Jeter headlines new group of baseball Hall of Famers
After two delays
because of coronavirus,
the 2020 Induction finally takes place
on a Wednesday in September 2021
By CHARLIE VASCELLARO • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MIDDLEFIELD — The class of 2020 finally got its moment.
The unique and long-anticipated Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 8, was dominated by those who were absent as much as by those who were there, began with a video presentation honoring the 10 Hall of Famers who died since the last induction ceremony in 2019.
Narrated by Johnny Bench, who cancelled his trip to Cooperstown at the last minute after testing positive for the coronavirus, the Hall of Fame catcher reminded us that “even baseball can’t keep you eternally young.”
The first of four inductees carrying over from the COVID-canceled 2020 induction, Ted Simmons, a native of Highland Park, Michigan, near Detroit, spoke of his boyhood hero Al Kaline, of the Detroit Tigers, who died in April 2020.
“I was a Tigers fan, my first hero was Al Kaline; as a man, he remains my hero today,” said Simmons.
Simmons also mentioned fellow inductee Marvin Miller, former executive director of the MLB Player’s Association, who was inducted posthumously by the same Modern Era Committee.
At the epicenter of multiple rounds of often contentious negotiations with Major League Baseball’s ownership, Miller’s election provided a watershed moment for the Hall of Fame, which has never honored anyone else in his position.
“I could not be more proud to enter this great hall with this great man. I can’t think of another person I would rather be linked with in this way,” said Simmons.
Speaking on behalf of Miller, who died in 2012 at age 95, was Donald Fehr, his successor from 1984 to 2009 and the current executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association.
Speaking in an even-mannered tone, Fehr sounded liked he was delivering a legal brief while explaining Miller’s historic role.
“I’m here to try and convey the essence of this extraordinary man … What was he like? He was quiet and soft-spoken. He never raised his voice. He was polite, thoughtful, deliberate, fiercely intelligent, well prepared and patient; which is an extraordinary set of characteristics for any person to have. If he were here he would initially thank the players of his era, recognize those that are gone, congratulate the inductees and have a special word for Ted Simmons (who led by example when he refused to sign his contract in 1972). It’s been 55 years since he took over in 1966 and 39 years after he retired, but his name is still in the forefront” Fehr said.
The first member of the Colorado Rockies to be elected to the Hall of Fame and just the second Canadian-born player in the Hall, slugging outfielder Larry Walker spoke of coming to the game relatively late in life.
“We didn’t have high school baseball. I played fast-pitch softball with my brothers, Gary, Barry and Cary. I learned the game in the minor leagues,” Walker said.
A former Utica Blue Sox player, Walker paid tribute to Fergie Jenkins, the first Canadian in the Baseball Hall. Since Jenkins was a pitcher, Walker is the first Canadian position player in the Hall, another point of pride, he said.
Walker also expressed an appreciation for being initially signed by the Montreal Expos and advocated for the city’s return to the major leagues.
The headliner was, of course, New York Yankees 20-year shortstop Derek Jeter, who had plenty of time to work on his speech.
Identified as “one of the quintessential Yankees” by his teammate Bernie Williams, performed the Star Spangled Banner on guitar before the ceremony. The text on Jeter’s Hall of Fame plaque reads in part that he was, “The heart beat of the Yankees dynasty,” referencing the team’s run of incredible success during his time with the team.
Jeter began by saying: “Thanks to the baseball writers…all but one of you,” referencing that he was one vote short of getting 100% of the vote, a feat his teammate Mariano Rivera achieved in 2019.
At just about that time, the first drops of rain briefly spritzed from the sky and that’s all there was of what was forecast to be a wet day that held off until the ceremony concluded. A backup plan to move the ceremony the The Glimmerglass Festival in Springfield Center was, thankfully, not necessary.
Jeter also noted the departed members of the Hall of Fame, talking about meeting Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson.
“We lost way too many Hall of Famers in the past two years. The nerves I feel up here are because of these guys behind me, and those that aren’t here now.
He said he met with Rachel Robinson at a New York Baseball Writers dinner early in his career and was surprised after being approached by Hank Aaron.
“You want to meet me?” Jeter recalled incredulously.
“During my career, I wanted to make Mrs. Robinson and Hank Aaron proud; not for my numbers but how I played the game.”
The crowd, which was filled with fans wearing Jeter’s No. 2 jerseys, roared its approval for Jeter and all of the Yankees on stage, saving its biggest cheer for manager Joe Torre and Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, who also wore a No. 2 jersey.