Derek Jeter had his iconic #2 retired Sunday during a ceremony sandwiched between a double against the Astros, telling all the world “this is one of those special days you’ll never forget.” It was the penultimate honor for a man who has won nearly every award the game of baseball has to offer.
In 1996, the year he helped launch the most recent Yankee Dynasty, Jeter batted .314 and scored 104 runs on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later, in 1998, he would be named AL Player of the Month (weirdly for the only time in his career) and he would be named to the first of his 14 All Star Games. In 2000 he would win the All Star Game MVP Award, the Babe Ruth Award for the best postseason performance, the World Series MVP Award and the nickname In 1996, the year he helped launch the most recent Yankee Dynasty, Jeter batted .314 and scored 104 runs on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later, in 1998, he would be named AL Player of the Month (weirdly for the only time in his career) and he would be named to the first of his 14 All Star Games. In 2000 he would win the All Star Game MVP Award, the Babe Ruth Award for the best postseason performance, the World Series MVP Award and the nickname Mr. November. The first of his three AL Player of the Week Awards came in 2001. He was named just the eleventh captain in Yankees history in 2003. The most surprising election result on November 2, 2004 wasn’t George Bush defeat of John Kerry, but Derek Jeter’s first of five Gold Gloves, despite having been, according to dWAR, a defensive liability in all but one of those seasons, and compiling a total dWAR of -2.1 in those years. The 2006 season saw him win the first of two AL Hank Aaron Awards, given to the league’s best hitter (he deserved neither), and the first of his five Silver Sluggers as the AL’s best offensive shortstop (the last of which, in 2012, should’ve gone to Ben Zobrist). The Roberto Clemente Award, for good play and strong work in the community, was his in 2009, as was the Sports illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award, followed the next season by the Lou Gehrig Award as the player who “best exemplifies the spirit and character” of the Iron Horse. Finally, in the spring of 2014, Fortune Magazine named Jeter the eleventh greatest leader in the world. The man has been feted to no end, with the lone award of significance that remained out of his reach being the MVP Award, though to be fair as good as he was, he was never the American League’s best player over one full year.
With his number now enshrined forever in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, all that’s left for Jeter is his inevitable election into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, which is sure to come in 2020. The only question is, will he be the Hall’s first unanimous selection? The current record holder for highest percentage of ballots is Ken Griffey Jr, who in 2016 appeared on 99.3% of 440 ballots, being left off by just three voters. Griffey, like Jeter, was among the game’s all-time greats, essentially controversy and PED-stain free throughout his career, and was almost universally beloved by the press. The three voters who left Griffey off their ballots remain in hiding to this day, so great was the outrage at their heresy. But beginning next year, a change to the Hall’s voting procedures will take effect, rendering such cowardice impossible: from now on, all ballots will be made public.
There is almost certainly no person alive today who would be willing to take the heat for leaving Jeter of their ballot and then having to explain how on Earth one of the game’s greats doesn’t merit his or her vote. In the pre-Internet Age, you could leave a guy off your ballot, and no one would know who you were unless you wanted to write a column about it, and even then, no one outside of your geographic area would know about it. Now, every baseball writer seems to write at least three pieces about their ballot, and each one gets run up the flagpole for consideration by fans across the country. There is a great deal of scrutiny, to say the least.
Even if you believes there have been several players, including Griffey, better than Jeter in the past 30 years, or that Jeter was the five worst fielding shortstop (min. 1000 games played) in the game’s history, or think he was vindictive and stubborn, the fact remains that his Hall of Fame qualifications are beyond beyond the established standards. No other player of his generation, maybe ever, combined Jeter’s excellence on the field, World Series narrative, iconic moments, charisma, and unwavering affection from fans and the press. To leave Jeter off your ballot would be to stand athwart history and give it the middle finger for no good reason. There are some possible stumbling blocks in Jeter’s way to becoming the first player to be a unanimous selection, the first one being Chipper Jones, who appears on the 2018 ballot. Jones didn’t enjoy Jeter’s fame or postseason success, but he was a much better hitter, a more sure-handed fielder and played at a high level right up to his 40th birthday. Could Jones get in unanimously? Maybe, but it’s unlikely, given that he was never revered the way Jeter was. The 2019 ballot features first-timers Roy Halladay, Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, each of whom has chinks in their candidacy. Halladay won just 203 games, Helton’s numbers were inflated by Coors Field, Oswalt won just 163, Pettitte is borderline and has the steroid taint, and Rivera was a reliever, which will turn some voters off.
Other than Jones, the biggest threat to Jeter is blogger and erstwhile New York Times reporter Murray Chass, who has a long habit of curious ballots, occasionally just sending in a blank one, but he voted for Griffey, so presumably he won’t stand in Jeter’s way.
Monday on ESPN
Houston Astros (Musgrove 2-3, 5.02) vs Miami Marlins (Straily 1-3, 4.03) @ 7pm
Saturday on FOX
San Francisco Giants (Samardzija 1-5, 5.26) vs St. Louis Cardinals (Wacha 2-1, 3.19) or
Los Angeles Angels (Meyer 2-1 5.59) vs New York Mets (deGrom 2-1 4.07) or
Texas Rangers (Griffin 4-0 3.15) vs Detroit Tigers (3-3 4.47) @ 7pm
Sunday on ESPN
Texas Rangers (Darvish 3-2 2.96) vs Detroit Tigers (Boyd 2-3 3.89) @ 8pm