Derek Jeter Delivered Yet Again on His Biggest Stage.
“I forgot how amazing it feels,” the former Yankees skipper said as he received a warm, familiar salute from the Cooperstown audience.
While the echoes last indefinitely, the genuine article — that heady sound of widespread adoration — rarely returns. Players are not rock stars; they are unable to perform decades beyond their prime, to evoke the same roars they garnered decades ago.
Thus, Derek Jeter opened his Hall of Fame speech on Wednesday by reminiscing about the rhythmic chants that were once a part of his daily existence. Je-ter, de-rek! Je-ter, de-rek! He heard it once more here, from the hills above the Clark Sports Center, just before he delivered his career valedictory address.
“I forgot how nice it feels,” Jeter added, later estimating that he had not heard such a homage in five years, since a championship team reuniting at Yankee Stadium five years ago. He is currently the Miami Marlins' chief executive officer, and supporters do not cheer for the C.E.O.
“It's awe-inspiring,” Jeter added. “It's a unique sensation, and you tend to miss it when you stop hearing it.”
Cooperstown has been anticipating this moment for years. As the “heartbeat of a Yankees dynasty,” as his Hall of Fame plaque states, Jeter was expected to draw a larger crowd to his speech than the about 80,000 who greeted Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007. Then the coronavirus intervened, causing last year's event to be canceled and this year's ceremony to be postponed until after Labor Day.
There was no procession down Main Street and no invitation-only celebrations in the plaque gallery. On Wednesday, the Hall of Fame estimated that 20,000 fans gathered to see the enshrinement of Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and Marvin Miller. Around 55,000 people attended the most recent ceremony in 2019, which honored Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, and others.
However, the rain held off on Wednesday, drenching the town only about an hour after Jeter concluded the event with his remarks. And for many Jeter devotees, such as Jon Ramos of Wyckoff, New Jersey, it was a day they would never forget.
Ramos, 40, traveled with his two sons — Matthew, 9, and Kyle, 7 — to witness his favorite player reach the sport's summit. Ramos watched Jeter's final game in 2014 and accompanied his mother to Yankee Stadium for the team's No. 2 retirement ceremony three years later.
“Coming here was the icing on the cake,” Ramos explained in a coffee shop on Wednesday morning. “He came up during my senior year of high school, and I watched him mature alongside me — the leadership, the clutchness, and simply being a role model.”
Ramos admitted that the youngsters are only familiar with Jeter as a player through online highlights. However, the captain's aura transcends decades, as he took thousands more at-bats than anybody else in Yankee history.
“They see him in the same manner that we regarded Babe Ruth when we were younger,” Ramos explained.
Jeter, like many of those who sat behind him on the stage: Ken Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson, Pedro Martinez, and Reggie Jackson, is now an inner-circle Hall of Famer. The Hall mirrored this in its gift shop prices on Tuesday, when an autographed baseball by Jeter was priced up to $899. A fan could have bundled Walker's autographed balls ($249), Ryne Sandberg's autographed balls ($229), Jack Morris' autographed balls ($199), and Simmons' autographed balls ($149) and still had money left over for a wonderful supper.
Jeter's plaque will be displayed beside Rivera's in the museum, a distinction shared by a few other former colleagues, including Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who shone on the mound for the Braves. Of course, Jeter's Yankees won the World Series twice, thus stealing a dynasty from Atlanta in the 1990s.
Jeter won five championships in all, one less than Michael Jordan — who sat behind Jeter's family on Wednesday beside Patrick Ewing — but the most in baseball during his career. Additionally, he was accompanied at the ceremony by members of those championship teams, including Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, and C.C. Sabathia. And Jeter stated that he welcomed the demands of the late George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' longtime owner.
“He would push you, he would test you, and he would occasionally publicly humiliate you, but he did it to bring out the best in me,” Jeter stated in his address. “He wanted to see if I have the qualities necessary to play for and eventually lead the Yankees. I was successful because we shared a common mentality: the only thing that counted was winning. Throughout my career, I had one goal: to win more than everyone else. Indeed, we did.”
Jeter recalled his days in West Milford, New Jersey, pretending to be Dave Winfield, who was sat just over his left shoulder on Wednesday. He recounted awe-inspiring situations early in his career — sitting next to Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, at an awards ceremony; receiving a tap on the shoulder from Hank Aaron at an All-Star Game.
“I recognized that this is more than a game,” Jeter explained. “I wanted their approval because the greatest individuals and players in this game, the Hall of Fame family, are watching. Throughout my career, I wanted to make Mrs. Robinson proud, Hank Aaron proud, and all of you who followed me proud – not of my statistics, but of how I played the game.”
The day was tinged with grief due to the death of ten Hall of Famers since the previous induction ceremony. Johnny Bench narrated a video tribute but was unable to attend because to an infection with Covid-19.
“Fortunately, he is vaccinated,” Joe Torre informed the crowd, “which should greatly assist him.”
Thirty-one Hall of Famers attended the ceremony, including Fergie Jenkins, who was previously the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer. Walker also became the first Hall of Famer to have played for the Colorado Rockies — and the first to deliver his speech wearing a SpongeBob SquarePants lapel pin that matched the clothing he wore in January 2020, when he discovered he had been elected on the tenth and final ballot.
Walker loaned the Hall of Fame the garment for his display case, but he also offered the museum one of his Gold Gloves – he had enough on hand with seven. He earned more than $100 million over the course of his career, but it was his first paycheck as an undrafted free agent from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, in 1984 that made him feel the wealthiest.
“That $1,500 in the United States was roughly two grand in Canadian currency at the time,” Walker explained, “and I felt as if I had just won the lottery.”
Donald Fehr, the former executive director of the players' union, spoke in memory of Miller, his trailblazing predecessor who died in 2012 and whose family did not come in accordance with his wishes. Miller's mother was a high school principal, according to Fehr, and Miller served as a teacher to the players, educating them about the issues and then following their lead.
“They held him in high regard and placed their whole trust in him,” Fehr explained. “He was their spokesman.”
Simmons, a standout catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers from 1968 to 1988 who was picked by a veterans committee, said he awoke Wednesday with the same feeling he had prior to Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. The Brewers lost that night to Simmons's former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, but Simmons was a hit, speaking with the authority and erudition of a tenured college professor.
Simmons, 72, concluded with a quote from the Beatles for his wife, Maryanne, whom he met in high school.
“And, ultimately, the love you receive equals the love you give,” Simmons stated. “Peace and love, my darling. Finally, we arrived.”