On the day that his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame — a virtual certainty — became official, Derek Jeter was nervous anyway. Not even 20 major-league seasons, 3,465 hits, 14 All-Star selections and five World Series championships were enough to ease this agita.
Then the call came Tuesday afternoon, and with it one more remarkable statistic: 99.7 percent.
In his first year of eligibility, Jeter was on 396 of 397 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, thus easily surpassing the 75-percent minimum for immortality in the form of a bronze plaque in a museum in Cooperstown, New York.
He and Larry Walker, who received 76.6 percent of the vote in his 10th and final year on the ballot, will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 26.
“Everyone told me it was a foregone conclusion,” Jeter, now the Marlins’ chief executive officer, said on a conference call. “I didn’t buy it. So it was not a relaxing day. There was a lot of anxiety. I was nervous. I was sitting around waiting for a phone call (about) something that is completely out of your control.
“Once I got the phone call, I don’t even know if I said anything for a while. Because it is the ultimate honor. It’s a very humbling experience.”
Jeter, the Yankees’ captain from 2003-14, said he didn’t care about falling one vote short of unanimity. The only Hall of Famer to receive 100 percent of the vote remains Mariano Rivera, Jeter’s Core Four Yankees teammate who did so last year.
“I look at all the votes that I got,” Jeter said. “It takes a lot of votes to get elected to the Hall of Fame. Trying to get that many people to agree on something is pretty difficult to do. So that’s not something that is on my mind. I’m extremely excited and honored to be elected.”
For Walker, who was better than Jeter in most offensive and defensive categories, his election in his last try on the BBWAA ballot caps a dramatic surge of support in recent years. He had 54.6 percent of the vote last year and 11.8 percent approval five years ago.
Walker said he followed the publicly known votes “religiously” in recent weeks. He tweeted early Tuesday afternoon that “I believe I’m going to come up a little short today.”
“That was just how I felt and shared that with all honesty,” Walker said on a conference call. “Then that number popped up on the phone. I think I uttered the words ‘oh (expletive)’ and then maybe an ‘oh my god’ before I actually answered the phone and said hello. The rest was almost just disbelief to hear them say, ‘You didn’t come up short this year. You passed the 75-percent threshold. Welcome to the Hall of Fame.’ Pretty amazing.”
Curt Schilling, in his eighth year of eligibility, was chosen on 70 percent of the ballots, which bodes well for his election within the next two years. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two faces of the steroid era, saw only marginal gains of support, receiving 60.7 percent and 61 percent of the vote, respectively. They also have two years remaining.
That left Jeter and Walker as the only electees from this ballot. In December, the Modern Baseball Era Committee selected Ted Simmons and the late players’ union executive director Marvin Miller.
One piece of this that makes it sweeter for Jeter: He joins the exclusive club of Hall of Famers who played their entire career with the Yankees.
“It probably means a little bit more to me than maybe some other people, because I grew up a Yankee fan,” said Jeter, who grew up in Michigan but fell into that fandom when spending summers of his youth with family in New Jersey. “It’s the only organization I ever wanted to play for. I was fortunate to play 20 years in New York.
“A lot of thanks goes out to the Steinbrenner family, especially The Boss (George Steinbrenner). He was big on, ‘If you guys win, we’ll bring you back.’ We had a lot of success, and the entire family gave me an opportunity to finish my career playing in New York. So that’s the one thing that I always wanted to be remembered as, to be remembered as a Yankee.”
HALL OF FAME'S HIGHEST PERCENTAGES
Derek Jeter's 99.7 voting percentage puts him in some exalted company. The 10 highest Baseball Hall of Fame voting percentages:
1. Mariano Rivera, 2019: 100% (425/425)
2. Derek Jeter, 2020: 99.7 (396/397)
3. Ken Griffey Jr., 2016: 99.3% (437/440)
4. Tom Seaver, 1992: 98.8% (425/430)
5. Nolan Ryan, 1999: 98.8% (491/497)
6. Cal Ripken Jr., 2007: 98.5% (537/545)
7. Ty Cobb, 1936: 98.2% (222/226)
8. George Brett, 1999: 98.2% (488/497)
9. Hank Aaron, 1982:: 97.8% (406/415)
10. Tony Gwynn, 2007: 97.6% (532/545)