So, you thought New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter going into the Baseball Hall of Fame would simply be a “great player being immortalized on the first ballot” story without any drama. After all, what could go wrong, right?
Though Jeter himself was never convinced getting elected into the hallowed Hall was a sure thing, the rest of us thought it was a foregone conclusion. A storybook baseball career just needed a plaque in Cooperstown to cap it off. Pretty straightforward stuff, you’d think. And it is, especially when you consider Jeter’s 20-year major league career (1995–2014), all spent with the Yankees.
His career numbers are well known. The 3,465 hits, 1,311 RBI, 260 homers, and lifetime .310 batting average. Then there were 16 postseason appearances, with 200 hits in October alone, the .308 postseason average, and five world championships (1996, 1998–2000, and 2009).
And he had fun doing it. “I enjoyed the competition,” he says. “To me it was the same game whether it’s a game in spring training or Game 7 of the World Series. It’s still baseball.” The new Hall of Famer had as much fun playing the game in Little League as he did in the majors.
While Jeter is most proud of just fulfilling his dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees—“the only thing I wanted to do since as long as I can remember”—for the Yankee faithful, the shortstop’s timely heroics make him stand out. Everyone has a Derek Jeter memory. Some recall “The Flip” during Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series against the Oakland A’s as his greatest play. For others, “The Dive” against the Red Sox exemplifies his determination and drive to succeed. On that play, Jeter ran headlong into the third base stands after making a great catch of a pop-up in the top of the 12th inning of a game on July 1, 2004. Boston had two runners in scoring position in the tied game. The Yankees went on to win the game in the bottom of the 13th. Still others cite his trademark jump throw from deep in the hole at short as their favorite memory of the Yankee captain. Jeter never disappointed.
So, for his many fans, Jeter was in the Hall of Fame even before he retired from the game. Captain Clutch did, of course, get elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020 by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) in his first year of eligibility and did so in convincing fashion. Jeter got every BBWAA vote except one. His reaction to not getting that one vote was exactly what you might expect from the soft-spoken Yankees legend: “I look at the votes that I got. It takes a lot of votes to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Trying to get that many people to agree on something is pretty difficult to do.”
But there was an unexpected twist to the story, at least when it comes to his Hall of Fame plaque. Both Jeter and Larry Walker (who played for the Montreal Expos, the Colorado Rockies, and the St. Louis Cardinals) got elected on Jan. 21, 2020. They joined catcher Ted Simmons (who caught for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Atlanta Braves) and the late Marvin Miller, the longtime executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, in the Hall of Fame Class of 2020. Simmons and Miller were elected by the Hall’s Modern Baseball Era (Veterans) Committee on Dec. 8, 2019 during MLB’s Winter Meetings.
The induction ceremony for Jeter, Walker, Simmons, and Miller was originally set for July 26, 2020 in Cooperstown, N.Y. So far, so good. Then came a punch to the gut.
In early March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic started raging in the U.S. That led to lockdowns, travel restrictions, limits on large gatherings, stay-at-home orders, and most major events being canceled. It was awful.
With all the restrictions in mind, the Baseball Hall of Fame postponed the induction ceremony for the class of 2020 until July 25, 2021. The 2020 class would share center stage with the Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Alas, no induction ceremony in 2020 meant no bronze plaque in the Hall’s sacred Plaque Gallery for Jeter, Walker, Simmons, and Miller until the induction ceremony did take place. Face it, the plaque in the Plaque Gallery is the ultimate recognition. The plaque makes it real, permanent. It can’t be taken away. Written in stone (actually bronze). Immortality. So we wait for the 2021 induction festivities…
But COVID threw yet another curve. The Hall’s Era Committees (also known as the Veterans Committees) were unable to meet in December 2020 because of the pandemic. The Golden Days Committee and the Early Days Committee were supposed to meet in person at the end of 2020 to consider nominees from those eras for the Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Didn’t happen, couldn’t happen, so no one was chosen by those committees for the Class of 2021. Strike two, but just barely a strike. Those respective committees will meet in December 2021 to consider candidates from those eras for the Class of 2022.
Then came the BBWAA voting for eligible players on its ballot for the Hall of Fame Class of 2021. The results were announced on Jan. 26, 2021. Voting is conducted by mail-in ballot, so COVID was thrown a nasty pitch, up and in, and couldn’t get in the way of that election. However, no one on the ballot got the necessary 75 percent to qualify for election. Result: There is no Class of 2021.
Which brings us back to the Class of 2020 with Jeter, Walker, Simmons, and Miller. Those four guys are in, any way you cut it, so we proceed. Baseball Hall of Fame officials started working on a plan to hold an induction ceremony on July 25, 2021, COVID or no COVID.
This is where we pick up the story. And, when you think about it, Walker and Simmons know something about waiting. Walker, a 17-year major league veteran (1989–2005), didn’t get elected until his 10th and final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot, this despite winning three batting titles and compiling a lifetime .313 batting average. Simmons, meanwhile, waited 25 years to get to Cooperstown via the Modern Baseball Era Committee. Simmons’ major league career spanned 1968–1988. He was a lifetime .285 hitter and an eight-time All-Star.
As for Miller, he retired from his union post in 1982 and didn’t even get on a Veterans Committee ballot for Hall of Fame consideration until 2003. He was finally elected to the Hall posthumously as part of the 2020 class. Miller passed away in 2012 at age 95.
So, amid some changes and 551 days after they were elected to Cooperstown, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker will be officially inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in July, as will Simmons and Miller, whose inductions will come 595 days after they were first elected. Then, their plaques will finally go on the wall in the Plaque Gallery (whew!). That’s quite a story.
Here’s another one. Each newly elected Hall of Famer makes a journey to the Hall of Fame between his election and his formal induction. It’s called an “orientation visit.” In 2017, Hall of Famers started autographing the backing over which their plaque will be hung. Larry Walker, for example, signed during his orientation visit Feb. 25, 2020. He said he was “trembling inside” when he signed the backing: “Really, I was shaking. It didn’t seem real.” So there are some hidden treasures in the Hall that you might not know are there.
Unfortunately, the pandemic will take its toll on the cherished induction ceremony. Out of an abundance of caution, fans will not be allowed to attend. It is usually held outside on the lawn of the Clark Sports Center. Traditionally, thousands upon thousands of baseball fans make the pilgrimage to the small village of Cooperstown for the annual summer event. In 2019, more than 55,000 people came to see New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera—along with Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Lee Smith, and Harold Baines—get inducted. The crowd for the 2020 class induction was expected to eclipse the 2019 crowd, even after the one-year hiatus.
In 2021, the induction ceremony will be an indoor, totally televised event on MLB Network. The event will adhere to all the New York State COVID guidelines, according to Jane Forbes Clark, chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Plans call for having the Hall of Fame inductees in Cooperstown for the induction, Clark says.
Once again Jeter is in the middle of a big play. Perhaps when his and the others’ plaques go up in the Plaque Gallery, it will bring us all one step closer to normalcy.
What: Induction Ceremony
When: July 25, 2021
Where: Indoor, TV event only from in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Who: The Class of 2020 (Note: Nobody was voted into the Hall in 2021)
Inductees: Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker.
Al Michaels, 2021 Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting excellence
Ken Harrelson, 2020 Frick Award winner, Ken Harrelson
David Montgomery, 2020 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Posthumously; Montgomery a Philadelphia Phillies front-office icon whose career spanned parts of 50 years