The idyllic village of Cooperstown, N.Y., didn’t see the pomp and circumstance of a Hall of Fame induction ceremony this summer for the first time in nearly six decades due to health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t stop the Class of 2020 from getting together to share some of their favorite memories from the diamond.
New inductees Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker were each spotlighted in hour-long virtual programs last week via the Hall of Fame and Museum’s Facebook and YouTube social media platforms. The programs featured the living Hall of Famers and special guests as the inductees reflected on their careers and their feelings about receiving baseball’s greatest honor.
Here’s a brief rundown of each of the discussions, along with links to the full broadcasts.
Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Joe Torre helped lead the Yankees to one of the franchise's most accomplished runs -- no small feat, considering the team’s incredible history. The three Hall of Famers came together to share their memories of that late 1990s/early 2000s dynasty and the moments that were the foundation of all that success. Jeter and Rivera played together at several levels as they rose up through the Yankees’ farm system in the early 1990s, and Rivera said he could already tell there was something special about the club’s then-relatively unknown shortstop prospect.
“In 1992, I saw Derek playing shortstop and I was amazed at the things I was seeing him do,” said Rivera. “You knew that he had a lot of desire to play the game and had a love for the game.”
Jeter was told he would be the Yankees’ starting shortstop for the 1996 season, but he said he viewed that statement more as “an opportunity” to win the job in Spring Training. The future superstar struggled in camp, particularly on defense, but got the starting nod when the late Tony Fernández, the incumbent shortstop from 1995, fractured his elbow. Even as Jeter struggled on the diamond, Torre said he was impressed with the character Jeter showed.
“Derek didn’t have a very good spring,” said Torre. “And I think he was probably thinking about it a lot when he was out there. But the one thing about him is that he came to the ballpark every day and he was the same guy. I like to watch people, and I really don’t put a lot of stock in numbers in Spring Training. I just watched him, and he went about his business, worked hard. At the end of camp, there was talk about sending him down to the Minors. They asked my opinion, and I said, ‘It’s too late now. Let’s start the season, and if he keeps struggling we can always send him down later.’”
Jeter obviously stuck. He homered against the Indians on Opening Day, finished the 1996 season with a .314 average, was the unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year … and the rest was history. Full discussion >
Hall of Famers Simmons, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, three key members of the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” 1982 AL champion Brewers, came together to reminisce on Milwaukee’s run to the pennant that year and their respective journeys to baseball immortality.
“I was looking at a ballclub that was structurally put together very well and sound,” Simmons said of the famous seven-player trade that transferred him from the Cardinals to the Brewers in the winter of 1980. “Knowing I was wanted by this club and that they needed an everyday catcher, and knowing also that [pitchers] Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich were coming over in that deal, it was easy for me to say yes. My whole life changed around when I got over there.”
Already a star from his time in St. Louis, Simmons garnered another large swath of fans in Milwaukee as he made two All-Star teams across five seasons with the Crew. The Brewers tied a then-franchise record with 95 wins in 1982, and manager Harvey Kuenn’s club came within just one game of capturing the franchise’s first World Series title.
“We had seen other teams make acquisitions for stretch runs,” said Molitor. “And we had never been one of those teams until we brought those guys over -- including Teddy. It was a tremendous lift for players in that clubhouse to see what management had accomplished and the talent we were acquiring. I couldn’t have been more excited. Having Ted Simmons as a teammate was invaluable to me.” Full discussion >
The second Canadian-born Hall of Famer was joined by the nation’s first inductee, legendary pitcher Fergie Jenkins (class of 1991). The two legends discussed what it was like to play baseball as they grew up in the Great White North.
“It was constantly hockey, hockey, hockey for me growing up,” said Walker, who didn’t gravitate toward baseball until he was a teenager. “My last season trying out for the WHL Regina Pats, I was a goaltender. I ended up being a third-string goaltender, and they wanted to send me to a lower-level team. I don’t know the reason to this day, but I said, ‘This isn’t for me.’ I hung up the pads, and never played another hockey game after that.
“In 1984, I got asked to try out for Team Canada [in baseball],” Walker continued. “Some people liked what they saw. A couple teams were interested -- the Expos being the most. They offered me $1,500 U.S. -- which was about $2,000 Canadian at the time -- and that was a ton of money. I decided to take a chance, signed the contract and drove from Vancouver to Florida to try to play ball.” Full discussion >
Next summer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, scheduled for July 25, 2021, will honor both the Classes of 2020 and ’21 (voted on this winter). The Hall of Fame has more virtual events scheduled over the rest of this summer, and you can begin planning your trip to Cooperstown for next year’s unique ceremony via the museum’s website.