The Hall of Fame formally welcomed two dominant turn-of-the-millennium hitters, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker, to its ranks Wednesday during a news conference in Manhattan.
Jeter and Walker donned their official Hall of Fame jerseys and caps, presented to them by Hall president Tim Mead and chairman Jane Forbes Clark.
“This is way better than the Spongebob shirt I wore yesterday,” Walker quipped about the jersey.
“No, it’s not,” Jeter jokingly replied.
Though their paths leading up to this moment could hardly be more different -- Jeter was a shoo-in from the day he hung up his spikes, while Walker sweated out 10 election cycles before getting elected in his final year of eligibility -- both players spoke to the enormity of becoming the 263rd and 264th players to be honored in Cooperstown.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Jeter. “I told everyone, throughout not only the course of my career, but over the last five years up until yesterday, that I didn’t want to talk about [the Hall of Fame], because I didn’t want to jinx any opportunities that I may have had. When you’re in it, I just never necessarily viewed myself that way. It was always, ‘What’s next, and how can we win?’
“To have the opportunity now to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I just don’t know what to say.”
Jeter, the 57th first-ballot Hall of Famer, missed unanimous election by just a single vote. But his 99.7% share still set a record for a position player, and it ranks as the second-highest percentage across more than eight decades of Baseball Writers’ Association of America elections.
“It’s an emotional time, a time of reflection,” said Jeter. “A lot of hard work and a lot of years have gone into this. It’s the highest honor.”
Walker was just the seventh player to gain election in his final year of eligibility. His selection marked a big day for the Rockies franchise, as Walker is the first Hall of Famer to wear a Rockies jersey for even one game over the course of his career. In edging over the 75% threshold for election by just six votes, Walker broke the stigma of inflated offense at Denver’s Coors Field for the second time in his baseball life, following his historic National League MVP Award-winning season in 1997.
Walker said the decision regarding the cap he’ll be shown wearing on his Hall of Fame plaque came down to the Expos, his original team, and his ultimate choice, the Rockies -- the team with whom he became synonymous. He described the phone call he got from BBWAA president Jack O’Connell as “one of the biggest calls” of his life.
“It wasn’t quite as obvious [as Derek] that I was going to have Jack calling me,” said Walker, whose vote total sat as low as 10.2% during his time on the ballot. “When I went to bed last night, I’d never realized how mentally tired I was, but I couldn’t sleep because everything was still spinning around with the happiness involved.
“I apologize to everyone that’s been messaging me,” Walker added. “I have over 300 messages on my phone and my voicemail is full -- and I want to get back to every one of you -- but it’s been great to hear all the appreciation from family and friends. It’s been overwhelming.”
Like Jeter, Walker maintained a sense of tunnel vision during his playing days, putting off Hall of Fame dreams until this day, when his place in Cooperstown was secure.
“You don’t play your career to think that this is going to happen,” said Walker. “You go out there and bust your butt and you battle with your teammates. The winning is the most important thing that you strive for throughout your career. Then when it’s over, I think you reflect on it and you hope that something like this can happen -- but it’s such a small minimal number of people that get to have this honor.
“It still doesn’t make sense that there’s Hall of Fame everywhere on me right now,” Walker added. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”
Jeter and Walker will be honored alongside Modern Baseball Era committee selections Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller on the induction stage July 26 in Cooperstown. Jeter’s presence alone is expected to break the current record of 82,000 who saw Tony Gywnn and Cal Ripken Jr. inducted in 2007, and Walker is also sure to draw both Canadian baseball fans -- as the nation’s second Hall of Famer, following Ferguson Jenkins -- and Rockies fans eager to celebrate the franchise’s first inductee.