Derek Jeter played the final game of his career on Sept. 28, 2014, at Fenway Park. He reached on an infield single in the third inning off Clay Buchholz and came out of the game to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 36,879.
There were a lot of Yankees fans in the crowd that day, but even the Red Sox fans knew they were witnessing a special moment.
That Jeter would go on to the Hall of Fame five years later was a given. But, true to form, he never allowed himself to think that way.
“Everybody told me it was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t buy it,” Jeter said Tuesday after he was indeed voted into the Hall on the first ballot with all but one of the 397 votes cast. “It was not a relaxing day. There was a lot of anxiety.
“I was nervous sitting around waiting for a phone call for something that was completely out of your control.”
Being in control of the moment had a lot to do with Jeter getting to Cooperstown.
As a Yankees beat writer from 2006-09, I watched Jeter from the start of spring training until the end of the season. That day-to-day grind through the season showed me a lot more about Jeter than the famous flip play against Oakland, the Mr. November walkoff homer, or the other moments that are invariably part of his highlight reel.
Jeter lacked range as a shortstop but rarely misplayed a ball with a game on the line. Jeter also was satisfied to shorten up his swing and chip an RBI single into right field instead of trying to pull a double against a struggling pitcher.
For a player constantly in the spotlight in the largest media market in the world, Jeter kept the game simple.
From a baseball sense, Jeter’s world was what he could see in front of him. Other players would arrive in the clubhouse discussing an eventful game on a West Coast the night before and Jeter would ask them what happened.
Unlike Alex Rodriguez, who seemed to keep track of every transaction, Jeter was focused only on the Yankees and the team they were playing that night.
That he is now president of the Miami Marlins still surprises me. I never got a sense that Jeter could be passionate about watching somebody else play.
Much like David Ortiz during his time with the Red Sox, Jeter had a keen sense of who he was and what he meant to the franchise.
If the Yankees lost a few games in a row, Jeter would be at his locker after the game and take on all questions about the state of the team. And I mean all questions. He had a habit of looking out at the group of reporters and asking, “Anything else?” before he would leave.
But if a young player had a big night in a victory or somebody busted out of a slump, Jeter would sneak out. He always had a read of the situation and what was right for that moment.
Jeter also understood that as captain of the Yankees he had to represent the team if a big story broke or a particular topic had to be addressed. He never really said much that was memorable, but he was always there to say it because somebody had to.
By doing that, he made it easier for teammates in what was the day-to-day cauldron of playing in New York.
It’s been my experience as an observer that there’s something different about playing in New York or Boston, cities where baseball is part of the daily conversation and every game matters.
If it ever overwhelmed him, Jeter didn’t show it. He handled every tough loss and every controversy with the same calm and confidence.
Playing for the Yankees mattered to him. It was part of who he was.
“It probably means a little bit more to me than maybe some other people because I grew up a Yankees fan. It’s the only organization I ever wanted to play for,” Jeter said.
The one writer who didn’t vote for Jeter has not yet been identified. But that’s a minor point. Jeter’s 99.7 percent was the highest ever for a position player.
“I look at all the votes that I got,” Jeter said. “It takes a lot of votes to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Trying to get that many people to agree on something is pretty difficult to do. That’s not something that’s on my mind. I’m just extremely excited and honored to be elected.”
Also notable in this election was Larry Walker getting to the required 75 percent by only six votes.
Walker was at 54.6 percent last year but made a big leap to 76.6 percent in his final year on the ballot.
Walker said jokingly that getting in with Jeter felt like being the B-side of a hit record.
After seven days defined by a cheating scandal and three managers losing their jobs, that Jeter and Walker will join Modern Era Committee choices Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller in the Hall of Fame was a dose of needed good news for baseball.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre said Tuesday that a player like Jeter comes along once in a generation. Red Sox fans knew that six years ago when they stood up to salute him.
HALL OF FAME VOTING
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.