Derek Jeter always has had the most impeccable timing throughout his career, and with Major League Baseball trying to distance itself from the latest scandal, he came to the rescue again.
The sport is embroiled in a crisis with its integrity questioned. Jeter’s election Tuesday into the Baseball Hall of Fame couldn’t have come at a better time.
Jeter, the Yankees captain, did not receive a unanimous vote, as many had predicted. Former teammate Mariano Rivera remains the only unanimous selection, in 2019. Jeter received 99.7 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, one vote shy of a unanimous ballot.
“I was pretty nervous. I really didn’t really know what to say,”‘ said Jeter, on receiving the congratulatory phone call.
It was a call his friend and teammate Rivera received a year ago. And now he welcomes another member of the Yankees’ Core Four to the Hall.
“It’s going to be a very special day standing next to Derek in Cooperstown this summer,” Rivera said in a statement. “He had such a deep desire to win, and that singular commitment to his team is what made him so special. Derek prided himself on being a consistent presence. No moment was too big. He was fearless, and he was the type of leader we knew we could count on year after year.”
It even calms the debate about whether Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame. They fell short once again on their eighth year on the ballot.
Jeter shelters us from everything that is wrong with baseball, and reminds us about everything that is right.
When you think about it, hasn’t he been doing that his entire career?
He was the kid drafted and signed by the Yankees as a shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and four years later, was lifting the Yankees out of the doldrums en route to their greatest dynasty since Mickey Mantle was roaming center field.
He was baseball’s diplomat who exuded nothing but class when the sport endured the ugly steroid era, the BALCO investigation that involved former teammate Jason Giambi, and the Biogensis scandal that resulted in a year-long suspension of teammate Alex Rodriguez.
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No matter how embarrassing, no matter the severity of the scandal, there was always Jeter.
He embodied everything that was right about the sport, emerging as one of America’s greatest role models.
”A Derek Jeter comes along once in a generation. …Derek was comfortable in his own skin. On the biggest stage in sports, he was never afraid to fail and always kept the game fun. Derek respected the game, the fans, his teammates and his opponents,” said Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees from 1996-2007.
He played his entire career in the media capital of the world, as the most eligible bachelor in New York, and not once was he involved in anything remotely detrimental to his pristine image.
“Being in the city of New York where one little hiccup can basically fry your personality or your persona,’’ NBA legend Michael Jordan said, “and Derek did everything the right way.’’
The biggest controversy surrounding Jeter throughout his brilliant career?
He was boring.
Well, at least to the reporters who covered him regularly.
No provocative commentary.
No boasts of arrogance.
No demeaning declarations.
If Jeter was still playing today, and he was asked his views about the Astros’ cheating scandal, there would be no Instagram posts, sarcastic tweets, or even hints that he was upset.
He simply would say that the commissioner’s office handled it, and justice was served.
That was Jeter.
“We always taught him to treat people the way you want to be treated,’’ Dot Jeter, Derek’s mother, told USA TODAY Sports before his final game. “Respect people like you want to be respected. There may still be some people that don’t respect you, but that’s their problem.’’
Jeter did all of his talking on the field, in the clubhouse (without reporters around) and was the most respected, iconic player of his generation.
Were there more talented players?
Absolutely, even on his team.
Were there greater shortstops?
Was there a man who represented the sport with more class?
Jeter was beloved by his teammates, revered by his peers, and the ultimate champion in every sense of the word.
The man led the Yankees to five World Series championships, seven American League pennants, produced more hits (3,465) than any right-handed hitter other than Hank Aaron, and played only four games his entire career with the Yankees out of contention.
He was the modern-day Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mantle rolled into one.
Baseball is in a crisis now. Fans are furious, threatening to stay away. Players are enraged, insisting the integrity of the game has been violated. The Astros are humiliated.
The game desperately needs Jeter, once again.
Follow USA TODAY Sports MLB columnist Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale