NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 04: Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees holds up the trophy as he celebrates … [+]
Former Yankees captain Derek Jeter was elected to the Hall of Fame Tuesday evening, falling one vote short of becoming the second-ever unanimous selection and the second in two years after ex-teammate Mariano Rivera made a clean sweep of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots in 2019.
Although Jeter was a lock in his first time on the BBWAA ballot, the 14-time All-Star shortstop said he spent the day unsure of what to expect.
“First of all, everyone told me it was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t buy it, so it was not a relaxing day. There was a lot of anxiety,” he said on a conference call shortly after the announcement was made. “I was nervous, sitting around waiting around for a phone call for something that is completely out of your control. 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 and it’s a very humbling experience, and to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame is truly a dream come true.”
This reaction may seem pretty far-fetched, since Jeter was destined for Cooperstown long before he became eligible, something even the most casual fan was well aware of. 3,465 regular season hits. A .308/.374/.465 slash line in 158 postseason games, including a Major League-best 200 hits… You get the picture.
The thing is, Jeter’s always been this way. He never wanted to look ahead to the next series, and often refused to talk about the next day’s scheduled pitcher until the game in front of him was in the books. He was known for giving cliché responses at times, frustrating reporters looking for some deeper insight from the face of the franchise.
But I’m going to give the five-time World Series champion the benefit of the doubt on this one, because at the end of the day Jeter did not make a habit of taking things for granted.
Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees poses for this photograph prior to a game circa 1992. (Photo … [+]
Drafted sixth overall by New York in 1992, the fresh-faced 17-year-old received a $700,000 signing bonus and a ticket to the Gulf Coast League where he struggled mightily out of the gate. Jeter split his first pro season between Rookie ball and Class A Greensboro, combining for 23 errors in 58 games and slashing a paltry .210/.311/.314.
These initial results had the future Rookie of the Year questioning himself early on, and helped shape a mindset that stuck throughout a 20-year big league career.
“Man, that first summer I was in Tampa in 1992 I was trying to make it to 1993. I’m being honest with you,” he recalled. “I remember staying at the Bay Harbor Inn and being out on the balcony crying at night because I thought I was completely over — well I was, I didn’t think — I was completely overmatched and thought I had made a mistake signing a professional contract.”
The skills that convinced the Yankees to use such a high pick on Jeter began to resurface the following spring, thanks to a blue-chip clause in his first professional contract.
“I was fortunate. I went to Major League spring training my first spring training just because it was in my contract, not that I deserved it, and it was only for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I think for me getting an opportunity to see what a Major League player looks like and how they carried themselves and how they work, I think that’s what flipped it for me. And then I had an opportunity to go take classes at the University of Michigan in the offseason and I got a little bit more acclimated to being away from home, so I think the combination of those two.”
As his career progressed, Jeter found himself surrounded by current and future Hall of Famers within the Yankees organization, including Mr. October. Even so, he avoided comparisons or talk about the Kalamazoo kid one day sharing space in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
“I tried to stay away from that conversation. Funny story is, you know, I had a great relationship and still do with Reggie Jackson and Reggie used to constantly remind me when he came to the park,” Jeter recalled. “He’d always tell me, you’re not a Hall of Famer yet, because we’d go back and forth and joke with each other. So that’s really the only conversations that I’ve had with the former players in the Yankee ogranization about that, but I’m big on trying not to jinx things and I basically shy away from those conversations.”
There’s not much left to jinx at this point, as Mr. November will join Reggie and the others as a resident of the sport’s most famous building this summer. Well, except maybe his speech.
COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK – JULY 21: Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter attends the Baseball Hall of … [+]
“I don’t know what to expect… I don’t know if you can necessarily prepare yourself for that situation, so just like the phone call that I got today, I didn’t know what to expect,” Jeter said, when asked to visualize himself standing at the podium, seeing his family in the audience. “I didn’t know how I would feel. I didn’t know how I would react. I think the same goes for when we get to Cooperstown in the summer, so I will spend a lot of time thanking my family, thanking my friends, thanking my support group, but I really don’t know what it’s going to feel like but I’m pretty sure it’s going to feel special.”
For a player who often sounded rehearsed, Jeter seemed genuinely humbled and even emotional at times on Tuesday. Let’s hope that carries over to the lawn of The Clark Sports Center come July.