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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Why Derek Jeter, and only Derek Jeter, is on my Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the Class of 2020

Derek Jeter in the Yankees dugout as at

Derek Jeter in the Yankees dugout as at Yankee Stadium on June 8, 2004.  Credit: Newsday/Paul J. Bereswill

Derek Jeter was a singular player and person in baseball history. He deserves to stand alone at the podium as the entire Hall of Fame Class of 2020 on July 26 in Cooperstown.

It’s not just the five World Series championships. It’s not just the 3,465 hits or the .310 lifetime batting average or the 14 All-Star Game selections.

It’s not just the fact that Jeter hit .308 in the postseason with a higher OPS than he had in the regular season (.838 to .817). Jeter raised his game on the biggest stage against the best pitchers at the most important times.

What a flair for the moment he had. A home run and a memorable over-the-shoulder catch on Opening Day as a rookie in 1996. The Jeffrey Maier home run in the 1996 ALCS. The leadoff homer against the Mets in Game 4 of the 2000 Subway Series. The Flip Play in the 2001 ALDS in Oakland. The game-ending Mr. November home run in the 2001 World Series. The dive into the stands against the Red Sox in 2004. The unusual (for him) home run to left-center for his 3,000th hit. The Jeterian line single to right for the walk-off hit in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium.

Jeter was a winner. A leader. An example of how to carry yourself under the brightest lights, as the shortstop and captain of the New York Yankees, from the George Steinbrenner era to the Hal Steinbrenner era.

He’s not just a Hall of Famer. The Hall of Fame is so watered down now, the plaques of the great are right next to the plaques of the good and the very good. There is no way to change that.

Jeter should be on a Mount Rushmore of sports greatness along with Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana — i.e., athletes who were either the best players or the best winners in their sport.

Jeter was a great player, but he was not the greatest player in his sport. No one thinks that. That’s not what my ballot is about.

In another year, with a different composition of the BBWAA ballot, I would not have voted only for Jeter. But this year’s BBWAA ballot made it the only choice for me.

Last year, I voted for Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina, all of whom got in. I also voted for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Omar Vizquel, all of whom are back on this year’s ballot.

None of that second group is in his final year of eligibility, so unless one or more is voted in this year (or gets below 5 percent), they all will be back on next year’s ballot. My leaving them off will slightly lessen — but not doom — any of these players’ chances at getting elected to Cooperstown this year.

I will consider all of them again next year for the Class of 2021. None are a slam dunk to get in this year, or any year, really, some because of presumed performance-enhancing drug use and some because they were very good, but not great, players.

As an aside, you may notice I didn’t exclude the so-called “steroid guys” from past ballots. To me, that real or presumed taint shouldn’t stop a player from making the Hall. Great players are great players, and there are so many guys who were using steroids in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that to punish those who got caught (or are just suspected to have used PEDs) is to reward those who were better cheaters and never got caught.

Anyway, the steroid guys are a story for another year — two years from now, in fact, when Bonds and Clemens will each be in their final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot, assuming they don’t get in before that. We can save that debate for another day, if you don’t mind.

There is another channel for names to be added to the Class of 2020, and that is the Modern Era committee, which will announce its selections on Dec. 8 from a 10-person group that includes two other former Yankees captains, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly.

I don’t have a vote on that 16-person committee, which is different from the BBWAA setup. So if someone is voted in from that group and joins Jeter on the stage, so be it.

For me, I could only consider the 32 names on the BBWAA ballot. Last year, I voted for nine players. This year, my ballot says No. 2 is the one and only.

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