On Tuesday, iconic New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became the newest member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He and Larry Walker were voted into Cooperstown by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Although Jeter polled at 100 percent on public ballots, he fell one vote short of being the second unanimous selection in Hall of Fame history. He instead finished with merely the second-highest voting percentage ever. Here are the highest Hall of Fame voting tallies:
- Mariano Rivera (2019): 100.0 percent
- Derek Jeter (2020): 99.75 percent
- Ken Griffey Jr. (2016): 99.32 percent
- Tom Seaver (1992): 98.84 percent
- Nolan Ryan (1999): 98.79 percent
In a sport that isn’t all that great at marketing its superstars, Jeter was arguably the most popular player of his generation, a transcendent star who even non-baseball fans knew by name. He was the face of the game’s marquee franchise for two decades and his on-field accomplishments were historic.
Here are five reasons Jeter should have been the second unanimous Hall of Famer in history.
1. He’s one of the best shortstops ever
Simply put, Jeter is one of the best to ever play the game at one of the most demanding positions on the field. His defense was not good, we all know that, but he was such a great offensive performer relative to his position that he still ranks sixth among shortstops in career WAR.
Here’s the shortstop WAR leaderboard (min. 75 percent of career games at short):
- Cal Ripken Jr.: 95.9 WAR
- Ozzie Smith: 76.9 WAR
- Bill Dahlen: 75.4 WAR
- Luke Appling: 74.5 WAR
- Arky Vaughan: 72.9 WAR
- Derek Jeter: 72.4 WAR
Ripken and Smith are the only players ahead of Jeter who started their careers after World War II. Drop the minimum to 50 percent of career games at shortstop, and Jeter is still ninth on the leaderboard. Slice and dice it anyway you want, and Jeter is still a top-10 shortstop all-time.
Jeter made his MLB debut in 1995 but did not begin his big-league career in earnest until 1996. From 1996 through his final season in 2014, Jeter authored a .310/.378/.440 batting line in over 12,500 plate appearances. The average shortstop hit .266/.322/.391 from 1996-2014. He’s one of the top hitting shortstops in history (min. 8,000 plate appearances):
- Joe Cronin: 119 OPS
- Barry Larkin: 116 OPS
- Derek Jeter: 115 OPS
- Luke Appling: 113 OPS
- Cal Ripken Jr.: 112 OPS
OPS is adjusted for era and ballpark, among other things, so it’s telling us Jeter was 15 percent better than the league average hitter during his career. That makes him one of the best hitting shortstops ever. As poorly as he rated defensively, Jeter was one of the greatest offensive forces in baseball history at one of the most demanding positions in the game.
2. He’s sixth all-time in hits
This is something that will never look out of place on a Hall of Fame plaque. Jeter retired with 3,465 career hits, the sixth most in history and the third most among players who started their career after World War II.
Here is the all-time hits leaderboard:
- Pete Rose: 4,256 hits
- Ty Cobb: 4,189 hits
- Hank Aaron: 3,771 hits
- Stan Musial: 3,630 hits
- Tris Speaker: 3,514 hits
- Derek Jeter: 3,465 hits
Injuries sabotaged Jeter’s 2013 season — he was limited to 17 games by ankle problems — and, if he’d stayed healthy, he very likely would’ve finished fifth all-time in hits and possibly even fourth. The hit total speaks to Jeter’s talent and also his longevity. Only three times in his 19 full seasons did he fail to play 145 games, and he is tenth all-time in plate appearances.
3. He was excellent in October
When the lights were brightest and the pressure most intense, Jeter thrived. He’s a career .308/.374/.465 hitter in 158 postseason games, closely mirroring his .310/.377/.440 regular season batting line, which is impressive. Not only is there increased pressure, but you’re also facing the best pitchers on the best teams in the game in October. And yet, Jeter thrived.
Many of Jeter’s greatest highlights came in the postseason. The Flip Play? Jeter made that play in a game the Yankees won 1-0 on the road while facing elimination. There was also the Mr. November walk-off homer in the 2001 World Series:
Jeter is the all-time leader in postseason games played (by 33) and plate appearances (by 185), so he had ample opportunity to perform in October, and perform he did. Jeter is the all-time postseason leader in hits (200), runs (111), and total bases (302). He was excellent during the regular season and at his best in October.
4. He has a squeaky clean image
Perhaps Jeter’s most impressive accomplishment was playing his entire career in New York and never once getting caught up in controversy. He had famous girlfriends, sure, but there were no Page Six exploits, no off-the-field shenanigans that soured his reputation, nothing. Jeter was never tied to performance-enhancing drugs or any other cheating scandal as well. His image is as clean as it gets. Jeter holds up under the most intense scrutiny.
5. Because he should be a Hall of Famer
Unanimous or not, every Hall of Famer winds up in the same place. There is no distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and everyone else and no distinction between unanimous Hall of Famers and everyone else. Once you’re in, you’re a Hall of Famer, and everyone in Cooperstown is on even ground. Jeter’s career so obviously warrants induction and thus everyone should vote for him. There’s no need to be mindful of unanimity, and it seems the voting body is coming around on that point of view.