Before you get too carried away wondering why Derek Jeter was not unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame, please remember something. Mariano Rivera is the only player in Major League Baseball history to be afforded that honor.
Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb? Nope. Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio? Nope. Willie Mays and Henry Aaron? Nope.
For some strange reason, throughout the history of the Hall of Fame, there have always been baseball writers willing to risk their credibility by refusing to follow the crowd. Maybe they just enjoyed being different, a conversation piece, an irritant.
In Jeter’s case, all but one of the 397 writers who cast a vote checked off his name. Since the results were announced Tuesday night, trying to find out who that was has become a national obsession.
Be patient: The BBWAA will release additional ballots Feb. 4 of those writers who consented to a public listing.
“I look at all the votes that I got,” Jeter said. “It takes a lot of votes to get elected in the Hall of Fame. 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. I’m just extremely excited and honored to be elected.”
Jeter received 99.7 percent of the vote (second-highest all time behind Rivera and the highest for a position player) to become the 57th first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“When you start off your career, you’re never thinking about the Hall of Fame,” Jeter said. “This is the highest honor that can be given to any individual who plays this game … I never looked at it [as a foregone conclusion] because this is something that’s very difficult. You’re talking about 1% of the players who have ever played this game getting into the Hall of Fame.”
When you render it down, you realize it doesn’t really matter. You can go crazy wondering why someone didn’t vote for Jeter, but someone else thought it necessary to cast a vote for J.J. Putz and Brad Penny.
All that’s important is the final score. Just ask Larry Walker, who joins Jeter in the Class of 2020. He was in 10th and final year of his eligibility. But on threshold of elimination, Walker made it in by just six votes by appearing on 76.6 percent of the ballots. One needs at least 75 percent to be elected.
“I barely remember the moment, I was kind of floating on air,” Walker said. “A lot of things entered my head when the phone rang and as I was hearing what was being said to me. As a Canadian, that was a proud moment for me to represent my country and to be able to join Ferguson Jenkins in the Hall of Fame.”
Others were not so lucky. Curt Schilling, in his eighth year on the ballot, appeared on 70 percent. Roger Clemens (61 percent) and Barry Bonds (60.7) missed again and Omar Vizquel gathered 52.6 percent.
Along with Jeter and Walker, they were the only players to make it on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Scott Rolen (35.3), Billy Wagner (31.7), Gary Sheffield (30.5), Todd Helton (29.2) and Andruw Jones (19.4) weren’t so lucky.
We all knew Jeter would be elected on his first try. The guy was a 14-time All-Star with 3,465 hits (sixth all-time) and five World Series championships.
“Every accolade that has been bestowed on Derek throughout his career has been earned and deserved,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told the Yankees website. “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. Derek’s legacy as one of the most beloved and charitable players in the last quarter century cements his place in baseball history. As he is immortalized in Cooperstown this summer, we proudly reflect on the honor he brought the Yankees franchise, the New York community and the great game of baseball.”
Jeter was also the modern day “Pride of the Yankees”, their captain and model of decorum and decency. He was also one of the greatest players in postseason history, hitting .308 in 734 plate appearances.
“It’s going to be a very special day, standing next to Derek in Cooperstown this summer,” Rivera told MLB.com. “He had such a deep desire to win, and that singular commitment to his team is what made him so special. Derek prided himself on being a consistent presence. No moment was too big. He was fearless, and he was the type of leader we knew we could count on year after year.”
According to the Yankees, Jeter becomes one of just nine Hall inductees to play his entire career for the organization, joining Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Rivera.
“It probably means a little bit more to me than maybe some other people, because I grew up a Yankee fan,” Jeter said. “It’s the only organization I ever wanted to play for. I was fortunate to play 20 years in New York, parts of 23 professionally, and a lot of thanks goes out to the Steinbrenner family — especially The Boss [George M. Steinbrenner]. He was big on, ‘If you guys win, we’ll bring you back.’”
Walker has been a profile in patience during his trip to the Hall. Despite compiling numbers comparable to other inductees, some voters likely marginalized his statistics because he played the majority of his career in Colorado and hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Walker batted .381 with a 1.172 OPS and 154 home runs in 597 games at Coors and .282 away from the park.
“Remember those old 45s we used to listen to, and they had the song on the A-side and then the song on the B-side you really didn’t know about?” Walker said on the MLB Network. “I’m the B-side.”
Walker was the 1997 National League MVP, when he hit .366 with 49 home runs, 130 RBIs and a .720 slugging percentage. He was a three-time batting champion, hitting as high as .372 in 1999. He was also a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, with a .313 career average and .965 OPS, 15th all-time.
According to MLB.com, Walker’s ballpark-adjusted 141 OPS+ ties for 68th all-time among those with at least 3,000 plate appearances, ahead of Hall of Famers Vladimir Guerrero (140), Reggie Jackson (139), Al Kaline (134) and Tony Gwynn (132) in right field.
Walker’s rise in popularity has been a recent phenomenon. The Hall’s voting records tell us he was on only 10.2 percent of ballots as recently as six years ago. Last year, he finally poked his head above 50 percent (54.6). Walker and Ralph Kiner (in 1974) are the only inductees to spring from less than 60 percent one year to over 75 percent the next.
Jeter and Walker will be inducted July 26 along with catcher Ted Simmons and former players’ association head Marvin Miller, voted in last month by the Hall’s Modern Era Committee.