The Derek Jeter retirement tour feels like it was a decade ago. Just three years ago, Jeter gave a speech at Hamilton College on how to avoid bad press. He says:
“There’s two things you can always say to the media: one is, you have no comment. There’s no follow-up to that... The second thing I think most people get in trouble with, they’re afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If you ask me a question and I say, ‘I don’t know,’ how are you going to follow it up?”
This is classic Jeter. When confronted with a tough question from the media, the best thing to do, as a player, is to claim deniability, refuse comment, or give some vague remark about just wanting to win for the team.
For a player, this makes a lot of sense. Consider Jeter’s Yankees career. In nearly two decades under the New York spotlight, there wasn’t a hint of controversy around him. Nothing occurred that you could point to as a scandal.
Yet, after his retirement, the veil slowly slipped. The first move was creating what was essentially an athlete PR-firm called The Players’ Tribune. The outlet garnered criticism for its sanitized look at players, their ghostwritten pieces masqueraded as first-person, and the ability of a platform like this to rob the narrative from a more investigative sports media institution. Deadspin said the following, also three years back:
“The marketing machine behind The Players’ Tribune will say it’s part of the digital revolution, allowing athletes to speak directly to the fans without pesky media misinterpretation. But it’s hard to not notice the similarities between the site and the glossy magazines that line grocery store checkouts with promises of honest glimpses inside celebrity lives... Athletes—they’re just like us! But please don’t ask them any questions.”
The New York Times also issued a mild critique after David Ortiz “posted” a ghostwritten article defending his alleged PED use:
“[T]he Ortiz essay was not written directly by its bylined athlete but instead crafted from a recorded interview with a Tribune staff producer... The staff producers who talk to them do not get bylines... Providing athletes with unfettered access to fans carries with it the risk that they will lie or shade the truth. Is everything in Ortiz’s essay absolutely accurate? Are the athletes’ first-person accounts being vetted and edited as if they were being published by a more traditional journalistic enterprise?”
Fast forward to Wednesday. Jeter is now a minority owner in a Bruce Sherman-led Marlins ownership group. More importantly, though, the PR head of said group. He held a town hall in Miami that evening with season ticket holders in attendance — including Marlins Man. To put it mildly, they reamed him for his handling of the present situation, and here are a sample of Jeter’s remarks:
- On Giancarlo Stanton: “It gives us financial flexibility... No stretch of the imagination it was a gift.”
- On whether he would sit down with Christian Yelich and JT Realmuto to assuage their concerns: “No.”
- On whether he had final say on personnel choices: “I trust the judgment of the people we have in place.”
- On how this will be different from previous Marlins rebuilds: “Only time will tell.”
In a way, he followed his Hamilton College rules, merely saying “I don’t know” to a situation that has fans fuming. This may be acceptable if you have a plan to rebuild, but the Marlins have yet to offer one beyond tossing away franchise players for below-market rate. I doubt Jeter’s plan is to flail endlessly—he’s always considered himself a winner—but being an owner means not only delivering results, but also articulating a vision of the future when fans are wavering.
Stanton described their front office as having “no structure” after Jeter tried to strong-arm him into accepting a deal to St. Louis or San Francisco; Yelich has repeatedly begged to leave; prominent special assistants have been fired, including a veteran scout who just got out of the hospital for colon cancer surgery; and, Jon Heyman has reported that the group has yet to secure the necessary capital to help pay off the whopping $400 million mortgage already on the franchise.
All of this shouldn’t be a surprise, though. This was always Jeter, the same one who has a “no phone” policy in his house, and cleverly escapes from a Starbucks with a disguised name. These are not bad things in of themselves. When you see the whole as a sum of its parts, though, you see a now incredibly powerful person who has spent decades creating a carefully crafted image.
Once again, that’s acceptable from the shortstop of the New York Yankees. A player’s escapades off the field aren’t necessarily the press’ business if it doesn’t actively endanger anyone. That’s his choice to remain cloistered. When one enters into a position of power, though, that changes. The “no comment” principle doesn’t work when one enters into a position of power, or acts as an organization’s mouthpiece. It especially doesn’t work after trading away franchise players and battling boatloads of debt. In that case, it’s more like obfuscation than image cleanliness.