COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The echoes last forever, but the real thing — that dizzying sound of mass admiration — rarely returns. Players are not rock stars; they cannot give performances decades past their prime, cannot summon, again and again, the same roars they earned long ago.
So it was that Derek Jeter began his Hall of Fame speech on Wednesday by remarking on the rhythmic chants that once were a part of his everyday life. De-rek Je-ter! De-rek Je-ter! He heard that again here, from the hills beyond the Clark Sports Center, before his career valedictory.
“I forgot how good that feels,” Jeter said, and later, he guessed that he had not heard such a tribute in five years, since a reunion of a championship team at Yankee Stadium. He is now the chief executive of the Miami Marlins, and fans do not cheer for the C.E.O.
“It’s humbling,” Jeter said. “It’s a special feeling, and you tend to miss it when you don’t hear it anymore.”
Cooperstown had eagerly awaited this day for years. As the “heartbeat of a Yankees dynasty,” as his Hall of Fame plaque reads, Jeter was expected to attract more visitors to his speech than the record 80,000 or so who greeted Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. in 2007. Then the coronavirus intervened, canceling last year’s ceremony and pushing this year’s until after Labor Day.
There was no parade down Main Street, no exclusive parties in the plaque gallery. The Hall of Fame estimated that 20,000 fans gathered on Wednesday to see Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller enshrined. At the last ceremony, for Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay and others in 2019, about 55,000 showed up.
But the rain held off on Wednesday, drenching the village only an hour or so after Jeter’s speech closed the ceremony. And for many Jeter loyalists, like Jon Ramos of Wyckoff, N.J., it was a day they simply would not miss.
Ramos, 40, brought his sons — Matthew, 9, and Kyle, 7 — to see his favorite player reach the pinnacle of the sport. Ramos attended Jeter’s final game, in 2014, and brought his mother to Yankee Stadium three years later, when the team retired No. 2.
“This was the final touch, coming here,” Ramos said, at a coffee shop on Wednesday morning. “He came up when I was in high school, and I watched him grow up as I grew up — the leadership, the clutchness, and just being a role model, too.”
The boys, Ramos conceded, know Jeter as a player only through online highlights. But the aura of the captain, the man who took thousands more turns at bat than anyone else in Yankee history, crosses generations.
“They look at him like the way we looked at Babe Ruth when we were younger,” Ramos said.
Jeter, indeed, is now an inner-circle Hall of Famer, like many of those who sat behind him on the stage: Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Pedro Martinez, Reggie Jackson. The Hall reflected this in the prices at its gift shop on Tuesday, when a Jeter-autographed baseball was marked at $899. A fan could have bundled autographed balls from Walker ($249), Ryne Sandberg ($229), Jack Morris ($199) and Simmons ($149) and still had the budget for a nice dinner.
In the gallery, Jeter’s plaque will be side by side with Rivera’s, a fitting quirk shared by a few other former teammates, including Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who dazzled on the mound for the Braves. Of course, Jeter’s Yankees beat those teams twice in the World Series, effectively swiping a dynasty from Atlanta in the 1990s.
Jeter won five championships in all, one fewer than Michael Jordan — who sat with Patrick Ewing behind Jeter’s family on Wednesday — but the most in baseball during his career. He was also joined at the event by friends from those title teams, like Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada and C.C. Sabathia. And Jeter said he welcomed the demands of the longtime Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010.
“He’d push you, he’d challenge you, and at times he’d publicly embarrass you, but he did it to bring out the best in me,” Jeter said in his speech. “He wanted to know if I had what it took to play for and ultimately lead the Yankees. I was able to have success because we had a shared mind-set: The only thing that mattered was winning. I had one goal during my career, and that was to win more than everyone else. We did.”
Jeter spoke of his days in his grandmother’s backyard, in West Milford, N.J., pretending he was Dave Winfield, who was seated just over his left shoulder on Wednesday. He recalled awe-struck moments early in his career — sitting beside Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, at an awards dinner; getting a tap on the shoulder from Hank Aaron at an All-Star Game.
“I realized it’s more than a game,” Jeter said. “The greatest people and players in this game, the Hall of Fame family, they’re watching, so I wanted their approval. During my career, I wanted to make Mrs. Robinson proud, I wanted to make Hank Aaron proud, I wanted to make all you behind me proud — not of statistics, but proud of how I played the game.”
The day was tinged with sadness because 10 Hall of Famers have died since the last induction ceremony. Johnny Bench narrated a video tribute but could not attend because he had contracted Covid-19.
“Thankfully, he is vaccinated,” Joe Torre told the crowd, “which should help him immensely.”
Thirty-one Hall of Famers showed up for the ceremony, including Fergie Jenkins, the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer until Walker joined him. Walker also became the first Hall of Famer who played for the Colorado Rockies — and the first to wear a SpongeBob SquarePants lapel pin for his speech, matching the shirt he was wearing in January 2020, when he learned he had made it on the 10th and final ballot.
Walker lent that shirt to the Hall of Fame for his display case, but he gave the museum one of his Gold Gloves — with seven, he had plenty to spare. He earned more than $100 million in his career, but his first paycheck, as an undrafted free agent from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, in 1984, made him feel richest.
“That $1,500 U.S. was about two grand Canadian at the time,” Walker said, “and I felt like I just won the lottery.”
Donald Fehr, the former executive director of the players’ union, spoke for Miller, his groundbreaking predecessor, who died in 2012 and whose family did not attend, respecting his wishes. Miller’s mother was a high school principal, Fehr said, and Miller was like a teacher to the players, educating them on the issues and then following their lead.
“They respected him enormously and trusted him completely,” Fehr said. “He was their guy.”
Simmons, a star catcher from 1968 through 1988 who was elected through a veterans committee, said he woke up Wednesday with the same feeling he did before Game 7 of the 1982 World Series for Milwaukee. The Brewers lost that night to Simmons’s first team, the St. Louis Cardinals, but Simmons was a hit this time, speaking with the delivery and erudition of a tenured college professor.
Simmons, 72, closed with words from the Beatles for his wife and high school sweetheart, Maryanne.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make,” Simmons said. “Peace and love, sweetheart. We finally got here.”
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