THE BIG HIT | Derek Jeter… One Vote.

One vote. 

One.

Vote.

Derek Jeter is going into the Hall of Fame one vote short of being the second player ever unanimously sent into immortality. He would have joined his teammate Mariano Rivera. Yet one person decided to make a statement about Jeter. A protest? Maybe. An oversight? Nah. A Red Sox fan? Possibly. Right now, we don’t know because Major League Baseball hasn’t released the name. (Which is probably wise at this point.) And we might never know…

… and that’s… completely fine. 

You don’t need to worry about this. I’m staring at a Derek Jeter figure on my bookshelf as I write this right now and I’m not going to worry about it either. Derek Jeter will be just fine. He will take his place on the stage with the highest vote percentage for a position player and when families and fans stroll through those hallowed halls in Cooperstown the plaque won’t say “one vote short.” If Ken Griffey Jr, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Nolan Freakin’ Ryan, and, oh, anyone not named Mariano Rivera weren’t listed on every ballot, then it’s quite alright that No. 2. Wasn’t as well. He’s in. 

This isn’t really shocking, though. Quite frankly the real surprise might be that there weren’t more ballots without his name on it. There always seems to be this weird push against Jeter. Maybe it was that he had an absolute dream of a career? The kind of career many sportswriters might have dreamed of themselves. Here was a story in which a young kid grew up dreaming of being a Yankee shortstop, winning championships and helping to return the franchise to its former glory, collecting hits and celebrity girlfriends along the way… and it all happened. He even got to wear number two! There are more Yankee uniform numbers retired that available it seems and Jeter was able to get number two… what a dream life. 

You don’t have to look too far online to find a hot take that Jeter was overrated, or Keith Hernandez had better numbers when you really look at it. (And, look, I’m all for Hernandez being in the Hall!) You’ll hear that Nomar Garciaparra had a higher career OPS or that Jeter was a Complier… someone who just hung around long to collect those big numbers voters love.

OK. 

Like…

… OK. 

Sure. Jeter played twenty seasons and I guess he just dunked enough opposite-field singles in front of right fielders to scratch and claw his way to 3,465 hits. I guess he just made a couple of lucky catches and throws that will forever be in the sport’s greatest plays highlight reels. Anybody could have done that! I guess his .308 lifetime average in the postseason and game-winning hits and homers only happened because the rest of the Yankees carried him into the postseason like a wagon pulling bags of grain into an old west mining town. I guess he just kept hanging on and those league-leading 216 hits in his age 38 season were just a fluke. 

Come on.

He didn’t need to be unanimous, but Derek Jeter was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Send Tweet. 

There are definite statistical requirements and measuring sticks out there to determine who should get in and when and there has to also be a certain amount of time put into the game. This is why Don Mattingly, who’s six-season run at his prime was some of the best baseball ever played, will not be in the Hall of Fame, but Harold Baines is in despite playing twenty-two seasons and never winning an MVP, reaching 200 hits, or scoring 100 runs. Yet beyond the stats there always has to be a certain vibrant feeling present to the player’s career that elicits the Hall of Fame attention. There is a glow and aura about these players that just make it feel right. 

Jeter had that. 

You may not like that he did. You may think he benefited from being on a very rich and successful team. You may be Jeremy Giambi. 

But Jeter had everything you would expect a Hall of Famer to be. 99.7 percent of it. 

SpongeBob SquarePants: A Hall of Fame Story

We wrote a lot already here about Larry Walker being Hall of Fame worthy, so no need to remix it all. What’s is important is that one of the best five-tool players during a high-octane era of baseball got in. Even if just by six votes. 

And what is more important than that is when Walker got the call that he didn’t think he would get. 

He was wearing a SpongeBob SquarePants shirt. 

I’m sorry, no disrespect to the Colorado Rockies organization or the Expos, but Larry Walker needs to be enshrined in that uniform. It’s next level random and awesome. Imagine if Ralph Kiner got the call in 1974 wearing a Flinstones T-shirt. (Hell, put that in the Hall Of Fame too.) Larry Walker woke up on that morning, so sure he wasn’t going into the Hall of Fame that when he got dressed he looked into his closet and said, “I’ll just grab this black shirt with almost neon bright pictures of SpongeBob on it and his name written on weird shoulder pads. That’s the shirt for me on the day I might be going into the most revered sports Hall of Fame around.” 

And then he kept in on for other interviews!

All of this just confirms that Larry Walker is a hard-working, simple guy that wasn’t concerned about the glorious hardware, league-leading numbers, and video game covers that he did have. He just wanted to play and win. 

Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Larry.

On Bonds and Clemens…

One of the subplots many were watching were the vote totals of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They were both at the 59 percent mark in 2019’s vote and any giant movement one way or the other might have provided an indication of what their Hall of Fame chances are going forward.  Well… they both moved up… by less than two percent apiece. 

Clemens got 61 percent. Bonds 60.5. 

So, a push? 

Curt Schilling actually moved up the most, jumping to 70 percent, and with next year’s crop of first timers not introducing any sure bets it would appear his path is clear. This is a sign that baseball writers aren’t going to let Schilling’s post-baseball life as a sometimes controversial and often maligned public figure get in the way of his career accomplishments. And considering Ty Cobb once stabbed a night clerk and nearly beat a fan to death in the stands — and those were some of his best traits — that tracks. 

