In a surprise to absolutely no one, Derek Jeter was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, garnering 99.7% of the vote. Though he’s embarked on a second career in the Marlins’ front office, his election inches the door closer to shut on his playing career. The manner in which this door is being closed has felt inevitable for some time, even if it didn’t start out that way.
By now, we’ve all heard the stories of a dejected Derek Jeter in a Seattle McDonald’s or of him ready to quit after an error-plagued first pro season. We know the Yankees almost traded for Félix Fermín “just in case” Jeter couldn’t handle the shortstop job in 1996. Jeter didn’t quite; the Yankees didn’t trade for another shortstop–well, not until February, 2004. But even then, this greatness didn’t become apparent right away. Sure he won American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, but it wasn’t until 1998 that we realized the track he was on.
During his career, Jeter represented to the highest degree the “fame” part of Hall of Fame: endorsements; hosting Saturday Night Live; dating actresses, singers, and supermodels. And in the game, he was revered for his play and his demeanor (even if not universally). He became a Rorschach test. As fans, media, teammates, or competitors, we could see in him anything and everything we wanted to, positive or negative. But in spite of those differences, we all knew where it would end: Cooperstown.
This July, as part of a dais, Jeter will make a speech that will likely sound, inevitably, like his post-game quotes: a ton of words without saying all that much. Some will praise Jeter and his speech too much. Some will jeer Jeter and his speech too much. This is inevitable, given all the discourse about Jeter for most of his career. But, again, no one will dispute his deserving place in the Hall of Fame.
Inevitably, time will pass and the memory of Jeter will fade a bit. He’ll become a face on a plaque on a wall with a good story and an oft-visited Baseball Reference page. On that wall and on that site, visitors will find out, inevitably, Jeter was a damn good player.
Congrats, Derek. Thanks for a lot of great baseball memories.