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Baseball Hall of Famers gather in Cooperstown for Wednesday's induction

Derek Jeter previews his Hall of Fame induction on a Zoom press conference.
Derek Jeter previews his Hall of Fame induction on a Zoom press conference.

On Wednesday, the baseball world will gather in Cooperstown, NY for the first Hall of Fame induction ceremony in nearly two years. More than 30 Hall of Famers are scheduled to attend the celebration.

Technically, there is no class of 2021, since no one on the ballot reached the required 75 percent vote threshold. But the Class of 2020 never had a chance to be inducted because of the pandemic.

So Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons, Larry Walker and the late Marvin Miller will be honored starting at 1:30 p.m.

Jeter and Walker were elected by the writers in 2020, while Miller and Simmons were tapped by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in 2019.

Simmons was known as a rarity: a switch-hitting catcher with a high average and pop. He came up as a 19-year-old in 1968 and stayed with the Cardinals until 1980, before stints with the Brewers and Braves. Simmons retired in 1988 with 2,472 hits, a .285 average and 248 home runs, and later became Pittsburgh’s general manager. And Simmons also fares well in sabermetrics: the eight-time all-star is 11th all-time among catchers with 50.3 wins above replacement, or WAR.

On a Zoom press conference, Simmons said he is honored to join the Hall of Fame roster:

“I’ve known so many of them and played with and against numerous of them. And it truly is kind of a club, fraternity kind of thing once you’re in. Everybody kind of reaches out and extends their hand of welcome. Ozzie Smith, I mean all these people I’ve known for a long, long time, and now that this has finally happened, they’ve all pretty much reached out,” he said.

After waiting so long to reach the Hall, Simmons also acknowledged the way his career was re-evaluated long after he retired.

“Over the many years that it first began, 1938, with the initial induction, guys have always kind of been on the cusp. Whether it’s people like myself or others. And they’ve always said the Hall of Fame is a very difficult place to get into, and it should be. Over the passage of time, more people like myself end up surfacing.”

Outfielder Larry Walker grew up playing hockey in British Columbia before becoming synonymous with the booming Rockies’ offenses of the 1990s. With the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals from 1989 through 2005, Walker won seven Gold Gloves, went to five all-star games, and was the 1997 National League MVP. He led the league in on-base percentage twice and retired with a .313 average — including three batting titles.

In today’s era of feast-or-famine offenses defined by strikeouts and homers, his late 90s numbers stand out: he hit .366, .363 and .379 starting in 1997.

“To be the first Rockie, yeah, that is awesome and I hope it opens the door for other ones,” he said. “I know that’s been a big talk, with the inflated stats that Coors Field presented and brought everybody’s way up and still does, it creates a little bit of a black eye and people kind of see it as not rewarding enough or not deserving enough. But my only time as a free agent, I chose Colorado and now I get to put that CR on my cap on a plaque on the wall to represent that organization. So it’s a proud moment for me, the fans and the management of the Rockies.”

Returning to upstate New York — where his ascent to Yankees captain included 34 games for AA Albany-Colonie in 1994 — is the one-time face of the sport.

“I wanted to be remembered as a Yankee. That was it. That was the only team I ever wanted to play for as far back as I could remember, so that’s what I wanted my legacy to be,” Derek Jeter said.

Jeter spent his entire 20-year career as New York’s shortstop. When he retired in 2014, Jeter had five World Series rings and as many Gold Gloves, a .310 average, 14 all-star appearances, and 200 postseason hits over 33 playoff series.

Now the owner of the Miami Marlins, Jeter is sixth all-time with 3,465 hits.

Mr. November said he is approaching the induction ceremony the same way he treated a lifetime of high-pressure moments on the field:

“As strange as this sounds or may sound, I’m trying not to think about it, because I just want to go there and experience it and experience it for the first time. I went to Mariano’s [Rivera] induction a couple years ago, and that was the first time I’d been to Cooperstown in years. I went when I was very young. So I’m looking forward to getting up there, and going to the museum, and meeting with all the Hall of Famers, spending some time with them. Then obviously the ceremony and the speech, those are things that I’m trying to keep out of my mind because I want to go in there with no pre-conceived notions of what may happen and I want to try to experience it and enjoy it.”

Jeter was asked about the roots of his competitive drive.

“Competition eliminates complacency. And you pay attention to your competition. At the same time, you’re competing with yourself and never being satisfied. And I always said I never wanted my career to be over and then for me to say, well, I wish I would have done a little bit more,” he said. “Ultimately, you’re judged, especially in New York, by winning. And that’s what makes Old Timers’ Day so important and special. Guys come back and there’s memories, and they remember you if you win. It was funny because Yoga Berra used to come in the locker room, and every time we’d won, he’d remind me of how many rings he had. And I used to joke with him and say it’s a little bit harder now because there’s more rounds of the playoffs, and you went straight to the World Series. And his response was, you can come over to my house and count the rings anytime you want. So I always felt as though you’re trying to chase something, and that’s the only way you can be. That’s the only way you’re going to improve, is you always have to try to get better. And to me, getting better meant winning more.”

The fourth inductee never wore a uniform. Marvin Miller headed the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 through 1982, and is credited with strengthening the players’ union, improving salaries and free agency, and putting the players on more equal footing with ownership. He died in 2012.

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.