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Jeter, Walker Headline Baseball Hall Of Fame Class

Two offensive stars of a generation ago were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame Tuesday. One was nearly unanimous, while the other squeaked by in his last year of eligibility.

A year ago, Yankee closer Mariano Rivera made history as the first baseball Hall of Famer elected unanimously.

Tuesday, Rivera’s teammate and captain, shortstop Derek Jeter, fell a single vote short of matching the feat. In his first year on the ballot, Jeter appeared on 396 of 397 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It’s the second-highest mark in Hall history, setting up a visit to Cooperstown this July.

For Jeter, now the Miami Marlins owner, it’s a career capper five years after he left Yankee Stadium for the last time.

“It was not a relaxing day. There was a lot of anxiety. I was nervous, sitting around waiting for a phone call, it’s something that is completely out of your control,” Jeter said. “Once you get the phone call, I don’t even know if I said anything for a while, because it’s the ultimate honor, it’s a very humbling experience, and to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s truly a dream come true.”

Jeter was the face of the game over his 20-year career. He won five World Series, made 14 all-star teams, and played an astounding 158 playoff games.

In a career that included a minor league stint in Albany in 1994, Jeter went on to hit .310 while stroking 3,465 hits, sixth in baseball history.

Is he bothered by falling one vote short of matching Rivera?

“I look at all the votes that I got, and it takes a lot of votes to get elected in the Hall of Fame, and 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,” he said.

Jeter had votes to spare, but fellow inductee Larry Walker didn’t — and Walker was out of years, too.

Needing 75 percent of the vote to reach baseball immortality, Walker jumped 22 percent in his 10th and final year on the ballot and got in by six votes. Walker is the second Canadian-born player to make it to Cooperstown, and he’ll be the first former Colorado Rockies player in the hall.

Earlier in the day, Walker tweeted that he didn’t expect to get the call.

“I was literally just 90 seconds from probably saying, OK, because I had it when they were going to call, a roundabout time, and that time had come and gone, and it was a few minutes after that when the call actually came, as close I was to just saying, OK, let’s go watch the rest of the induction stuff on TV. And then that number popped up on the phone. I think I uttered the words ‘oh sh--,’ and then maybe ‘oh my god,’ whatever it was, before I answered the phone, said hello, and to hear them ask if they could speak to Larry Walker. The rest was almost just in disbelief to hear them say ‘You didn’t come up short this year. You passed the 75 percent threshold and welcome to the Hall of Fame.’”

Walker, who hit .313 during 17 seasons with the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals, won the 1997 National League MVP with 49 homers. He was a three-time batting champ and won seven Gold Gloves in the outfield.

Controversial Red Sox and Diamondbacks great Curt Schilling fell 20 votes shy in his eighth year on the ballot. Steroid era giants Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds each had 61 percent of the vote. Players need to earn 5 percent to stay on the ballot.

While Walker is likely to go into the Hall as a Rockie, there’s no debate about the logo on Jeter’s plaque. Jeter grew up a Yankee fan and played 2,747 games, his entire career, in pinstripes.

“That’s the one thing that I always wanted to be remembered as was to be remembered as a Yankee,” he said.

The induction ceremony is July 26 in Cooperstown.

Copyright 2020 WAMC Northeast Public Radio

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.