John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As the undisputed greatest closer in baseball history, Mariano Rivera will always be the perfect player to have achieved the first-ever unanimous Hall of Fame election. Yet it's too bad that Derek Jeter didn't get that same treatment from the voters because he was every bit as deserving.
It's called the Hall of Fame for a reason, right?
And who is both as famous and accomplished as Jeter?
On-field excellence is obviously the most important criteria, and Jeter's 3,465 hits, the most by any shortstop in baseball history, leave no doubt he qualifies on that count, even if you want to knock him for his defense.
Yet the Hall of Fame is also about recognizing a player's impact on the sport, and this is where Jeter rises to the level of the immortals. In becoming an iconic Yankee he won five championships, in no small part due to his clutch hitting in October, and carried himself in a way that made him revered beyond New York, spawning a generation of players who wore No. 2 in his honor.
Whether it was Troy Tulowitzki growing up in California or even Xander Bogaerts in Curacao, young baseball players everywhere wore No. 2 in honor of Jeter.
"I just loved everything about the way he played the game, always hustling, never showing anyone up," Tulowitzki once told me. "I wore his number out of respect, because I wanted to play like he did. And I know I'm not the only one."
Even now, with Jeter in a different phase of his life as owner of the Marlins, that No. 2 evokes an instant image in baseball circles.
As Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson told ESPN in 2017, when the Yankees retired Jeter's number, "Whenever you see a No. 2, you think of Jeter. Just like when you see a No. 23, you think of Michael Jordan, or 42, Jackie Robinson. There are certain numbers that just ring with certain people."
That's impact, to be sure. So while getting into the Cooperstown is what matters most, it was still discouraging on Tuesday to see that the Baseball Writers Association of America failed to do the right thing and make Jeter unanimous -- even if it was only by one vote -- especially after the Rivera breakthrough a year ago.
For far too long it had been absurd that no player had ever been voted in unanimously. Over the years at least a few self-important writers were always seemingly convinced that if Babe Ruth, who garnered only 95.1 percent of the vote when he was elected in the Hall's inaugural class of 1936, wasn't worthy, then nobody should get such an honor.
For years Tom Seaver had come the closest, getting 98.8 percent of the vote in 1992, and then in 2016 Ken Griffey Jr. raised the bar, earning 99.3 percent of the vote, setting the stage for Rivera to get every vote last year.
And now that Jeter has been denied it may be that Rivera will stand alone for quite some time, as there are no slam-dunk candidates on the ballot in the next few years, especially considering that Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz have PED stains, albeit to differing degrees.
More to the point, you have to wonder what would prompt any member of the BBWAA to withhold a vote from Jeter. His defense wasn't that bad.
Yes, his lack of range was an issue, especially in the later part of his career, but if you watched him regularly you know that was offset by his consistency in making routine plays, as well as how good he was in chasing down shallow fly balls and charging to make plays on slowly-hit ground balls.
More to the point, Jeter's ability to produce offensively for so many years as a shortstop was historic in a lot of ways, all the more so because of his durability, one of his more underrated qualities.
For example, he's one of only five players to play at least 16 seasons in which he appeared in 145 games or more, and Yankee people marveled at his refusal to ever talk about injuries, never mind sit out games because of them.
In October of 2012 we found out just how much pride Jeter took in his toughness when, after fracturing his already-injured ankle while moving to his left to make a play, he famously refused to be carried off the field, telling Joe Girardi he wouldn't allow it.
In the end, though, Jeter was most remarkable for his ability to deliver when in the biggest moment, whether it was his Mr. November home run to win Game 4 of the 2001 World Series or the renowned Flip Play to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS against the A's.
It was those types of moments, in fact, that came to define his career as much as his five championships with the Yankees. Supremely confident, Jeter simply had a flair for the spotlight-situation that Girardi may have explained best on July 9, 2011.
That was the day Jeter reached his milestone 3,000th hit with a home run off David Price of the Rays, prompting Girardi to say afterward he wasn't surprised because, "Derek's life is a movie."
Never did it feel more like that than his final home game, of course, when it took a set of unlikely circumstances, starting with David Robertson blowing a three-run lead, to allow Jeter to come to bat in the bottom of the ninth and win the game with one of his signature opposite-field, line-drive singles.
Even Jeter, usually so unfazed publicly, admitted afterward, "I wouldn't have believed it myself."
It all played out as if somehow scripted, just as Girardi said, for Jeter on Tuesday to officially take his place with the all-time greats. Except for the surprise twist at the end, that is, when it turned out that not everyone thought he was worthy of a spot in Cooperstown.
Hard to believe as that may seem.