playing hockey, received most of his baseball education in the minor leagues. His major-league career lasted from 1989 through 2005 and included stints with the Montreal Expos and the St. Louis Cardinals. He hit 383 home runs, and only six players have matched his career marks in batting average (.313), on-base percentage (.400) and slugging percentage (.565) — Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
Walker’s career road OPS of .865 is equal to or better than those of George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell and Griffey, all first-ballot Hall of Famers. Walker stole more bases (230) than each of those players, and he won seven Gold Gloves. He was a five-time All-Star, a three-time batting champion and the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award winner in 1997.
Walker said he was proud to join Ferguson Jenkins, a Canadian-born pitcher inducted in 1991, as the lone Canadians in the Hall of Fame. When he received the phone call informing him of his election, Walker said he uttered an expletive, “then maybe an, ‘Oh my god.’ ” He added later: “It was surreal.”