Everyone wanted to be Derek Jeter — everyone. It’s hard to overstate the impact he had on the marketing of the game; a player as famous as Shohei Ohtani or Aaron Judge is today, but playing deep into October every single year. He came of age as free agency spending really began to take off, seeing Hall of Famers and should-be HOFers like Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Manny Ramirez switch teams more than once, and Jeter never took a swing for a team that wasn’t the Yankees.
And then, he bought into the Marlins.
Jeter’s always had a mind for business, investing in restaurants and real estate while still playing for the Yankees, so it wasn’t a surprise that he’d want to get involved in the business he knew best ... but why the Marlins? The definition of a toxic asset, the Marlins were expected at the time of the sale to lose at least $70 million that season, while boasting the third-worst attendance and a paltry $20 million annual TV contract. It was a business going nowhere, one whose target market had been deliberately sabotaged by the behavior of the previous owner. If a restaurant in your neighborhood consistently tells its patrons to go eff themselves, it’s going to take a lot more than goodwill and a famous figurehead to turn the company around.
Jeter couldn’t do that, although it’s still up to debate how much power he had to change the strategic direction of the Marlins. In the end, the loggerheads were too great and he stepped down as CEO this year, along with selling his shares in the franchise. Subsequent reporting about clashes with the remaining ownership group around payroll seemed to be the driving force behind Jeter’s exit, but in general the Marlins never felt like the proper fit for the onetime face of baseball, even if he’s someone that probably does have some skill in in the business side of the sport.
Being a part owner of a rival franchise for parts of five seasons had a chilling effect on Jeter’s relationship with the Yankees, one that had begun to strain since his contentious 2011 free agency run. It never felt quite like a “no contact” kind of thing, more like a breakup that you try not to think about because you miss the ex too much to admit in public.
In 2022, unencumbered by the awkwardness of technically being Hal Steinbrenner’s rival, Jeter came back into the fold. He returned to Yankee Stadium in September for just the fourth time since retiring, and the celebration of his Hall of Fame induction felt like the return we as fans had been waiting for. Between that appearance and The Captain, the ESPN documentary that gave us access and insight both into Jeter the person and the Yankees as a organization, it seems that while the relationship isn’t what it was when Jeter was 27, alumnus and franchise are considerably closer than they’ve been in some time.
Aaron Judge said he spoke to Derek Jeter a few times throughout his free agency process. After he signed, Judge said he asked Jeter how he can get him back involved in the organization. Jeter said he hasn't made any decision on what he wants to do in baseball moving forward.— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) December 21, 2022
And then came Aaron Judge’s free agency, where the AL MVP was apparently in contact with his predecessor as Yankee captain for most of the winter. Judge and his camp played their part in FA perfectly, and one has to wonder if Jeter’s experience negotiating with Brian Cashman and Co. helped Judge’s case. Even if it didn’t, having Jeter at Judge’s press conference seemed to be a torch-passing moment the Yankees never had, an acknowledgement that the time of the dynasty was over.
There’s still more to this story yet to be told. Jeter did say at that conference that he expects we’ll see more of him around, but has otherwise been mum on working closer with the franchise. He just launched a new trading card company, continuing his entrepreneurial efforts, and it’s been obvious that being a father has become particularly important to him. Still, 2022 was the first year that it felt like Jeter was back to being a Yankee, or at least Yankee-adjacent, and it just feels right to have him back.