With the announcement the Baseball Hall Of Fame had its first member selected unanimously, Number 2 came up as the next one. Not to be, and here’s why.
Yankees great, Derek Jeter, will be installed into the Baseball Hall Of Fame (HOF) next year with the equal assuredness that Donald Trump will run for re-election in 2020. But unlike his Core Five (gotta have Bernie Williams in there) teammate, Mariano Rivera, I won’t feel bad if Jeter fails to reach unanimous selection. Unpopular, perhaps, but here’s why.
First, a caveat is in order. No one on this planet can take anything away from the career Derek Jeter had with the Yankees. All the numbers you want and expect to see are there. We can argue along with the sabermetrics guys all day in a vain attempt to claim either Jeter or Rivera as “better” than the other, but that’s not what this is about.
To put it tersely in one sentence, Mariano Rivera is real, and Derek Jeter is not.
Derek Jeter went through the motions for two decades as if he were a robot. He never spoke openly, i.e., honestly, when asked a direct question. Jeter made “Stengelese” look like pure English.
And what’s more significant is the New York Media let him get away with it, in the same way, they “protected” Mickey Mantle and his carousing about the City for all those years.
I’m not making judgments; I’m merely stating a fact.
Another claim I make, and this one is not a fact, is that Derek Jeter always appeared as though he was just “passing through” New York and the Yankees, and on his way to bigger and better things. Almost from day one, Jeter let it be known that his end goal after his playing days was to own a major league team.
As we know, it was only a few months following his retirement that Jeter was sitting in the catbird seat with the Miami Marlins. Straight to it, and most likely before the Yankees even had a chance to discuss with him any number of arrangements, including partial ownership of the team, that could have kept Jeter within the Yankees family. Instead, Jeter wanted his own plot of land to farm.
Perspective is valuable, and in the same way, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina were finally recognized for their accomplishments over the years, that same perspective with regards to others sometimes results in misgivings and the feeling that maybe I/We were taken for a ride by Jeter.
Put that up against the unwavering devotion of Mariano Rivera to the Yankees, the city of New York, and baseball in general. To wit, I listened in on an interview Mariano Rivera did this morning with Steve Phillips and Matt Diaz on MLB Radio. During a compelling twenty minutes, Rivera offered this vignette.
The guys were asking him and talking about his abilities as an outfielder and Rivera’s desire to play just one inning for the Yankees as their centerfielder before he retired. Rivera recounted he had pleaded with “Mr. T” (Joe Torre) for that opportunity, but he was denied.
In 2013, then Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, offered Rivera the chance on the final day of the season when the Yankees were in Houston. Rivera declined because at that stage of his career his knees were very troublesome and he “didn’t want to embarrass the game of baseball” he loved so much, and one that resonates completely with so many who have an appreciation for the game themselves,
And when you listened to Rivera, you could tell he was speaking the truth, and it wasn’t some act of regurgitating things he was supposed to say. In the same interview, Rivera speaks eloquently about his home country of Panama and how he learned early to “be prepared to do your job” all day, and every day, along with the way he spoke about “family” inside and outside the game of baseball.
And so, the argument is not that Jeter isn’t worthy of a unanimous selection to the HOF. It’s just that Mariano Rivera is more worthy, and because of that, it should be an honor solely reserved for him. If Mike Trout or someone we have yet to hear from comes along much later, okay, let it be.
If a handful of votes come about to negate a unanimous selection for Jeter, I hope they will come from a couple of writers from New York, and not from Boston where we would expect them to come from.
And maybe one or two New York writers, who in retrospect, when they look a bit closer at their ballot and their relationship with Derek Jeter and admit as I have done that maybe he wasn’t all he was cracked up to be – at least when put alongside Mariano Rivera.
That’s all I’m saying.