It’s a shame. A shame, I say.
Derek Jeter, the splendid Yankees shortstop for 20 seasons, a five-time champion and clutch performer who knocked out 3,465 hits (at least 2,465 presumably hard singles to right in big spots against Red Sox pitching), fell one vote shy of unanimous election to the Baseball Hall of Fame Tuesday.
Three-hundred and 97 baseball writers submitted a ballot. Three-hundred and 96 checked the box next to Jeter’s name. One lone voter — just one — kept Jeter from his righteous place of being the second player ever elected unanimously, following former teammate and 2019 inductee Mariano Rivera.
That voter has remained anonymous for now, as the New York fans and many of the city’s media heat up their tar, collect their feathers, and channel their indignation to finding the one person that kept Captain Jetes from his perfect destiny.
Oh, yes, it’s a shame all right.
It’s a shame I don’t yet know who this voter is. Because I’d really love to shake his/her hand, share a hearty laugh, and perhaps send along a gift basket of thanks in appreciation for the satisfying amusement this “controversy” has caused.
Yes, of course Derek Jeter should be a unanimous Hall of Famer. That hit total — he’s sixth all-time — is argument enough. He was the smirking face of the modern Yankees dynasty, a dazzling postseason performer (.308 average in a ridiculous 158 games), and absolutely terrifying when the game was on the line and you deeply cared about the outcome.
I’ve always said that I knew Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS was in hand for the Red Sox only when Mike Timlin got Jeter to ground out leading off the eighth inning — and the Red Sox held a 9-3 lead at the time. He made heartbreak seem possible even in that scenario, and like Rivera, he was a most respected opponent. Perhaps most impressively, his first half-dozen seasons were almost as good as Nomar Garciaparra’s. (Obliged to say that. It’s in my contract. He was awesome.)
All 397 Baseball Writers Association of America voters should have included Jeter on their ballot. If I had a vote (I’m still a few years away), I would have checked the box while muttering his name like the respected old nemesis that he is.
But you can say something similar about Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Joe DiMaggio, and dozens more. They should have been unanimous too, and they weren’t. For decades, no one was, until Mo Rivera last year, and now we’re getting worked up when someone isn’t? Sorry, I can’t. All this means for Jeter is that he is still in extraordinary company.
To his credit, Jeter handled the news with his usual calm eyes and what sure seemed to be a full heart.
“Look at all the votes that I got,” Jeter said Tuesday night. “It takes a lot of votes to get into the Hall of Fame. Trying to get that many people to agree on something is pretty difficult to do. So that’s not something that’s on my mind. I’m just extremely excited and honored to be elected.”
It was the perfect answer, and I’m curious whether it appeases those most frustrated by him coming up one vote shy — those who think of him as the perfect ballplayer and teammate.
He was exceptional and iconic, but there were flaws, and you didn’t always have to search for them. He won five Gold Gloves at shortstop, which is roughly five more than he deserved. He refused to move off the position when Alex Rodriguez, a superior talent, was acquired before the 2004 season, and he refused to move in his later seasons when his range was roughly that of one of the Yankee Stadium monuments.
He wasn’t exactly welcoming to A-Rod, his best old ex-friend who once had the gall to tell the truth: Jeter didn’t have to carry the Yankees the way other superstars had to carry their teams.
Jeter was brilliant in his own right, but he was also the most fortunate superstar I can think of in baseball history. He was drafted by the Yankees sixth overall in 1992 when he could have been an Astro, Red, or Oriole, among other less glamorous teams.
He came up at time when the Yankees farm system prospered around him, and he was surrounded by elite and expensive talent his entire career without, as A-Rod said, having to do a disproportionate amount of heavy lifting.
The infamous Jeffrey Maier play? Of course it was Jeter who hit that ball. Of course the call went his way. Until the ghosts were exorcised in 2004, it always did.
Facetiousness aside, I would like to know who left Jeter off and why. The baseball writers generally do a serious and thorough job with the voting — hey, it wasn’t we who cranked up the cronyism to put Harold Baines in — but I also believe all ballots should be revealed.
The Hall does not make a reveal mandatory out of concern that public scrutiny may affect how people vote. I’m of the belief that all ballots should be revealed, that if you’re worried about backlash, well, have a spine, show your work, and be ready to defend your thinking. And if that’s too much, log off Twitter for a few days.
This is not an outrage. Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer. He got 99.7 percent of the vote. He’ll remember this day with a smile — or probably a smirk — for the rest of his life. But it is also a shame. It’s a shame those of us who endured him as a nemesis all those years can’t relive the bemusing discovery that he was not unanimous over and over again.