The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are being held this weekend in Cooperstown, a village in upstate New York known for its picturesque beauty, small-town charm and as the greatest arena for disagreement in sports.
At first blush, it seems unlikely that there could ever been a total agreement on anything in baseball. Arguing has forever been part of the game. It is everywhere: You see the infield in, I see pinched at the corners. You see a curve, I see a slider. You see the hot dog man, I see cotton candy.
When it comes to the Hall of Fame, which is currently voted on by people ranging from tenured baseball writers to members of various committees, the divergence of opinion becomes even more magnified.
Generally, this is a group that can't agree on anything: Sandy Koufax only got 87 percent of the votes when he was elected in 1972. Mickey Mantle got 88 percent. Even Babe Ruth -- only the greatest hitter ever -- had five percent of the voters say he wasn't a Hall of Famer. Tom Seaver, who missed unanimous election by just five votes, got 98.84 percent in 1992 and remains the closest to perfection.
In other words, unanimity isn't the Hall electorate's strong point and it is very likely there will never be a player to get 100 percent of the votes. In fact, in looking at the current baseball landscape, I would propose that there is only one player in the foreseeable future who even has a chance at accomplishing such a feat. One player who might bridge the gap between stat-geeks and the crusty old lifers. One player who everyone -- regardless of their individual views on the game -- sees as worthy. You've probably heard of him.
His name is Derek Jeter.
In the third season of
The Republican, Florida Gov. Rob Ritchie, is not an academic like Bartlet. He is plain-spoken. Easy to understand. Someone who will can be liked by both Oklahoma farmers and California tech geeks. "Ritchie's good for all time zones," Toby finally says.
Jeter is the same. The demographics of the Hall of Fame voters are obviously difficult to pin down, but there are some generalizations that can be made. To get 100 percent of the votes, a player would need to appeal to everyone: Those who value traditional statistics and those who look at more modern metrics; those who care about winning and those who want gaudy personal totals; those who look for dignity and representing the game well and those who simply use their "gut" to tell them if a player is worthy.
Want advanced stats? Jeter's career WAR is 70.2, which is 55th all-time among position players. Roberto Alomar, who got 90 percent of the 539 votes cast this year and will be inducted in Cooperstown on Sunday, is below him at 63.5. So is another shortstop in Barry Larkin (68.9), as well as Tony Gwynn (68.4), Jackie Robinson (63.2),Yogi Berra (61.9) and roughly three-quarters of the rest of the players already in the Hall.
Prefer more traditional markers? Jeter has already passed 3,000 career hits, a long-time benchmark for position players. Consider, too, that Cal Ripken is currently the position player to received the greatest percentage of votes (98.53 percent in 2007) and Jeter has him beat -- handily -- in most critical rate statistics. Jeter's .312 career average is 36 points higher than Ripken's. His .383 on-base percentage is 43 points higher. His .831 OPS is 43 points higher.
Ripken, of course, is crediting with "saving baseball" after the disaster of the 1994 strike and there is value in that. Public perception is certainly a factor for some voters -- does this player "matter?" -- and Ripken did. But as much as anyone ever has, Jeter has mattered, too.
He has been the face of the game's most famous franchise and, in many ways, the entire league, for nearly his entire career: After 9/11. When Team USA competed in the World Baseball Classic for the first time. When Yankee Stadium was closed down. When George Steinbrenner died.
He has been popular. He has been dignified. He has been reliable and trustworthy for fans, never letting them down with even a hint of a connection to gambling or crime or the use of PEDs.
No one would say that Jeter is the best player ever or even, necessarily, of his generation. But that is not the issue here. The question is whether he is someone everyone, regardless of how they rate a player's career, could see the name "Derek Jeter" and immediately think "Hall of Fame."
The question is whether Jeter is good for all time zones.
If you look at the active players ahead of Jeter on the all-time list of position players in terms of WAR, there may be an inclination to wonder why Jeter -- and not, say, Albert Pujols -- would have the best chance at becoming the first 100 percenter. It's a reasonable question.
Here are the players ahead of Jeter:
1. Alex Rodriguez
2. Albert Pujols
3. Chipper Jones
4. Jim Thome
Taken in reverse order, Thome (while an incredible hitter) will inevitably be docked by some for not playing a field position for much of his career. He never really had a chance.
Jones, who statistically is one of the most underrated players of all time (his 141 OPS+ is third among third basemen in history) will nevertheless suffer among the intangible-heavy voters, who may hold back because they don't think of him as a "winner." It also hurts Jones that he played his entire career in Atlanta, which -- while certainly not Kansas City -- doesn't have the spotlight of other cities.
Pujols, too, will be knocked for a lack of winning, though he has time to change that. Ultimately, the question with Pujols will be about his popularity. Even now, in his prime, Pujols ranks sixth in terms of jersey sales, below players like Jeter (No. 1), Joe Mauer (No. 2) and Chase Utley (No. 4), and even if continues to produce the way he has, his (relatively) lower profile will likely be what keeps him from challenging the 100 percent mark.
As for A-Rod, the issue is moot. His admission to using PEDs during his career means the question is less about whether he'll get in unanimously and more about whether he'll get in at all.
Jeter does not have that issue. He is clean. He is beloved. He has won five championships. He has been a 12-time All-Star. He has the numbers, regardless of which numbers you happen to think are important.
I know that baseball has forever been a game of friendly disagreement but Derek Jeter is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Surely there's at least a chance we could all agree on that?