Today, four more baseball legends will be immortalized in Cooperstown for their contributions to the game. Shortstop Derek Jeter, outfielder Larry Walker, catcher Ted Simmons, and labor leader Marvin Miller will all be inducted this afternoon after a long wait of over a year when the ceremony was pushed back due to the pandemic.
For Simmons, it was a particularly long wait, as he retired in 1988 after a 21-year career with the Cardinals, Brewers, and Braves that saw him collect 2,472 hits, and 248 home runs, as an eight-time All-Star. Overlooked by the BBWAA after appearing on just one ballot, the catcher was voted in by a veteran’s committee that gave more weight to his .348 career on-base percentage.
Larry Walker also had a significant wait as well, voted in on his tenth and final ballot before the BBWAA. The five-time All-Star spent 17 years in the big leagues, with the Expos, Rockies, and Cardinals, smacking 386 home runs with an absurd career line of .313/.400/.565. The 1997 National League MVP was also known for his strong arm in right, winning seven Gold Gloves in his career.
For Miller, the wait was too long, as he passed away in 2012. It was Miller that led the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982, finally giving them the right to free agency, negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement, and securing a player pension. His candidacy to the Hall was blocked by executives he had battled with in labor negotiations for years, but he was eventually elected in 2019. Unfortunately, he was so irritated at being overlooked that he asked to no longer be considered, and his family will not represent him at the induction today, at his request.
But the inductee that will garner the most attention is longtime Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The 14-time All-Star collected 3,465 hits in his career in which he hit .310/.377/.440. He was 1996 Rookie of the Year and finished top five in MVP voting three times. He won five Gold Gloves with his iconic jump-throw, although the metrics were far less kind to his defense. But it was his post-season play that really cemented his legend. Jeter’s emergence coincided with a new dynastic period of Yankees baseball, in which they won five championships, with Jeter involved in some of the most iconic post-season moments of that period.
That October performance, combined with Jeter playing for the flagship franchise in baseball in the biggest media market in the country, an aesthetically pleasing style of play (who hasn’t tried to do his jump-throw?), and a face handsome enough to grace tabloid covers as he dated models and actresses, caused Jeter to quickly become one of the more overrated players in baseball. Some media types would gush over how clutch he was (his overall post-season numbers are very similar to his overall regular season numbers), how great his defense was (his range was pretty limited, particularly as he got older), and how many intangibles he brought (it helped that several of his teammates were All-Stars and the club fielded the highest payroll in the game). Derek Jeter was no longer just “the greatest shortstop of his generation”, he was, by some accounts, “the greatest shortstop ever.”
But just as Jeter’s career was winding down, a different kind of baseball analysis was on the rise. Analytics was able to better quantify Jeter’s defensive contributions, debunk some of the clutch myths, and pop the balloon on the legend a bit. But somewhere along the line, Jeter went from overrated to underrated in some circles.
Baseball’s greatest shortstops, by WAR
|Cal Ripken Jr.||95.9||1981-2001||3001||431||.276||.340||.447||112|
It’s fair to say that Derek Jeter is one of the top ten greatest shortstops of all-time. It’s also fair to say that had he spent much of his career with the Royals of that era, he probably wouldn’t be regarded anywhere nearly as high as he is now. But he did win those games, he did make those plays, and he did become one of the most famous players of his generation.
Jeter, Walker, Simmons, and Miller will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at 12:30 CT, which you can watch on MLB Network and MLB.com. Longtime Royals beat writer Dick Kaegel will also be honored with a BBWAA Career Excellence Award along with the late Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Broadcasters Al Michaels and Ken “Hawk” Harrelson will be honored with the Ford C. Frick Award, and longtime Phillies executive David Montgomery will be given the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
What are you memories of today’s Hall of Fame inductees?