Jeter, Walker meet the media as Hall of Famers

Written by: Bill Francis

Excited and beaming, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker, the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2020, donned jerseys emblazed with the name of their new team on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Together for the first time since receiving the phone call only a day earlier from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the pair took part in a mid-afternoon press conference held at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City.

Speaking with the assembled media, the duo that will be linked together forever shared stories of the Hall of Fame honor, their journey in becoming a member of the National Pastime’s most exclusive fraternity, and the bond they share as two of the top players from their era.

Jeter, not far from where he starred as the New York Yankees shortstop for two decades, was a first-year electee who set a record for a position player with a vote percentage of 99.7. Walker, a five-tool outfielder for 17 big leagues seasons for three National League squads, garnered 76.6 in his 10th-and-final year on the BBWAA ballot.

The four-member Hall of Fame Class of 2020 will also include Modern Baseball Era electees Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons, who were elected in December.

Jack O’Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, began the day’s ceremonies by speaking of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s recuperative powers.

“There have been some rough days for baseball lately, but this day annually centers on one of the most positive aspects of the game – the celebration of players’ careers that warrant the sport’s highest individual honor,” O’Connell said. “When baseball becomes wounded, it always looks to Cooperstown, the next stop for these two men.”

This year’s BBWAA ballot featured 32 players, including 18 first-year candidates. Of the 397 ballots cast, 298 votes were needed for the 75 percent threshold necessary for election. The two newest Hall of Famers increase the total number of electees to 333.

“Our great game is covered and discussed through an ever evolving spectrum of statistics,” added Hall of Fame President Tim Mead. “The resumes of Derek and Larry certainly reflect that reality. But along with a player’s record, playing ability and contributions to the team, the other factors of Hall of Fame eligibility – integrity, sportsmanship and character – are well represented with these two gentlemen.”

It was then time for the two BBWAA electees to be outfitted with new white jerseys with red-lettered “Hall of Fame” across the front – Jeter’s first since only wearing a Yankees shirt throughout his career – and blue caps with the Cooperstown institution’s famous logo.

Asked to share their opening remarks to the media, both Jeter and Walker talked about the pride and appreciation they feel now knowing they will with a matter of months be enshrined with among the best of the best in National Pastime history.

“It’s a very nervous time for me. It’s a call I wasn’t expecting. Maybe the greatest call I ever got,” Walker said. “It’s been an incredible whirlwind between yesterday and today. I’m very honored to be a part of this. And I look forward to the things that are going to be happening here.”

Walker made news when he then added that the cap his bronze plaque will be sporting beginning this summer will be that of the Colorado Rockies.

“There’s a certain cap that I have to put on when I go in to the Hall. Ultimately, it is the Hall’s choice on that. We talked a lot about it today so I thought I’d clear that up,” Walker said. “It comes down to two, obviously, with Montreal and Colorado. Being a Canadian, Montreal, I spent a few years there and had a great time. I spent 10 years in Colorado where the majority of my damage was done. With the years that I spent there that it will be a Colorado Rockies hat.”

Throughout a distinguished 17-year career, the Maple Ridge, British Columbia, native recorded a .313 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage and slugged .565. A product of the talented Montreal Expos player development system, he later excelled for a decade with the Colorado Rockies, receiving National League MVP votes in six of his seasons in Denver and winning the 1997 NL MVP.

Finishing with the Cardinals, his veteran leadership helped the Redbirds to a pair of postseason appearances and a World Series berth in 2004.

“Montreal was a great time up there. We had opportunities to win. The same thing happened in Colorado,” Walker said. “Then going to St. Louis, putting that uniform on was quite an experience. It’s a very famous franchise.

“They are all small markets, but they were in the major leagues. I’m never going to shy away from where I played. I played in a hitter’s paradise in Colorado but it was a major league baseball team. Not a lot of kids get to live that dream out and I got to for 17 years.”

One of the premier defensive right fielders in the game, Walker finished with 154 outfield assists and was a seven-time Gold Glove Award recipient. From 1997 through 2001, he recorded four seasons with a batting average of at least .350. He also collected three batting titles, five All-Star selections and three Silver Slugger Awards.

Meanwhile, Jeter – the five-time World Series champion with the Yankees – appeared genuinely moved as he met the media for the first time as a Hall of Famer.

“This is an absolute honor,” Jeter said. “This is something that is not a part of the dream when you’re playing. When you’re playing, you are just trying to keep your job. That’s first and foremost. And you’re trying to compete year in and year out. You’re trying to win. When your career is over and done with, then it’s up to the writers.”

Jeter finished with a .310 career batting average along with 544 doubles, 260 home runs and 358 stolen bases. Retiring after 2014, his 3,465 hits include 200 or more in a season eight times. A top of the order table setter who appeared defensively only as a shortstop, Jeter ranks 11th all-time in runs scored with 1,923.

In addition he is sixth in hits and 12th in reaching base safely at 4,717. One of the most respected ballplayers of his generation, he opened his career as the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, was a 14-time All-Star and collected five Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

“It’s hard to put into words. I’ve told everyone throughout the course of not only my career but in the last five years, up until yesterday, I just didn’t want to talk about (the Hall of Fame) because I didn’t want to jinx any opportunities I may have,” Jeter said. “I never took this for granted. I understand these are the best players to ever play in the game. When you’re in it I just never necessarily sat down and viewed myself that way. It was always what’s next, what’s next, what’s next and how can we win and how can we win some more?”

In a career highlighted by October baseball, in Jeter’s 20 seasons wearing Yankee pinstripes the franchise appeared in the postseason 16 times – playing the equivalent of a full regular season with his 158 games – in a stretch that included 10 League Championship Series and seven World Series. Rising to the challenge of the playoffs, he compiled a .308 batting average with 200 hits and 111 runs scored.

When asked how Hall of Fame election compared to winning a World Series, Jeter said, “When you win a championship, obviously, you’re celebrating with an entire organization. This is an individual honor, but I’m sharing it with all the people that have helped me along the way.”

Jeter called the last day a “whirlwind,” adding: “I’ve been spending time with family and friends. I wanted them to be around if potentially this were to happen. And I wanted my two daughters to be around because, obviously, they never saw me play. They don’t know much about my career. They don’t know that side of me. It was a special moment. My family and my friends are extremely important to me. They’re the reason why I’m here today and I just wanted to share that moment with them.”

The two BBWAA electees will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 26 on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown along with Modern Baseball Era electees Miller and Simmons.

Ford C. Frick Award winner Ken Harrelson and Spink Award winner Nick Cafardo will be honored during Induction Weekend at the Awards Presentation on Saturday, July 25, at Doubleday Field.

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

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