COOPERSTOWN, NY – For the longest time, Derek Jeter didn’t allow himself to dream too much. He didn’t start on his speech until months after he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When the ceremony was postponed last year because of COVID, he left open the possibility that he would be inducted in silence. Because of the pandemic, up until a few months ago, the vision of this day was a stark one: a sterile auditorium with no fans and no family.
But it seemed fitting that Jeter, who always did best when the lights were bright and seats were full, would get his moment, and that the dream he wouldn’t quite allow himself to have would come true anyway.
And so, on Wednesday, when storm clouds approached but dared not ruin his day, Jeter was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame. What’s more, the crowd – smaller than in recent years because the ceremony was held on a weekday in September, and during Rosh Hashanah – made up for its size in noise. Settling into their seats? Chants of De-rek Jeter. A lull in the proceedings? Chants then, too.
"You forget about how good it feels," Jeter said after his speech, where he thanked his parents, wife, daughters, teammates, managers, coaches and fans. "You know, it’s been a while. I think the last time I heard that many people chant it was maybe the ’96 reunion, possible…You play the game for a long time and to have that many people chanting your name, it’s a special feeling, It’s humbling. It’s a special feeling and you tend to miss it when you don’t hear it."
And why not? It’s a chant Jeter must’ve heard hundreds of times in his storied career. He was, as his Hall of Fame plaque puts it, the "heartbeat of a Yankees dynasty." He certainly heard it in his record 158 postseason games, and during the five World Series titles he earned with the franchise. He was Derek Jeter – the captain, always self-assured, and the platonic ideal of what it meant to thrive in a city known for breaking down players more than it builds them up.
But it was also that knowledge, the knowledge that fans were watching his every move and would judge him accordingly, that allowed Jeter to thrive. Though he was often in the gossip pages, he never allowed it to outshine his legacy. He was a 14-time All Star, and batted .308 in the postseason, with 111 runs and 20 homers. He was the 2000 World Series MVP, and often described as a king of New York.
"Without question, you helped me get here today as much as any individual I’ve mentioned," he said, addressing the fans in attendance. "You can’t be fooled – you’re passionate, loyal, knowledgeable, vocal, challenging and supporting. There’s a huge responsibility that comes with wearing a Yankee uniform. Just because you have it on doesn’t guarantee anything. You have to earn it."
Though he said he wasn’t really nervous before giving his speech, Jeter did have a slight air of unease when he was presented his plaque. He said he made a point to not look at his family too much, for fear he would cry. He glanced around and adjusted the cuffs on his shirt. He said he thought about all the Hall of Famers sitting behind him, and how he wanted to do his new position justice.
But then came the cheers, and that chant, and Jeter, who always knew how to perform, seemingly turned on the switch that makes him who he is.
"I forgot how good that feels," he said to the crowd – the sentiment he would echo after the ceremony was over. And then came that dry wit: "Thank you to the baseball writers. All but one of you."
Jeter was referencing the fact that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America hadn’t voted him in unanimously, as it did his teammate, Mariano Rivera, in 2019.
But no matter. His furtive dream had come true: There were fans there, and his family, and the players he looked up to. And then there was that other dream – "There was only one thing in my life that I wanted to be and that was shortstop for the New York Yankees and now I’m a Yankee forever," he said.
"Every single day, whether it was during the season or in the offseason, I felt as though I was representing you and I was representing all of New York," he said to the crowd. "I did that in the best possible way I knew how. I wanted to prove to you I belonged and you kept pushing me to prove it over and over again. I was always most comfortable on the field, especially in Yankee Stadium playing in front of you, and I wanted you to be able to count on me."
They did, and they were rewarded, and now it’ll be enshrined for all of history.
Hall of Fame players and managers inducted as Yankees (listed alphabetically):
Rich (Goose) Gossage