Keidel: Anger Over Jeter Vote More About The Fans Than The Player

Yankees Legend Fell 1 Vote Short Of Unanimous Hall Election

Jason Keidel
January 22, 2020 - 2:22 pm

Baseball, more than any other sport, trades on the history, mystery and mysticism that come with a 150-year-old sport. As our pastime, it urges you to romanticize its stars and make immortals out of mortals. Particularly when we muse over the Yankees, the sport's titanic franchise, with such a sprawling past that the pinstripes form a nimbus around its champions.

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Just as I was gleefully reared on Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin and the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the 1970s, many of you spent your childhood at the altar of Derek Jeter and the dynastic Yankees of the 1990s. We are tethered to those teams in a way that transcends logic, words or walls. 

So naturally you were thrilled when Derek Jeter hit his first Hall of Fame vote. He strolled right in, with a historic, landslide vote that meets the mysticism you've projected upon him. Except for those of you who are not and instead focus on the misguided soul who passed on Jeter, keeping him one vote short of joining teammate and relief pitcher nonpareil Mariano Rivera as the only unanimous entrants into Cooperstown.  

Jeter was just elected with the highest percentage of any position player since the Hall of Fame started voting in 1936. Jeter received a better result than Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. What do those Mount Rushmore-type players have in common? They were all better baseball players than Jeter. 

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter during Game 1 of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Images

None of that detracts from Jeter, who was the most clutch player on some of the best teams in MLB history. He was so splendid so many times he morphed into more than a shortstop employed by a club in the Bronx. He became the closest thing to Captain America that sports can deliver. Even teams and fans who abhor the Yankees always reserved a kind pocket in their souls for Jeter. 

Rather than rue the soul who did not vote for Jeter, embrace those who did — as in everyone else. Embrace the fact that Jeter got a better showing than Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle or Frank Robinson. Bask in the reality that Jeter was honored, not stained, by this vote. 

This is the odd duality of sports and our relationship with them. The very things that make following baseball so fun — the homespun pride and throaty pleasure of watching our teams win by one run and our favorite player scoring it — fuels the scorn you feel for the one human who wasn't as hypnotized by Jeter as you are. 

If you think of it, is this really about Derek Jeter? Or is it about you? More likely it's about all the years you spent dancing down the aisles at work, pounding on neigboring cubicles, or speed-dialing Mets fans about your most cherished player. You so badly wanted No. 2 to be No. 1 all-time you forgot that being among the greatest is a fine substitute for not being the greatest. 

So when our favorite players, whom we've admired and given comic-book contours through our most innocent years, aren't recognized exactly in the way we demand, we plunge into a self-righteous, rancorous froth. How dare they do this to me — I mean, him. This is the line between debating and fighting, between fandom and foolhardiness. Sometimes, we so blindly love our teams, our players, that we slowly melt into madness. 

Do you really feel sorry for Jeter? If he's not Captain America then he's the corporeal emblem of the American Dream. He's unfairly handsome, absurdly rich, dated a conga line of supermodels, won five World Series rings and was the face of America's most celebrated sports team. His Florida mansion is so cavernous that some folks playfully changed the name of his adopted hometown to "St. Jetersburg." 

And now, Jeter has a new home: the Hall of Fame. And a wholly mortal man gets his rightful taste of immortality.  

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.