NY Sports Day
Andy Esposito

Esposito: Hall Journey Starts for DJ and the Rockie

Andy Esposito/NYSD

It was Meet the Press Day for the two newest electees to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, as Derek Jeter and Larry Walker were newly outfitted with their HOF caps and jerseys.

“How’s it look?,” cracked Jeter to break the ice on the press conference, held at a midtown hotel in Manhattan.

Walker joked it was a better look than he had less than 24 hours earlier, when he actually took the call that he had made the 75% cut wearing a Sponge Bob Square Pants shirt like something out of a NASCAR pit crew.

Always quick with a quip, Jeter shot back, “No, it’s not.”

It was smiles and remembrances all around as the platitudes were exchanged to the new HOF members numbers 234 and 235 – as major league players. There will soon be a total of 333 plaques on the wall in that quaint little village upstate, as there are also 35 Negro League players, 31 executives, 22 managers, and 10 umpires.

Jeter, 45, becomes the 57th player to be elected in his first year of eligibility, and the 21st player to have played most of his career as a Yankee, ninth to have played their entire career as a Yankee. This now edges the Giants as the franchise with the most players in the Hall. They had been tied.

Much already has been written and bandied about on social media as to the identity of the lone dissenter who chose not to vote for Jeter. There were 397 ballots submitted, and Jeter was named on 396 for a 99.7% return. It had been predicted that Jeter would join last year’s inductee Mariano Rivera as another unanimous electee, but that one rotten apple spoiled the basket.

Really now, as that voter is likely hiding away somewhere for fear of reprisal, as is their right, but it is hoped that whomever he, or she, is, can someday come forward and explain in detail why they thought Jeter’s lengthy list of accomplishments – he has so many factoids it might take two plaques to list them all – was not worthy to check mark their ballot.

However, let is also be known that 407 ballots were mailed to the qualifying members of the BBWAA (you have to be a member for ten years before being entrusted with the honor), and only 397 were returned. That means there were ten voters, for whatever reason, who chose to abstain entirely.

There are a variety of reasons why this may have occurred, although this is not like “the dog ate my homework” excuse. The writer may have missed the mailing deadline, was ill, was protesting something, couldn’t make up their mind, or has been suggested, may not have wanted to vote for Jeter and did not want to spoil the unanimous prediction. So that 99.7% comes with a bit of a taint. And that’s a shame. Jeter deserves 100%.

Jeter and Walker will join their two other newbies, former catcher Ted Simmons, and labor lawyer Marvin Miller – voted in from this past December’s Veteran’s Committee – in ceremonies in Cooperstown on July 26.

Walker, 53, who went in with 76.6% of the vote (75% is needed for election) and Canadian born and bred (Maple Ridge, British Columbia), made it known at the press conference that his choice for a plaque cap was a decision that had him torn. While it is officially the Hall’s decision, he made it known to them that he would prefer to go in as a Rockie. His spent the first six years of his career as a Montreal Expo, but went to Colorado as a free agent in 1995, and enjoyed the mile-high air there for the next nine and a half seasons. He finished his career as a St. Louis Cardinal in ‘04 and ‘05.

His would be the first plaque with the CR logo of the Rockies in Cooperstown. Normally, writers discount stats from Colorado and their altitude being a hitter’s atmosphere, but they finally recognized – in his tenth and last year of eligibility, that the five-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glover, and NL MVP of the 1997 season would likely have shined through in any ballpark and for any team.

“It still doesn’t make sense that there’s “Hall of Fame” all over me,” said a grateful Walker. “But it doesn’t get any better than this.”

In Canada, they learn hockey before they can walk, and Walker was no exception. He came to baseball late, and really learned the game in the minor leagues on his way to the bigs.

“I’ve talked about how I didn’t know the rules,” Walker lamented. “First time I’m on first, and the batter hits one deep, I’m almost on third when it gets caught, and the coach is yelling, ‘Get back to first.’ I cut across the infield. I didn’t know I had to go back to touch second.”

But he did remember one rule throughout his 17-years in the majors. “See the ball. Hit the ball. That’s what they taught me and that’s what I did for the rest of my career.”

Accompanied by his lovely wife, former Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Hannah Davis, Jeter was finally willing to talk about being a Hall of Famer. For the past five years, he had eschewed any discussion.

“It doesn’t get any better than this. There’s no more awards, no other place to go. This is it. This is as good as it gets. This is something that’s not a part of the dream when you play. When you play, you’re just trying to keep your job. (And) you’re trying to compete and win.”

When asked what he was most proud of, it was, of course, winning five rings and playing in New York.

“I’m most proud I was a Yankee. It’s all I ever wanted to to do, ever since I could remember, was play shortstop for the New York Yankees (and) I had an opportunity to do that for a long time.”

With his parents babysitting his and Hannah’s two young daughters, Story and Bella, back in Florida, Jeter was asked about the lack of success he’s been having as the CEO of the Marlins, and that triggered a humorous slip of the tongue.

“It’s been a lot of fun, losing,” said Jeter, offering up a chuckle as he realized what he was saying. “The bottom line is if you are competing, you are competing to win. We’ve taken on quite a challenge in Miami. But we look at it as being a huge opportunity, and we believe in the fan base in Miami. We believe in the organization that we are building and we understand it’s going to take some time, getting the right people in place. I’ve said it before. I preach patience, even though I have none.”

Perhaps he has been learning a little patience as a father.

“Being a dad is the best feeling you can possibly have. It’s the greatest thing to have happened to me.”

Well, Derek, baseball fans might lean on something that will occur in Cooperstown on July 26 as the greatest thing, but you’re right, being a Dad is a wonderful thing.

It’s already been established that’s Jeter’s plaque will hang alongside his fellow teammate and good friend, Mariano Rivera. When told of that tidbit, Jeter beamed. “Is that accurate. That’s awesome.”

There are now 82 members of the Hall of Fame still living – with Tommy Lasorda now the oldest at 92, and usually, a good portion of them show up for Induction Weekend, which is filled with events, and opportunities to rub shoulders with the Hall of Famers and other baseball celebrities. If you’re planning to go, do so soon. It’s going to be “awesome.”

TRAVEL NOTE:

With Larry Walker being inducted as well, there will also be a large contingent of fans hailing form Colorado and North of the border for the big weekend, but for those who might want to visit Coors Field in Denver at some point and see a Rockies game, there’s a noteworthy baseball site nearby worth visiting.

This fan had the occasion to visit Denver a few months back, and just a half block from Coors Field is an interesting baseball museum, The National BallPark Museum, that I highly recommend.

Coors Field has a few limited showcases of Rockies memorabilia (the first Rockies game ever was against the Mets in Shea Stadium, ironically), but this National Ballpark Museum houses a fascinating collection of memorabilia, mostly related to all of the ancient ballparks such as Ebbets Field, Crosley Field, Shibe Park, Forbes Field, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, and the Polo Grounds.

Displayed prominently are such items as seats, signage, tickets, pennants, balls, and uniforms from all of the hallowed arenas, light fixtures from Ebbets Field, arched windows from Forbes Field, a turnstile from the original Yankee Stadium, an usher’s uniform from Crosley Field, a section of the Green Monster, of course, Rockies memorabilia and items from the history of the Denver Bears, their long-ago minor league affiliate, plus jerseys, autographed bats and balls, and other items you would see in a baseball museum. It’s a Western mini-Cooperstown that offers a fun tour in a relatively compact space.

For more info, see their website: www.ballparkmuseum.com, or call 1 303-974-5835.


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