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Derek Jeter, Larry Walker Elected To Baseball Hall Of Fame

Derek Jeter sailed into the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. Larry Walker, after a long wait, made it into Cooperstown in his final year on the ballot.

The Baseball Writers Association of America elected Jeter and Walker to the Baseball Hall of Fame in a vote announced Tuesday night. Jeter finished one vote shy of a unanimous selection, receiving 396 of 397 votes (99.7 percent). Walker got in by six votes in his 10th and final year on the ballot. He received 304 out of 397 votes (76.6 percent.)

Both Jeter and Walker were among the top hitters of their eras. Walker finished with a .313 career batting average and won three batting titles in his 17-year career. Jeter amassed 3,465 hits, sixth-most all-time, and helped lead the Yankees to five World Series championships.

The sixth overall pick in 1992 out of Central High School in Kalamazoo, Mich., Jeter raced up the minors and won Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year Award in 1994. He made his major league debut a year later in 1995 and won American League Rookie of the Year in 1996.

He hit .314 during that rookie year, the first of 12 times he would hit .300 in a season. It was the start of a career that would see him make 14 All-Star Games, win five Silver Slugger Awards and five Gold Glove awards.

"That first summer I was in Tampa in 1992, I was just trying to make it to 1993," Jeter said. "I remember staying at the Bay Harbor Inn and being out on the balcony crying at night because I was completely overmatched and thought I had made a mistake signing a professional contract. At that point in time, getting to the major leagues was a long way away. Thinking about the Hall of Fame never crossed my mind. Although it was a long time ago, it still feels like it was almost yesterday."

Jeter demonstrated remarkable consistency across three decades. He finished in the top 10 in American League in batting average 10 times—first in 1998 and last in 2012—and received MVP votes 12 times, spanning from 1997 through 2012.

In addition to sixth all-time in hits, Jeter ranks 11th all-time in runs scored and 23rd in total bases.

"When you think about playing your career, this is the highest honor that a player can receive," Jeter said. "It's a very humbling day."

Walker had a less direct path to the Hall. Signed by the Expos as an undrafted free agent in 1984, the Maple Ridge, B.C. native didn't even play baseball in high school. His primary sport, like many Canadian teenagers, was hockey, but Walker signed with the Expos two weeks before his 18th birthday after playing summer ball.

Walker hit just .223 with two home runs at short-season Utica in 1985 in his first pro season, but that was the last time he would struggle. He returned in 1986 a different hitter and made the Expos Top 10 prospects for the first time. Even after missing the entire 1988 season due to a knee injury he suffered playing in the Mexican League, Walker remained one of the game's top prospects and made his major league debut in 1989.

"I was so raw at the game and was still learning so much," Walker said. "How to hit, how to field, how to throw, base run, you name it. But to come back after (1985)...I think maybe moving to the outfield had something to do with that. I believe J.R. Miner, who was the coach in Burlington at the time, kind of spearheaded that and said my arm was too strong to be in the infield. I was playing third base at the time. Out to the outfield I went, and you feel a lot less stressed in the outfield."

Walker won three batting titles, seven Gold Glove awards, the 1997 National League MVP award and made five All-Star Games in his career, but fell short of 3,000 hits (2,160) or 500 home runs (383).

Falling short of those thresholds, combined with the fact he played 10 of his 17 major league seasons for the Rockies in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, led many voters to judge Walker unworthy of enshrinement.  He received just 20.3 percent of the vote in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot and even fell to 10.3 percent of the vote on his fourth ballot in 2014. But a sustained campaign showing Walker's excellence transcended Coors Field gained momentum in recent years, and culminated with his election in his 10th and final year on the ballot.

"The other years I didn't watch it like what happened this year," Walker said. "These last three weeks watching the tracker and watching people's votes come obviously got me interested because there was a chance. In past years that never existed.

"If this year's would've come up a little short I probably would be was incredible that many people think I was good enough to come this close. But fortunately enough people are saying I was good enough that I didn't just come that close, I made the last hurdle."

Walker is just the second Canadian-born player to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Ferguson Jenkins.

Curt Schilling just missed election, receiving 70 percent of the vote. Roger Clemens (61 percent) and Barry Bonds (60.7 percent) finished fourth and fifth in voting, respectively.

Larry Walker Getty

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