Whether or not Bonds or Clemens make it in again remains a mystery. Roughly 60 percent does mean enough baseball experts out there are looking past the obvious use of performance-enhancing drugs and just at those numbers and that aforementioned aura. Again, Ty Cobb once — stop me if you’ve heard that one before. 

If — and that’s a big IF — they get in next time around it will be a very weird and uncomfortable time for baseball. One hand, it would seem the unwritten, intentional freeze out of that era’s two greatest players will have ended and some sort of healing between the game and fans can begin. If there even needs to be healing? Yet, on the other hand, the Scene Stealing Saga will still be ongoing and very fresh in the minds of fans. Questions of what sin was worse against them game will still be raging and baseball already has quite an interesting history in choosing when to turn and look the other way. 

So, if a Hall of Fame voter is going to be filling out their ballot for the 2021 vote, will rewarding Bonds and Clemens take on a NEW feeling of inappropriateness? Are they going to get shut out again because someone banged on some trash cans in Houston?  

Tough call. 

60 percent is a long way from being elected, but not too far away from redemption. Stay tuned…

Miracle Mets

We’ll never know if Carlos Beltran would have been a great manager of the Mets. It seemed like a good, popular choice until the scandals in Houston and Boston unraveled and the more often than not hapless Mets find themselves in the middle of a scandal they had nothing to do with. Beltran is gone and we’ll never, never know. However, Beltran’s loss just might be the Mets gain. 

It’s definitely Luis Rojas’ gain. 

Mets fans have spent many a season with their heads in their hands wondering what might have been, what could still be, and how tragic it was to only get one title with Gooden and Strawberry. There have been a lot of regime changes and big signings… and bigger flame outs, but the naming of Luis Rojas has been received so well by so many that you have to wonder if the Mets backed themselves into their best luck since a little roller went behind the bag… 

Rojas is a popular choice with the players.

He knows his name well, having managed thirteen current Mets in the Minor Leagues. He’ll already know this team and the players will trust him. Plus, as we all watched managers and front office personnel take the hit and guilty players seem not yet ready to even apologize a tiny bit for what was done, (save for Dallas Keuchel) it was nice to see the 38-year-old Rojas, son of the great Felipe Alou, get something that everyone seems to believe he deserves. Baseball needs that right now. 

The Mets still might end up being the Mets, but right now… the fans should take this small victory. 

This week in baseball history…

… Brooklyn Dodger great Roy Campanella was involved in a single-car accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. The accident took place in the early morning hours of January 28th, 1958 as the three-time National League MVP was leaving work. Yes, that’s right, work… Campanella owned and operated a liquor store in Harlem and was heading to his home in Long Island when his rented Chevrolet sedan hit a patch of ice, changing his life in a second. 

This incident brings up a lot of emotions this week as the sports world and fans everywhere mourn the sudden passing of Laker legend Kobe Bryant. It all seems surreal. Absolutely not really happening. I grew up reading about the tragic tales of Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente, Lyman Bostock, and, of course, Campanella. There are many others out there as well, both recent and long ago. Larger than life sports heroes that fall to the realities of this mortal life. 

I grew up with the image of a wheelchair bound Campanella on the field on the Los Angeles Coliseum on the night 93,000 plus fans came out to commemorate him stuck in my head. Campanella’s career had long since ended, of course, but there was a photo of the event I had in a collection of Dodger memorabilia that I had stumbled into owning. The photo was used a lot during the coverage of the event and now stands as a timeless memento to the night. But as a young fan, I remember just staring at the photo often trying to understand what it must have felt like to have your livelihood taking away from that and on such a grand scale. 

Campanella had an impressive career. One that began in the Negro Leagues because Campy was born to an African American mother and Italian American father, putting him on the wrong side of the color barrier. Insane on every level, of course, but Campanella just kept raking and was pulled into the Dodger’s system as they prepared to smash the color line down. He was almost Branch Rickey’s choice to break it. 

On a ballclub full of legendary names like Robinson, Snider, Hodgers, and Newcombe, Campanella was the glue. You hear that a lot, but it should never be underestimated. These are the players that fuel everything that is great about the rosters you love to root for (or against). An all-star for eight straight seasons, Campy’s 1953 season remains one of the best ever for a catcher no matter the era. 1.006 OPS, .611 slugging, 142 RBI, and 41 bombs. 

Yet none of that mattered on that fateful night in 1958. None of it does. What matters is what you do with the time you have, how you grow and change, how you love those around you, and how you live each day with all of that in mind. Campanella was fortunate enough to survive and still contribute greatly to the Dodgers organization and live a full life. Every day others aren’t. I used to stare at the photo of Campanella and think about what was lost… but now… after seeing this time and time again… I look at the photo as a reminder to appreciate every second. 

Walk Off Quote

“If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you are wasting your time on Earth.”-  Roberto Clemente, humanitarian/ baseball player

***

Ken Napzok wish you all nothing but love this week. He is the author of Why We Love Star Wars and host of The Napzok Files podcast feed. 

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