Derek Jeter finally got his day in Cooperstown Wednesday.
The long-time shortstop and captain of the New York Yankees was one of four new members inducted by the Baseball Hall of Fame – after a protracted, twice-delayed wait caused by COVID-19.
Jeter, who played a record 20 years for the Yankees, was one vote short of unanimous election when his name was announced in January 2020. But his induction, scheduled for last summer, was cancelled twice – with the original July dates finally moved to September.
That put a damper on attendance, which had been expected to challenge the 2007 record of 87,000 who came to see Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr.
Though nowhere near the 100,000 crowd state and local police originally anticipated, the enthusiasm of those who did show was obvious from the start.
The crowd outside Clark Sports Center, about a mile from the Hall of Fame itself, was packed with people of all ages wearing navy blue T-shirts bearing pinstripes and Jeter’s No. 2. Supporters of fellow inductees Ted Simmons, Larry Walker, and long-time union chief Marvin Miller were there too, but their combined numbers paled in comparison to Jeter’s minions.
Many of them drove up for the day from New York, about four hours from Cooperstown by car.
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Unlike Jeter, a first-ballot pick, Simmons was selected in his 10th and final year on the ballot considered by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Both Simmons and Miller were picked by a veterans committee, outscoring five MVPs whose names also shared that ballot (Steve Garvey, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Thurman Munson, and Don Mattingly). In both elections, winning candidates needed at least 75 per cent of the vote.
Miller didn’t do that in seven previous tries and did not live to see his induction. He died at age 95 in 2012.
The program, telecast live on MLB Network, included a memorial tribute to the 10 Hall of Famers who died since the last induction in 2019, and introductions of 31 incumbent members.
Former Yankees Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera, inducted in 2019 after the only unanimous election in Hall of Fame history, got the loudest cheers — hardly surprising in an audience packed with Yankee supporters. Joe Torre, the manager who brought Jeter to the major leagues, also got a loud ovation.
But the day clearly belonged to Jeter, the ninth Hall of Famer to spend his entire career with the Yankees. A shortstop who started at age 20 and ended at age 40, Jeter won five World Series rings while wearing pinstripes. He had more hits (3,465) than anyone else who played for the team.
A former first-round amateur draft pick, Jeter got an $800,000 bonus when he signed in 1992 but earned millions during his 20-year tenure in the Bronx. He is now the chief operating officer of the Miami Marlins.
“What can I say in 15 minutes that will cover my entire career?” Jeter said as raindrops started to fall.
“Let me start by congratulating the three other inductees. “The great thing about baseball in its history. And we’ve lost too many Hall of Famers over the last 20 months.”
Jeter said he vividly remembered watching his dad play shortstop for his corporate team. “He showed me how to play, how to win,” said the long-time Yankee star. “My dad taught me to be patient, to think before I speak. And my mom taught me that was anything was attainable as long as I worked harder than anyone else.
“Both of you convinced me I could achieve anything and that I can prove the doubters wrong. “I wanted to prove I belonged. I had one goal in my career: to win more than anyone else. We did that.”
Jeter told the crowd that Jackson, who played for the Yankees, used to stop by his locker in the Yankee clubhouse. ‘What do you have for me, Reggie?’ Jeter remembered. The slugger would get on me and say, ‘You’re not a Hall of Famer yet.’ So, Reggie, can I get on you now?”
Jackson was seated on the dias behind Jeter with 31 other incumbent Hall of Famers who came to Cooperstown for the unusual September induction.
Among the many famous faces in the VIP section of the crowd included basketball great Michael Jordan and former Yankees CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, and Bernie Williams, who played the National Anthem on his guitar to start the day’s ceremonies.
“I have a message to the players,” said Jeter, the last of four speakers at the ceremonies. “This is a game that requires dedication, sacrifice, and focus,” said Jeter, “and there’s no individual greater than the game.”
The induction of the Class of 2020 swells the roster of the Hall of Fame to 333. No one was chosen for the Class of 2021 by the baseball writers and the vote of the veterans committees, scheduled for last December, were postponed for a year.