Jeter, Simmons, Walker prepare for induction day

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Bill Francis

A half-dozen days away from joining bronze-plaque immortality, a trio of baseball greats shared some thoughts on their date with destiny.

For Derek Jeter, Larry Walker and Ted Simmons – all members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 – their upcoming trip to Cooperstown for this year’s Induction Ceremony on Sept. 8 will forever establish them as members of the National Pastime’s most exclusive fraternity.

Another member of the Class of 2020, longtime union leader Marvin Miller, passed away at the age of 95 on Nov. 27, 2012. Former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Don Fehr will speak about Miller at the 2021 induction.

Soon enough, though, three of the sport’s greatest will find themselves in front of dozens of returning Hall of Famers, thousands of rabid fans and before a national television audience receiving what is considered the greatest honor the game can bestow.

The election of Jeter and Walker were by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January of 2020, while with the election of Miller and Simmons were by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December 2019.

The four members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2020 – increasing the total number of overall inductees to 333 – will be inducted at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 8, on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. The Induction Ceremony will be carried live on MLB Network and at mlb.com.

During a pre-induction media availability with the living Class of 2020 electees on Sept. 2, the three answered questions from baseball writers from throughout North America with their day in the sun looming.

Jeter, 47, played 20 big league seasons (1995-2014), all for the New York Yankees, and helped lead the franchise to five World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. The 1996 American League Rookie of the Year, Jeter was named to 14 All-Star squads, was a five-time Gold Glove Award winner at shortstop, and in 2003 was named the eighth captain in Yankees history.

“There were so many things going on in the world for the first year so I really didn't think about it much early on. I was getting excited for it and then it was canceled and then your mind goes in other places,” said Jeter, when asked about waiting an extra year for his induction. “So I am looking forward to getting up there next week. It's been a long time coming.”

Jeter became the 57th player elected to the Hall on his first Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, receiving 396 of the 397 votes cast for a percentage of 99.7.

“I'm trying not to think about it (induction) because I just want to go there and experience it for the first time. I went to Mariano (Rivera’s) induction a couple years ago. That's the first time I've been to Cooperstown for years. I went when I was very young. First time I've been there in years. And so 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 then, obviously, the ceremony and the speech, those are things that I'm trying to keep out of my mind because I do want to go in there with no preconceived notions of what may happen. I want to experience it and try to enjoy it.”

Asked about his induction speech, arguably the most important speech any member of the Hall of Fame will ever give, Jeter said he is still going through the process.

“So I have not finished. They told me I had to get it in like a month before, but it's something that I've tried to take my time with, write down notes,” Jeter said. “I didn't want to get help from anyone. I didn't want anyone to see it before I deliver it. So in terms of addressing the crowd I've done that before, but this is a little bit longer. Talking about a speech that's 10 to15 minutes, so it's kind of hard to cover your entire career in that short period of time but I'm still working on it.”

Walker’s percentage was 76.6 in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot.

“I take everything in my life as a just an average guy. I don't put myself on a pedestal – and never have in anything – and I don't recall any time in my career where I could actually look in the mirror or sit there and think of myself as a Hall of Famer,” Walker said. “You hear a lot of guys saying they play the game to win and that's it. When people ask me what your favorite year was and I usually list the three years we made it to the playoffs. That's the best feeling because you're out there playing a team sport and you celebrate with the rest of the team. That champagne in the eye hurts, but it sure is fun.”

Walker, 54, spent 17 seasons in the majors (1989-2005), which included 10 with the Colorado Rockies, a half-dozen with the Montreal Expos, and a pair with the St. Louis Cardinals. The first Rockies player ever elected to the Hall of Fame was a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field and a five-time All-Star. Walker won National League batting titles in 1998 (.363), 1999 (.379) and 2001 (.350).

“Stepping in a batter's box with 50,000 people in the stands, there's really not many nerves, and if there are, they don't last very long,” Walker said. “As we get closer and closer, and now we're within a week, there's nights where I don't go to sleep. And when I do go to sleep, it's not for very long because I'm waking up and it's all going through my head. So believe me, the butterflies are here right now. And there's a lot of them.

“I've been caught on many occasions when somebody wants me to sign something and I signed something and I give it back to them and then they give it back to me because I forget to put ‘HOF 2020. So I guess that reality of it hasn't sunk in. It's weird to hear people say something about me on TV and now the word ‘Hall of Famer’ comes before it. I don't necessarily consider myself a Hall of Famer in anything, so to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Cooperstown is quite, quite the honor and thrill.”

A sturdy backstop with an imposing wallop, Simmons, 72, was a unicorn on a baseball diamond as the rare catcher who could hit for average and power. During a 21-year career – the first 13 spent with the Cardinals before stints with the Brewers and Braves – the switch-hitter retired after 1988 with a .285 batting average, 483 doubles, 248 home runs and 1,389 RBI.

“The wait has been good and bad: bad in that you've had to wait an extra year for this thing to kind of come to a head, but good in that it's extended an additional year,” said Simmons, referring to the canceled 2020 induction. “It's like nothing's really going away. So you walk in and you think you're kind of going to turn around and walk out. And it's been a real pleasure to have walked in and been able to stay really twice as long in the room, but next week I'll finally get in.

“It's no question it was such a difficult thing to try and work through for the Hall of Fame, not just the decision to cancel last year, but allow it to go forward this year. It's been such a difficult time for everybody here in the last two years, all over the country in the workforce, in society in general with this pandemic. The fact that it's now going to happen just brings us closer to some normalcy, which we're all hoping for.”

Of his induction speech, Simmons claims he got to it right away.

“After I was elected, I said I'm not going to let this sit out there and angst over this for the next however long. I'm gonna get right after it, which I did, and in a fairly short period of time,” Simmons said. “I feel confident that I was going to get to say what I wanted to say. They had given us fairly liberal instructions, somewhere between eight to 10 to possibly 12 minutes. With that kind of help I was able to condense lots of the thoughts into the most essential things that I felt were necessary to say.

“At this point I'm glad I'm reading it because I don't trust myself with that kind of memory, especially at my age. But I've gotten to the point now where I shouldn't mess this up. And it's at a place where I don't feel like I'm going to be putting people to sleep. It should be over and done so people won't end up staring back at me with giant yawns.”

The 2020 and 2021 award winners, Nick Cafardo (2020 BBWAA Career Excellence Award winner), Ken Harrelson (2020 Ford C. Frick Award winner), Dick Kaegel (2021 BBWAA Career Excellence Award winner), Al Michaels (2021 Ford C. Frick Award winner) and David Montgomery (2020 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award winner) will also be recognized at the Induction Ceremony.


Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series