20 months in, Jeter still working on HOF speech

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

Just a Yankee. That’s how Derek Jeter sums up his legacy. But as one of the game’s greatest shortstops sits on the cusp of his Hall of Fame induction, baseball fans know he was much more than that.

Jeter, along with fellow inductees Ted Simmons and Larry Walker, met with the media Thursday in advance of Wednesday’s Hall of Fame ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, the first since July 2019 after the 2020 festivities were wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

By the time the induction finally arrives, it will have been around 21 months since Simmons found out he had been tabbed by the veterans committee and about 20 months since Jeter and Walker were selected in the annual round of Baseball Writers’ Association of America balloting.

That’s a long time to craft a speech. Yet Jeter said his is not finished.

“Still going through the process right now,” Jeter said. “So I have not finished. [Hall of Fame vice president of communications] Jon [Shestakofsky] is probably upset with me now, because they told me I had to get it in like a month before. It’s something I’ve tried to take my time with.”

One needn’t worry about the unflappable Jeter showing up out of sorts when faced with a large crowd spread out over the grounds of the Clark Sports Center, located on the outskirts of Cooperstown. He, after all, flourished during a 20-year career under the brightest spotlight in baseball.

“I’m looking forward to getting up there and going to the museum and meeting with all the Hall of Famers and spending some time with them and the ceremony and speech,” Jeter said. “Those are things that I’m trying to keep out of my mind, because I want to go in there with no preconceived notions of what may happen.”

While his post-playing legacy as owner and CEO of the Miami Marlins remains a work in progress, being remembered as a Yankee was the ultimate goal of Jeter’s playing career.

He certainly accomplished that, spending his entire professional career in the Yankees organization and recording 3,465 hits — sixth-most in history — for the club.

“The most important thing during my career, people [ask] what I want to be remembered as,” Jeter said, “I want to be remembered as a Yankee. That was it. That was the only team I ever wanted to play for, for as long back as I can remember. That’s what I wanted my legacy to be.

“But when I started actually playing my career, it’s much more than what you do on the field. It’s the legacy you leave off the field.”

No candidates were selected in the most recent round of BBWAA balloting, and the veterans committee that would have met at the canceled 2020 winter meetings was not able to convene. Thus, with no new inductees going in, Simmons, Jeter and Walker will go into the Hall during a 2021 ceremony as the Class of 2020.

All three were asked about their long wait for induction day after last year’s cancellation.

Simmons said it was “good and bad. Bad in that you’ve had to wait an extra year but good in that it’s extended an additional year.” Jeter said there was so much going on in the world after his election that he “really didn’t think about it much.” Walker, who was elected in his final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot, simply said, “No worries. Waited 10 years, what’s one more?”

In contrast to Jeter’s prolonged speech composition, Simmons said he “got right after it” when he was elected. Walker said he endured sleepless nights during the speech-writing process and as the date of induction finally arrives.

“There’s nights where I don’t go to sleep,” Walker said. “And there’s nights where, if I do go to sleep, it’s not for very long because I’m waking up and it’s all going through my head. Believe me, the butterflies are here, right now, and there’s a lot of them.”

If it helps Walker relax, he can consider that Jeter is likely to absorb the lion’s share of the attention next week as Yankees fans flood in from around the state and beyond. The ceremony will take place three days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a period of American and baseball history in which the Yankees, with Jeter, figured prominently during the healing process that came after.

Those sentiments figure to be prominent next week, when Cooperstown will welcome its biggest crowd in over two years.

“The thing we figured out was that, even if it was for a short period of time, even for three hours a day,” Jeter said, “we gave people something to cheer for. We felt as if we were playing for something more than ourselves. We were playing for all of New York. Sports plays a big role, in my mind, in the healing process for a lot of communities at certain times.”

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