America at Large: Miami Marlins a huge challenge for Derek Jeter

Iconic ex-New York Yankee joined by Jeb Bush as consortium bid for baseball club

 

In the same week last month that the rest of the world was obsessing over the landmark of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in the White House, one of his erstwhile rivals returned to public life and made a splash of his own.

It was announced that Jeb Bush, the man who once thought he would be king, or at least president, had bought the Miami Marlins as part of a consortium including iconic former New York Yankee Derek Jeter. The presence of those two names and the fact they were reported to have paid $1.3bn for the baseball club ensured plenty of headlines.

More than a fortnight later though, the purchase has yet to be confirmed, a curious enough development made even more so by the emergence of an apparent rival bid. The competing group includes Tagg Romney, curiously-named son of another failed presidential candidate of recent vintage, and Tom Glavine, one of the greatest pitchers of the modern era.

Still, informed sources reckon Bush and Jeter retain an edge in negotiations, at least in part because this is the retired politician’s second attempt to buy the club in the past three years, and current owner Jeffrey Loria is said to be a huge fan of Jeter.

Having previously owned and ran down the Montreal Expos, Loria paid $158.5m for the Marlins in 2002. An art dealer by profession, that he is likely to make a profit well in excess of a billion dollars on his initial investment will rankle with the club’s fans whose feelings are perhaps best summed up by a magazine headline describing him as “the most loathed man in baseball”.

He earned that unwanted title by immediately trading away the star-studded squad which won the 2003 World Series, and for always appearing more interested in the bottom line rather than the scoreline.

Not to mention he also wangled $500m in tax dollars from the residents of Miami-Dade County to fund construction of a new stadium in 2012. Even if he may have to pay a percentage of his eventual sale price back to the local authorities, this was a boondoggle so lopsided that economists reckon it will cost the region an estimated $2bn in lost revenue. That the Marlins boast such a fine facility explains why they are valued so highly on the open market today.

Spectacular incompetence

Having suffered through Loria’s unique combination of spectacular incompetence (11 managers in 13 seasons) and sheer greed (suing his own season ticket holders), the supporters are particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of Jeter in their midst.

Perhaps justifiably, they feel his presence in the boardroom should ensure the Marlins will be trying to compete every year rather than being just a vehicle to generate more and more revenue. Surely somebody boasting a body of work that yielded five World Series rings and a future plaque in the Hall of Fame won’t accept a club failing to make the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons.

“I’m sure he’ll be good as an owner,” said Don Mattingly, current manager of the Marlins and somebody who was the face of the Yankees when they first drafted the rookie Jeter. “Jeets pretty much seems to be good at everything he tries to do.”

With an estimated net worth of $185m, Jeter belongs to a generation of modern athletes who are so fabulously wealthy they do not need to coach or manage unless they really want to.

However, if they eschew that route, they are then tasked with replacing the thrill of competition with something new.

Since his retirement in 2014, the shortstop with over 3,000 hits to his name has launched a ground-breaking website called “The Players’ Tribune” which has become the go-to platform for athletes who want to speak their part, whether it be on social issues or sport-related matters. He’s also invested in start-ups and dabbled in Silicon Valley.

Befitting somebody who rarely watched matches he wasn’t playing in, the portrait is of an eclectic character looking to keep his distance from the game to which he devoted 20 years of his life. At least until he started making noises late last year about ownership ambitions.

Box office

As Michael Jordan has discovered to his cost with the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA though, running the whole shop is a lot more difficult than playing every night.

Taking over a Marlins outfit that has always struggled at the box office (Miami has never been considered a traditional baseball town) represents a unique challenge. With Jeter a long-time resident of Florida and Bush having twice served as governor of the state, they certainly won’t lack for local knowledge when it comes to turning things around and trying to put bums on seats.

At Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Jeter will receive the ultimate accolade when the club hold what is sure to be a quasi-religious ceremony to retire his number 2 jersey. He wasn’t the most naturally talented player of his time but nobody was more beloved, and, significantly, he is one of the few from that pinstriped dynasty whose achievements were not subsequently tainted by steroid revelations.

A few days after he receives that singular honour, baseball’s 30 owners will convene for a meeting where, if 75 per cent of them endorse the sale, the next chapter of this storied career is set to take place 1,000 miles south of the Bronx in the ‘Sunshine State’.

Different town. Very different challenge.

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