COOOPERSTOWN, NY – The echoes last forever, but the real deal – that dizzying sound of mass admiration – rarely returns. Players are not rock stars; they can’t give performances decades past their prime, can’t evoke the same roar over and over that they deserved long ago.
For example, Derek Jeter kicked off his Hall of Fame address on Wednesday with a remark about the rhythmic chants that were once part of his daily life. De-rack Jeter! De-rack Jeter! He heard it again here, from the hills behind the Clark Sports Center, before his retirement from his career.
“I’d forgotten how good that feels,” Jeter said, later guessing he hadn’t heard such a tribute in five years since a championship team reunion at Yankee Stadium. He is now the chief executive of the Miami Marlins and fans are not cheering for the CEO
“It’s humble,” Jeter said. “It’s a special feeling, and you tend to miss it when you don’t hear it anymore.”
Cooperstown had eagerly awaited this day for years. As the “heartbeat of a Yankees dynasty,” as his Hall of Fame plaque reads, Jeter was expected to draw more attendees to his speech than the record of roughly 80,000 that Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. greeted in 2007. Then the coronavirus stepped in, canceling last year’s ceremony and postponing this year’s until after Labor Day.
There was no parade down Main Street, no exclusive parties in the plaque gallery. The Hall of Fame estimated that 20,000 fans gathered on Wednesday to see Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller anchored. About 55,000 showed up at the final ceremony, ahead of Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay and others in 2019.
But the rain held off on Wednesday, leaving the village drenched for only an hour or so after Jeter’s speech concluded the ceremony. And for many Jeter loyalists, like Jon Ramos of Wyckoff, NJ, it was a day they just wouldn’t miss.
Ramos, 40, brought his sons – Matthew, 9 and Kyle, 7 – to watch his favorite player reach the pinnacle of the sport. Ramos attended Jeter’s last game, in 2014, and brought his mother to Yankee Stadium three years later, when the No. 2 team retired.
“This was the final touch to come here,” Ramos said in a coffee shop Wednesday morning. “He came out when I was in high school, and I watched him grow up as I grew up — the leadership, the tenacity, and also just being a role model.”
The boys, Ramos admitted, only know Jeter as a player through online highlights. But the look of the captain, the man who made thousands more at bats than anyone in Yankee history, is passed down through generations.
“They look at him the way we looked at Babe Ruth when we were younger,” Ramos said.
Jeter is indeed an inner circle Hall of Famer now, as are many of those who sat behind him on the podium: Ken Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson, Pedro Martinez, Reggie Jackson. The Hall reflected this in gift shop prices on Tuesday, when a Jeter autographed baseball was flagged for $899. A fan could have bundled autographed balls from Walker ($249), Ryne Sandberg ($229), Jack Morris ($199 ) and Simmons ($149) and still had the budget for a nice dinner.
In the gallery, Jeter’s plaque will stand side by side with Rivera’s, a fitting quirk shared by a few other former teammates, including Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who dazzled on the mound for the Braves. Of course, Jeter’s Yankees defeated those teams twice in the World Series, effectively wiping out a dynasty from Atlanta in the 1990s.
Jeter won a total of five championships, one less than Michael Jordan — who sat behind Jeter’s family with Patrick Ewing on Wednesday — but the most in baseball during his career. He was also joined during the event by friends from those title teams such as Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada and CC Sabathia. And Jeter said he welcomed the demands of longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010.
“He would push you, he would challenge you, and sometimes he would embarrass you publicly, but he did it to bring out the best in me,” Jeter said in his speech. “He wanted to know if I had what it took to play for the Yankees and eventually take the lead. I was able to succeed because we had a shared mentality: all that mattered was winning. I had one goal during my career, and that was winning more than everyone else. We did.”
Jeter spoke of his days in his grandmother’s backyard, in West Milford, NJ, pretending to be Dave Winfield, who was sitting just over his left shoulder on Wednesday. He recalled awe-inspiring moments early in his career – sitting next to Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, at an awards ceremony; getting a tap on the shoulder from Hank Aaron at an All-Star Game.
“I realized it’s more than a game,” Jeter said. “The best people and players in this game, the Hall of Fame family, are watching them, so I wanted their approval. Throughout my career I wanted to make Mrs. Robinson proud, I wanted to make Hank Aaron proud, I wanted to make you all proud behind me – not on stats, but proud on how I played the game.”
The day was tinged with sadness as 10 Hall of Famers have passed away since the last induction ceremony. Johnny Bench shared a video tribute but was unable to attend because he contracted Covid-19.
“Luckily he’s been vaccinated,” Joe Torre told the crowd, “which should help him tremendously.”
Thirty-one Hall of Famers showed up for the ceremony, including Fergie Jenkins, the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer until Walker joined him. Walker also became the first Hall of Famer to play for the Colorado Rockies — and the first to wear a SpongeBob SquarePants lapel pin for his speech, matching the shirt he wore in January 2020, when he learned he had it on the 10th. passed and final vote.
Walker lent that shirt to the Hall of Fame for its display case, but he gave the museum one of its gold gloves—with seven, he had plenty left. He made over $100 million in his career, but his first paycheck, as an undrafted free agent from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, in 1984, made him feel like he was the wealthiest.
“That $1,500 US was about two grand Canadian at the time,” Walker said, “and I felt like I just won the lottery.”
Donald Fehr, the former players’ union director, spoke on behalf of Miller, his pioneering predecessor, who died in 2012 and whose family was not present, respecting his wishes. Miller’s mother was a high school principal, Fehr said, and Miller was like a teacher to the players, teaching them about the problems and following their lead.
“They greatly respected him and trusted him completely,” Fehr said. “He was their man.”
Simmons, a star catcher from 1968 to 1988 who was chosen by a veterans committee, said he woke up Wednesday with the same feeling he had for Game 7 of the 1982 World Series for Milwaukee. The Brewers lost that night to Simmons’ first team, the St. Louis Cardinals, but Simmons was a hit this time, speaking with the delivery and erudition of a regular college professor.
Simmons, 72, closed with words from the Beatles to his wife and high school sweetheart, Maryanne.
“And in the end, the love you take equals the love you make,” Simmons said. “Peace and love, sweetheart. We are finally there.”