By Bera Dunau Cooperstown Crier
The Daily Star
---- — The announcement of veteran New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s retirement after the 2014 major league baseball season has sent ripples throughout Cooperstown’s business community. It has also triggered speculation about Jeter’s possible Hall of Fame future, and its impact on the village.
“He’s a class gentleman,” said Fred Lemister, owner of Rudy’s Liquor Store, who likened him to Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. “I lament the leaving of Derek Jeter.”
Jeter, who has played for the Yankees organization since entering the major leagues in 1995, has helped the team win five World Series and seven American League pennants. The holder of the career hits record for a Yankee, with 3,316, he is No. 10 for career hits in major league baseball, and holds the record for most hits in the postseason. Jeter also is a five-time Gold Glove winner.
Off the field, Jeter has avoided scandal, and has never been tied to performance enhancing drugs.
Jeter, 39, made his retirement announcement on Feb. 12 on his Facebook page, saying that the 2014 season would be his last, and that afterward he wanted to devote his efforts to starting a family, philanthropy and business. He also said that he wanted to help the Yankees win another championship before he left. Jeter missed most of the 2013 season with ankle and other injuries.
When asked about Jeter’s retirement, members of Cooperstown’s business community had nothing but good things to say about the longtime Yankees captain.
“He’s just a very classy player and person,” said Connie Haney, co-owner of Cooperstown Bat Company.
“I don’t think it gets any better than Jeter,” said Sal Grigoli, owner of Sal’s Pizzeria and a self-described “big Yankees fan.”
“I’m not a Yankee fan, but I am a fan of Derek Jeter,” said Lemister, who says that he roots for the Boston Red Sox.
This positive assessment was also shared by National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who was working in the Yankees organization when Jeter was drafted out of Kalamazoo High School.
“He was a classy guy,” said Idelson, “Very respectful.”
When it comes to Jeter’s possible future status as a member of the Hall of Fame, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt in the village of Cooperstown.
“About as much chance as Babe Ruth had,” said Fred Lemister, when asked about the possibility of Jeter being elected on the first ballot.
“He is a very strong candidate … for a first-ballot inductee,” said Haney.
“He certainly has the look of a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” said Idelson, while maintaining that no one could know until the votes were counted.
Jeter will become eligible for election to the Hall of Fame in 2020, one year after his longtime teammate, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
Rivera, one of the most dominant closing pitchers in baseball history, is also considered to be a future Hall of Famer.
“If he can’t get in on the first ballot, something’s wrong with the voting,” said Lemister.
The possibility of having two back-to-back years of Yankees inductions is appealing to some Cooperstown merchants.
“Consecutive years, it’s going to be great,” said Grigoli.
“I think this place will turn into the Bronx,” said Lemister.
Indeed, the proximity of Cooperstown to New York City, as well as the popularity of Jeter, has given rise to predictions of 2020 being a good year for attendance on induction weekend.
“Any time you involve a Yankee and any time you have players who are immensely popular with fans, you’re talking large numbers in Cooperstown,” said Idelson. “2020 certainly has the potential to be one of the largest induction crowds.”
“I would bet we would be topping our 82,000 (actually an estimated 75,000) for Cal Ripken Jr.,” said Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patricia Szarpa, speaking of a possible Jeter induction.
Indeed, Szarpa said that the chamber and chamber members involved in hospitality have already gotten calls about making reservations in town for 2020.
“They came in super strong as soon as that announcement hit,” said Szarpa, who estimated that between the chamber and its members, they’ve received between 150 and 200 calls asking about early reservations.
She also said that there has been an interest in 2019, when Rivera will be eligible.
Still, Szarpa knows of no one who has actually managed to make a reservation that far in advance.
“I don’t believe anybody is seriously taking them,” said Szarpa, saying that two years from a date is probably the furthest out a reservation can be made.
She also said that closer to the date people should make sure to get their reservations, noting that the accommodations for this year’s Hall of Fame induction have been heavily booked.
Szarpa said that she felt that the early enthusiasm for Jeter is a good sign, and that she believes there are a number of good induction classes coming up.
“We’re looking at a string of some really good years,” said Szarpa.
Haney also expressed an optimism about the quality of the induction classes leading up to a possible Jeter induction in 2020.
“I think there’s going to be excitement leading up to this over the next six years,” said Haney.
This attitude was shared by Idelson.
“I think,” said Idelson, “you’re going to see a number of very good induction classes.”