HOF 2020: Jeter nearly unanimous; Walker gets in

January 22nd, 2020

barely missed unanimity. barely eluded agony. What matters most is that both men are now enjoying entry into baseball’s hallowed Hall.

The subjects of two very different versions of Hall of Fame voting drama, Jeter and Walker both had their names called Tuesday night on MLB Network’s presentation of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot results. All but one of the 397 BBWAA members who cast a vote had Jeter’s name checked off in his first year of eligibility, and just enough of those writers checked Walker’s name in his 10th and final year to push him above the 75-percent threshold.

Jeter and Walker will officially be welcomed into the Hall on July 26 in Cooperstown, N.Y, when the two Modern Baseball Era Committee selections -- catcher Ted Simmons and the late players’ union head Marvin Miller -- will also be honored.

The Yankees’ decorated captain, Jeter just missed joining former teammate and 2019 inductee Mariano Rivera in receiving unanimous support -- he got 99.7 percent of the vote (second-highest all time and the highest for a position player) -- but nonetheless became 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.”

Walker, meanwhile, made it in by just six votes, appearing on 76.6 percent of ballots cast. The former Expos, Rockies and Cardinals right fielder had to sweat the process every step of the way but ultimately achieved the ecstasy of entry and is just the second Canadian-born player -- joining pitcher Ferguson Jenkins -- and the first player to have ever worn a Rockies jersey to reach the Hall. He’s also just the seventh player to get in on his final BBWAA ballot.

“I barely remember the moment, I was kind of floating on air,” Walker said of his official Hall call. “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.”

Curt Schilling, in his eighth year on the ballot, remains within striking distance of getting in as he appeared on 70% of ballots cast. He’ll have two more tries to clear the Hall hurdle. Roger Clemens (61%), Barry Bonds (60.7%) and Omar Vizquel (52.6%) were the only other players to appear on at least half of ballots cast. But Scott Rolen (from 17.2% in 2019 to 35.3% this year), Billy Wagner (from 16.7% to 31.7%), Gary Sheffield (from 13.6% to 30.5%), Todd Helton (from 16.5% to 29.2%), Andruw Jones (from 7.5% to 19.4%) all saw a double-digit jump in their vote percentages.

The 45-year-old Jeter was a mortal lock who now officially has his place among the game’s immortals. A 14-time All-Star, 1996 AL Rookie of the Year and five-time World Series winner with 3,465 career hits (sixth all-time), he left no doubt about his place in this process, and the groundbreaking unanimity achieved by Rivera last year -- as well as the ballot bottleneck cleared by 20 BBWAA inductees in the previous six rounds of voting -- opened the way for Jeter, who is now CEO of the Marlins, to possibly be the first position player to achieve absolute agreement from the writers.

“Numbuh 2,” as the late Bob Sheppard’s echoing voice referred to him in each trip to the plate at Yankee Stadium, was revered not just for his performance in pinstripes over the course of 20 seasons but also the principles he represented -- durability, leadership, consistency and character.

But the best testament to Jeter’s talent was that he essentially replicated, if not bettered, his Hall-worthy regular season numbers on the postseason stage on which he so routinely appeared. Jeter played 158 games and logged 734 plate appearances over 16 postseasons and turned in a .308/.374/.465 slash line. The magic moments -- “The Flip,” “The Dive” and “Mr. November” homer heroics -- stand out, but steadiness was the backbone of his brilliance.

“I have been blessed to play a long career and play on some great teams,” Jeter said. “I had a lot of support, and we had a lot of success, as well.”

All of the above made Jeter a certain selection Tuesday, despite his not reaching the 100-percent point.

The 53-year-old Walker? Not so much.

“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 joked on the MLB Network broadcast. “I’m the B-side.”

Walker had to maintain good humor and profound patience throughout his time on the ballot. As the 1997 National League MVP, a three-time batting champ and a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, with a .313 average and .965 OPS in 17 seasons, he had a compelling Cooperstown case. But he was knocked in many corners for the effect Coors Field had on his numbers in a decade with the Rockies from 1995-2004.

The reality is that Walker’s ballpark-adjusted 141 OPS+ ties for 68th all-time among those with at least 3,000 plate appearances, and it ranks ahead of Hall of Famers like Vladimir Guerrero (140), Reggie Jackson (139), Al Kaline (134) and Tony Gwynn (132) in right field.

It took a long time for voters to come around on Walker, but he received a dramatic surge in support in recent years. Six years ago, he appeared on only 10.2 percent of ballots cast. Just three years ago, it was 21.9 percent, then 34.1 percent in 2018. But last year, he jumped to 54.6 percent, and this year he became just the second player -- joining Ralph Kiner in 1974 -- to go from less than 60 percent one year to over 75 percent the next. He is also the first BBWAA electee to have received less than 12 percent of votes in any election during his candidacy since Bob Lemon (elected 1976), and had the highest leap in voting percentage for any player in his last year of BBWAA eligibility in 65 years (22% from 2019 to 2020).

Even Walker had his doubts this would happen. On Tuesday afternoon, he tweeted out his thanks to those who had supported his cause but guessed he was “going to come up a little short.”

“I actually truly meant that,” he said after the announcement. “I had the numbers in my head and was prepared for a no call. And then the opposite happened, and that call comes and, all of a sudden you can’t breathe.”

Now, both Walker and Jeter can breathe easy. No matter what the final voting percentages were, they are 100% headed for the Hall.

Derek Jeter: 396 votes (99.7 percent) -- 1st year on ballot

Larry Walker: 304 (76.6) -- 10th

Curt Schilling: 278 (70.0) -- 8th

Roger Clemens: 242 (61.0) -- 8th

Barry Bonds: 241 (60.7) -- 8th

Omar Vizquel: 209 (52.6) -- 3rd

Scott Rolen: 140 (35.3) -- 3rd

Billy Wagner: 126 (31.7) -- 5th

Gary Sheffield: 121 (30.5) -- 6th

Todd Helton: 116 (29.2) -- 2nd

Manny Ramírez: 112 (28.2) -- 4th

Jeff Kent: 109 (27.5) -- 7th

Andruw Jones: 77 (19.4) -- 3rd

Sammy Sosa: 55 (13.9) -- 8th

Andy Pettitte: 45 (11.3) -- 2nd

Bobby Abreu: 22 (5.5) -- 1st


(Players receiving less than 5% will drop off future ballots)

Paul Konerko: 10 (2.5) -- 1st

Jason Giambi: 6 (1.5) -- 1st

Alfonso Soriano: 6 (1.5) -- 1st

Eric Chávez: 2 (0.5) -- 1st

Cliff Lee: 2 (0.5) -- 1st

Adam Dunn: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

Brad Penny: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

Raúl Ibañez: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

J.J. Putz: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

Josh Beckett: 0 -- 1st

Heath Bell: 0 -- 1st

Chone Figgins: 0 -- 1st

Rafael Furcal: 0 -- 1st

Carlos Peña: 0 -- 1st

Brian Roberts: 0 -- 1st

José Valverde: 0 -- 1st