In the last quarter century, Derek Jeter won five World Series with the Yankees, cemented himself as the most popular athlete in New York, dated a Murderer’s Row of celebrities and married a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model. He played for the most famous team in the biggest city and over two decades never drew the ire of tabloids that delight in even the slightest celebrity slip-up. For anyone who doubts Jeter’s Midas touch, chew on this: He actually started a successful media company in the 2010s. Squint hard enough and there still isn’t anything objectionable about Jeter. Even those who hate him don’t really hate him.
Then there is Jeffrey Loria. Squint hard enough and his murder of one Major League Baseball franchise and slow starving of another becomes even clearer. Loria dismantled his only championship team. He misled the public for a decade to get money for a new stadium. He alienated his front offices, fired managers like his franchise was a reality show and did so with the cocksure walk of someone who knew what he was doing, not a con man who never could fake it. He habitually led the league in penny pinching and incompetence. Jeffrey Loria does not belong in the same sentence as Derek Jeter, and yet here they are, intertwined forever as the former cedes control of the Miami Marlins to the latter and the organization finally get its chance to succeed.
Nothing can change the fortunes of an organization quite like a new owner, and the partnership of Jeter, Jeb Bush and the money men behind them — and, two sources said, there are plenty of those — will rearrange the Marlins’ calculus. Maybe not instantaneously, as the fences to mend with the fans of South Florida are miles long, but for an organization that ran itself like a perpetual Jenga tower, the prospect of someone as level-headed as Jeter involving himself bodes well.
That the Jeter-Bush consortium bid a reported $1.3 billion for the Marlins speaks more to what they believe the franchise can be than what it is. Because, at the moment, with fans simply not coming to Marlins Park — OK, let’s be honest: With fans never having come to see the Marlins — revenue is not where it ought be and certainly where it can.
How exactly they go about engaging Miami and the surrounding communities that have more or less ignored the Marlins since they debuted in 1993 is the question that Loria never bothered to ask. He was too busy running his fiefdom like a tin-pot dictator — obsessing more over the art in his new stadium, say, than the players that would inhabit it.
The answer isn’t clear. After the rousing success of the World Baseball Classic in Miami this year, more than one official at Major League Baseball suggested the next owner fully embrace the Latin American community in Miami and turn the Marlins into their team — one that doesn’t just celebrate the culture but embody it at games, turning them into social events worthy of an entertainment dollar. Blatantly rip off the chants and instruments of winter ball. Actively recruit free agents to the Valhalla that is Miami.
At the center of that is Jeter. He is the player every other player wanted to be. Translating that into management success certainly isn’t linear — Michael Jordan can attest — but rare is the franchise with as much room to grow as the Marlins. Their fan base can grow, their payroll the same, and once the dysfunction of Loria and his son-in-law/henchman, David Samson, exits for good, the rebuilding of the Marlins into something stable will be paramount.
The pieces of something decent are there. Giancarlo Stanton is playing like the guy with the biggest contract in American sports history. Christian Yelich is likewise a star. J.T. Realmuto is the goods. Add Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon, and that’s more than halfway to one hell of an everyday lineup. Much as the Marlins’ pitching may leave to be desired, their core offers them two desirable choices: try to win with it, or flip the most valuable pieces and rebuild in the mold of Jeter and whomever he enlists to run baseball operations.
Jeb is around for gravitas, dollars and superfluous exclamation points. Jeter is forever the captain, primed to lead, willing to take on the sort of challenge even some of the bravest men wouldn’t: making professional baseball viable in Florida. One high-ranking official earlier this month wondered why Jeter would bet on the Marlins. This was the wrong way to look at it. Jeter doesn’t see it like he’s betting on the Marlins. He’s betting on himself, and the Marlins happen to be the beneficiaries.
They’re not the only ones. The fans get someone they can trust and respect. The players get someone who truly understands them. Baseball gets its face of the last decade back in a position of as much influence and significance as Jeter desires. This is what the resurrection of a moribund franchise looks like.
If the price to pay is Jeffrey Loria, bottom-feeder extraordinaire, parlaying a $12 million investment in the Montreal Expos into a spot on the world’s billionaire list, so be it. His reputation is and forever will be that of an opportunist, a huckster, a clown without the makeup. No amount of money can salvage that.
His final gift to baseball was a benevolent one. Once the owners give their seal of approval, once the financing is clear, Derek Jeter, the lifelong Yankee, will be the face of the Miami Marlins. It may sound weird and for a short while feel odd, but it doesn’t take any squinting to know it looks just right.
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