NEW YORK -- It was a telephone call that all of baseball expected, and still Derek Jeter said that he sensed his nerves spike. Over two decades of big league success, the former Yankees shortstop cemented a reputation for shining when the stakes were at their highest, but this situation resided completely out of his control.
Five years after Jeter walked off a winner in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat, concluding a storybook run representing the franchise for which he cheered as a boy, The Captain claimed his well-deserved place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. As expected, Jeter sailed into the hallowed Cooperstown museum, notching the highest vote percentage ever credited to a position player.
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“Everyone told me it was a foregone conclusion. I didn't buy it,” Jeter said. “It was not a relaxing day; there was a lot of anxiety. And once you get the phone call, I don't even know if I said anything for a while, because it is the ultimate honor. It's a very humbling experience, to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's truly a dream come true.”
The box next to Jeter’s name was checked on 396 of the 397 ballots (99.7 percent) cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, easily surpassing the 75 percent required for induction. Jeter finished one vote shy of matching longtime teammate Mariano Rivera’s feat of unanimous election.
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It is not immediately known which voter opted not to cast a ballot for Jeter, whose percentage edged Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3 percent) for the highest by a position player. Jeter said that he “couldn’t care less” about the snub.
“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.”
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For the second consecutive year, the Induction Weekend ceremonies in New York’s bucolic Otsego County -- scheduled for July 24-27 -- will have a strong Yankees flavor, with the crowd expected to feature thousands of fanatic witnesses for whom No. 2 is the unquestioned No. 1.
“It’s going to be a very special day, standing next to Derek in Cooperstown this summer,” Rivera said. “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.”
Former Expos, Rockies and Cardinals right fielder Larry Walker (76.6 percent) was the only other player elected by the BBWAA on Tuesday, while catcher Ted Simmons and former MLB Players Association director Marvin Miller were both elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.
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With the interlocking “NY” logo certain to reside atop Jeter’s bronze plaque, he will be the 21st member of the Hall to sport a Yankees logo, and the 57th player, manager or executive to reach Cooperstown after spending part or all of his professional career with the Yankees.
“Every accolade that has been bestowed on Derek throughout his career has been earned and deserved,” said Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. “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.”
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Jeter is one of just nine Hall inductees to play his entire career in pinstripes, joining Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe 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.’”
In recent years, Jeter’s allegiance has shifted from The Bronx to South Beach, with his post-retirement involvement as the chief executive officer of the Marlins. The ballot invited voters to revisit Jeter’s playing career, which featured five World Series championships, seven American League pennants, 14 All-Star selections, five Gold Glove Awards at shortstop and 3,465 regular-season hits, sixth all-time.
“Derek respected the game, the fans, his teammates and his opponents,” said Joe Torre, who managed Jeter’s first dozen full big league seasons. “His character, determination and confidence are a wonderful reflection of how he was raised by his parents. It was a true privilege to watch Derek and to be his manager for 12 years. To this day, he still calls me ‘Mr. Torre.’ Today, it is a pleasure to say, ‘Welcome to the Hall, Mr. Jeter!’ You did it with class and grace.”
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A career .310/.377/.440 hitter, Jeter collected 544 doubles, 260 homers, 1,923 runs, 1,311 RBIs and 358 steals in the regular season, logging 72.4 career WAR (per Baseball-Reference). Jeter played the equivalent of a full Major League season in the postseason, batting .308/.374/.465 with 200 hits in 158 career playoff games.
“It’s the same game, whether it's Spring Training or it's Game 7 of the World Series,” Jeter said. “It's still baseball. A lot of times, I think the moment gets pretty big for people, but I prided myself on being prepared. I felt as though when I was in those situations, I was prepared. Therefore, it was just the same game and the game slowed down.”
Jeter is the 24th Hall of Famer to play at least 500 games at shortstop, his hit total surpassing the likes of Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). Unlike that celebrated trio, Jeter never played any other position in the Majors, residing in the middle of the diamond for all 2,674 games in the field.
“I loved turning around and seeing No. 2 out there at shortstop playing behind me,” said former pitcher Andy Pettitte. “A couple of things separated [Jeter] from all the other players I played with, and I played with a lot of great, great players. … You were the one player that I played with that never gave away an at-bat. It’s why you’re going where you’re going. I’m proud of you.”
In addition to his instantly recognizable highlight-reel moments -- his leadoff homer in Game 4 of the 2000 World Series, the 2001 Flip Play against the Athletics, a bloody 2004 dive into the seats against the Red Sox, a homer for his 3,000th hit in 2011 -- Jeter was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, and both the All-Star Game MVP and the World Series MVP in 2000.
“Derek has done everything that a baseball player should do,” said former catcher Jorge Posada. “He played the game the right way. He played the game to win. He played the game with no excuses. I saw it from day one -- I thought he would be a Hall of Famer.”
Jeter served as the Yankees’ captain from June 2003 through his retirement at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign, remarkably playing all but one contest with his club in postseason contention. The outlier came in Jeter’s final game in pinstripes, when he slashed a trademark inside-out single to right field that lifted the Yankees to a walk-off victory.
“That's the one thing that I always wanted to be remembered as -- to be remembered as a Yankee,” Jeter said.