As Derek Jeter opened his Hall of Fame speech, he was his typical gracious self.
"I'm so honored to be linked to you forever," Jeter said, mentioning Marvin Miller, Larry Walker and Ted Simmons, his three fellow inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Then he dropped some Hall of Fame petty.
"Thank you to the baseball writers—all but one of you—who voted for me," Jeter said, drawing laughs from a packed Cooperstown crowd, nearly all of whom came to see him.
While Miller, Walker and Simmons were deserving Hall of Famers in their own right, there was no question who was the top attraction Wednesday afternoon. There were enough Yankee uniforms on the Hall lawn to pack the Bronx, with the New York icon going on last and waxing poetic about his career, his motivations and, most importantly, his wife and two daughters.
Walker became the first Rockies player and second Canadian to enter the Hall of Fame. The slugger made five All-Star appearances and was the 1997 NL MVP. He finished his career with a .313 average to go along with 383 home runs and 1,311 runs batted in.
During his speech, Walker paid tribute to his Canadian heritage—shouting out Ferguson Jenkins, the first Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer—while mentioning his journey in the sport was unique because he didn't grow up playing baseball from a young age. None of that mattered, with Walker turning out to be one of the most natural hitters in recent baseball history.
Walker also made history as the first Hall of Famer ever to wear a SpongeBob pin on his suit.
Simmons, who played for the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves over the course of a 21-year MLB career, was inducted after a lengthy wait. The longtime catcher credited Hall of Famer Robin Yount for pushing his candidacy in recent years, saying he likely wouldn't have made it if it weren't for the work of his former teammate.
“For those like myself, the path [to Cooperstown] is long–and even though my path fell on the longer side, I would not change a thing," Simmons said.
Simmons opened the ceremony with an excellent speech that drew raves across social media, with some wondering why he hadn't spent his post-baseball career doing voiceover work.
Dallas Braden @DALLASBRADEN209
So Ted Simmons is basically Morgan Freeman. The eloquence with which he spoke & the appreciation for what the game has given to him was palpable. That was incredible. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Cooperstown?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Cooperstown</a>
Miller, who was inducted posthumously, was also long overdue for his recognition in Cooperstown. The first executive director of the MLB Players Union, Miller helped reshape not just baseball but sports in general. His steadfast belief in player empowerment led to free agency in baseball and set the path for other sports to follow in his footsteps, with Miller constantly pushing against decades-long barriers for the betterment of players.
Miller's induction came with some level of controversy because he had requested several times to have his name taken off the Cooperstown ballot.
“I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged veterans committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote," Miller wrote in 2008. "It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.”
Miller died four years later at age 95, and he instructed his family not to attend the ceremony if he ever were elected posthumously. Donald Fehr, Miller's successor with the MLBPA, instead gave a speech that celebrated his mentor's accomplishments and triumphs for players in sports.
All told, Miller made changes that vastly helped the careers of Jeter, Walker and Simmons. It's just unfortunate he was not able to be honored while he was still alive.