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Jeter's introduction to HOF 'as good as it gets'

@BryanHoch
January 22, 2020

NEW YORK -- As Derek Jeter slipped a cream-colored jersey bearing the script of the National Baseball Hall of Fame over his shoulders on Wednesday afternoon, providing photographic proof of the former Yankees captain’s inclusion in the Class of 2020, it served as the crowning achievement of a career that

NEW YORK -- As Derek Jeter slipped a cream-colored jersey bearing the script of the National Baseball Hall of Fame over his shoulders on Wednesday afternoon, providing photographic proof of the former Yankees captain’s inclusion in the Class of 2020, it served as the crowning achievement of a career that has already been stocked with the highest accolades.

That seemed evident to all in the packed 20th-floor ballroom of New York’s St. Regis Hotel, save for one. Less than 24 hours after learning of his near-unanimous Hall selection, notching the highest vote percentage (99.7 percent) ever credited to a position player, Jeter struck many of the same measured notes that aided his two decades representing the sport’s most decorated franchise.

“I never took this for granted,” Jeter said. “I understand that these are the best players that ever played the game, and when you’re in it, I never necessarily sat down and viewed myself that way. It was always, ‘What’s next, what’s next, what’s next? How can we win, and then how can we win some more?’”

Now, Jeter has a roster spot on baseball’s most celebrated team, one with no more games to play.

Jeter was feted on Wednesday with Larry Walker, another dominant turn-of-the millennium performer who appeared on 76.6 percent of ballots cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The duo will be honored alongside Modern Baseball Era Committee selections Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller on July 26 in Cooperstown.

“This is an individual honor, but I’m sharing it with all of the people who have helped me along the way,” Jeter said. “This is special all on its own. It doesn’t get any better than this. There are no more awards, no other place you can go. This is it. This is as good as it gets.”

From the first days of Spring Training, Jeter’s focus was always on being the last team standing, and his legacy is cemented by the years in which he was successful. At the heart of five World Series championships, plus another two Fall Classic appearances, Jeter played the equivalent of another full season in October and November. The only home game in which Jeter’s club was out of postseason contention was his final contest in the Bronx, which he won with a walk-off single.

For the second consecutive year, the Hall will be graced by a first-ballot entrant who played his entire career in Yankees pinstripes, following the 2019 induction of all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera. As confirmed by Hall of Fame president Tim Mead, a fortunate quirk of the museum’s gallery layout will place Jeter’s plaque next to Rivera’s, linking the teammates for all time.

“It’s awesome,” Jeter said. “He's arguably the greatest relief pitcher in the game. It's always up for debate, right? But he's a guy that we wouldn't have all these championships if it wasn't for him. Because he was basically automatic, so it's an honor for me to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't care where they put me. It could be in the restroom.”

Though Jeter finished one vote shy of matching Rivera’s ballot tally of 100 percent, Jeter said that he was unconcerned with the snub, preferring to focus instead on the 396 votes he received. The identity of the dissenting voter is yet unknown. Jeter’s percentage edged Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3 percent) for the highest by a position player.

“I'm a little bit different. I focus on the ones that did,” Jeter said. “It takes a lot of people to all agree to get you to this point, so I'm not thinking about that. I'm happy to sit up here on this stage right now, and that's something that just doesn't cross my mind.”

A 14-time All-Star who received five Gold Glove Awards at shortstop and notched 3,465 regular-season hits, sixth all time, Jeter is one of nine Hall of Famers to play his entire career for the Yankees. That select group also includes Earle Combs, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Rivera.

“When we drafted Derek Jeter with the sixth pick in the 1992 Draft, he had obvious physical talent,” said general manager Brian Cashman, who attended Wednesday’s press conference. “However, what truly set him apart and put him on the path to Cooperstown was his burning desire to win and a personal drive to be the very best player he could be. From the outset, he played the game the right way, and his confidence was contagious.”

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 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference). 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).

”A Derek Jeter comes along once in a generation,” former manager Joe Torre said. “By August of 1996, his teammates started looking for him to set the tone and make things happen. Derek was comfortable in his own skin. On the biggest stage in sports, he was never afraid to fail and always kept the game fun.”

In addition to Jeter's 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 -- he was the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year and both the All-Star Game MVP and the World Series MVP in 2000.

“The only thing I ever wanted to do, as long as I could remember, was to play shortstop for the New York Yankees,” Jeter said. “I had an opportunity to do that, and an opportunity to do it for a long time. And when it's all said and done, that's what I'm most proud of.”

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.