It was 13 months later than expected, but Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller were enshrined Wednesday in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.
While the event onstage at the Clark Sports Center — just outside the village — was very much like previous induction ceremonies, the crowd in attendance was not. Despite the draw of Yankees icon Jeter, it was a crowd much reduced by COVID-19 and the scheduling of the event on a weekday after most schools have begun their fall sessions.
The first stir of excitement came before the ceremony when basketball legend Michael Jordan, a friend of Jeter, arrived in the VIP area and chatted with retired Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabbathia.
Hall of Fame Chairman Janes Forbes Clark hinted at the COVID-induced delay in the induction of the Class of 2020 as she opened the event saying, "It's been said the greatest things in life are worth waiting for and this is worth waiting for."
She said the new inductees would being the total of baseball immortals to 333. Of those, she said, 263 were players, representing just 1% of those who have played the game. The rest, she said, were "pioneers or executives," along with managers and umpires.
"They are our legends," she said.
The first of the inductees was Simmons, a catcher who spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers.
Simmons said he grew up as a Detroit Tigers fan, with Al Kaline as his hero. "He remains my hero today," he said.
He noted that he was not elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America, but by the Hall of Fame's Modern Era Committee long after his playing days were over. "However we get here, none of us arrives alone," he said.
Simmons paid tribute to players who worked to expand the rights of players within the business of baseball, and to fellow inductee Miller, of whom he said, "I could not be more proud to enter this great hall with this great man."
He concluded his remarks saying, "I am incredibly humbled."
Miller, the former head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, died in 2012. He was memorialized by Donald Fehr, Miller's successor in that job and now executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association.
Fehr said he worked with Miller for 37 years and that Miller, a professional labor leader and negotiator, viewed improving the lives of ballplayers "the worthiest of causes." He cited free agency, arbitration and pension plans as some of the concessions Miller helped players wrest from owners during collective bargaining.
Fehr said Miller was able to accomplish much for the players by being a calm negotiator and and by listening to players. "The man had endless reservoirs of patience," he said.
Walker, after his introduction, drew cheers as he took a photo of the crowd on his cellphone. "I want to remember this moment," he said.
Walker, born in Canada, noted he is the second Canadian elected to the Hall of Fame, following pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, who was inducted in 1991.
He spoke of playing minor league baseball for the nearby Utica Blue Sox, and said the minor leagues taught him much that he had not learned in Canada, where organized baseball was not popular among youths.
"Me standing here is proof that hard work pays off," he said.
Walker spoke of his time with the Montreal Expos and said he hoped a major league team returns to that city one day. Later, he had success with the Colorado Rockies. "I feel privileged that I'm in Cooperstown right now, representing the Rockies and their fans," he said.
He spoke again of his Canadian roots, saying, "I share this dream with every Canadian." He also thanked Americans for making him welcome and said, "I think we're all pretty fortunate to have two amazing countries side-by-side."
Organizers saved their biggest star for last and the crowd — many in Navy blue or Yankees pinstripes — erupted in cheers when Derek Jeter, the 20-year shortstop of the Bronx Bombers, was introduced.
"I forgot how good that feels," Jeter said.
He spoke of events early in his career when he met Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson, and when he met Hank Aaron. He said he dedicated himself to making both of them, and all Hall of Famers, proud, not of his results, but of "how I played the game, how I carried myself."
Jeter, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, said he "fell in love with the Yankees" while watching games with his grandmother in New Jersey. He said he never wanted to play anywhere else.
Jeter's early days were as part of the Yankees dynasty of the latter half of the 1990s. He spoke of that time, saying, "I had one goal during my career. That was to win more than anyone else, and we did."
He said Yankees fans are supportive, but also demand excellence. "There's a huge responsibility that comes with wearing a Yankees uniform," he said. "I wanted you to be able to count on me."
Jeter spoke of the durability of baseball, saying, We understand there's no one individual bigger than the game." he said the game goes on and, "It's up to us to take care of it."
He concluded, saying, "It's been a hell of a ride."
Also during the ceremony, a video tribute honored the 10 Hall-of-Famers who have died since the 2019 induction: Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton and Hank Aaron. The video, narrated by Hall-of-Famer Johnny Bench, was introduced by fellow Hall-of-Famer Joe Torre, who called the late greats "guys we all had the utmost respect for." Torre said Bench was unable to attend the ceremony, himself, because he has been diagnosed with COVID-19, though he said the former Cincinnati Reds catcher is doing well.