With Jeter and the Marlins, an awkward marriage ends in divorce
By Tyler Kepner
Derek Jeter crossed the threshold into baseball immortality last September with induction into the Hall of Fame. Most people stop running at the finish line, but not Jeter. Few had ever taken the stage while also holding a demanding executive position, putting off a cushy retirement.
Kim Ng was there for the ceremony that sunny day in Cooperstown, New York. As chief executive of the Miami Marlins, Jeter had hired Ng, a former New York Yankees official, as the first female general manager in baseball history. Ng took a moment to explain why Jeter — who made a fortune and had finally settled down to raise a family — would even want to run a team.
“I think that’s just the person he is,” Ng said. “He’s always challenging himself. He has never said this to me, but I’m sure he wants to experience winning on a number of different levels. And it’s different as an executive, knowing that you helped put together the team — the executive team, the coaching staff, whatever it is — to get to that spot that you want to get to.”
Jeter did not get to that spot with the Marlins. He resigned Monday, ending an ambitious second career after 4 1/2 years in charge of one of baseball’s most vexing franchises.
In a statement, Jeter said he would no longer serve as an investor nor a shareholder with the Marlins. He held a 4% stake as part of a group that paid $1.2 billion for the franchise in 2017, led by Bruce Sherman, a wealth-management executive from New York.
“We had a vision five years ago to turn the Marlins franchise around, and as CEO, I have been proud to put my name and reputation on the line to make our plan a reality,” Jeter’s statement said.
“Through hard work, trust and accountability, we transformed every aspect of the franchise, reshaping the workforce and developing a long-term strategic plan for success. That said, the vision for the future of the franchise is different than the one I signed up to lead. Now is the right time for me to step aside as a new season begins.”
The Marlins have never won a division title in their 29 seasons but they captured World Series championships in 1997 and 2003. Their only other playoff appearance came under Jeter’s direction in the expanded format of 2020, when they were 31-29 and won a first-round series against the Chicago Cubs.
In Jeter’s three full seasons, though, the team lost 98, 105 and 95 games, while continuing its pattern of meager payrolls and poor attendance. The Marlins ranked 23rd in the majors in payroll in 2018, according to Baseball Prospectus, and 29th, 27th and 28th in subsequent seasons. Their attendance has ranked last in the National League every year that tickets have been sold since 2013.
“The Marlins thank Derek for his many contributions and wish him luck in his future endeavors,” Sherman said in a statement. “We have a deep bench of talent that will oversee both business and baseball decisions while we work to identify a new CEO to lead our franchise. The ownership group is committed to keep investing in the future of the franchise — and we are determined to build a team that will return to the postseason and excite Marlins fans and the local community.”
Jeter’s resignation is another blow to Major League Baseball, which locked out the players Dec. 2, leading to the cancellation of spring training games and threatening the start of the regular season. Commissioner Rob Manfred hailed Jeter in a statement as a “highly respected voice on our diversity and competition committees” and praised him for hiring women in top roles.
“Derek is a pillar of our game, and we look forward to his future contributions to baseball,” Manfred said.
Jeter was always an odd fit for the Marlins. He spent his entire professional career with the Yankees, amplifying the organization’s motto that everything but a championship is failure. The Yankees, though, typically underwrite that ethos with one of the sport’s highest payrolls. The Marlins are paupers.
Usually, anyway. Their original owner, Wayne Huizenga, spent big to win the 1997 title, then traded nearly all of the team’s best players to save money. When a cheaper roster won again in 2003 — beating the Yankees in the World Series — another Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, oversaw another sell-off within a couple of years.
Those teardowns have had a corrosive effect on the fans in South Florida, instilling a wariness and a skepticism that followed the team to its new stadium in 2012. Ownership signed expensive free agents that year, then gutted the roster again when things went bad.
The Jeter group moved in and promptly traded the team’s dynamic outfield trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. The new regime also signaled a more serious tone at the ballpark, removing the whimsical home run sculpture above left field and the fish tank behind home plate.
But Jeter, who filled Miami’s field and front-office staff with former Yankees personnel, also inherited a depleted farm system that has blossomed into one of baseball’s best. He oversaw the introduction of a life-skills component to player development — cooking, financial planning, even Spanish classes for English speakers — and put diversity and inclusion into action by hiring Ng and others.
The goal, Jeter said in a 2020 interview after the Marlins reached the playoffs, was to build something lasting.
“It’s not like we’re trying to chase winning one time,” he said. “We all know how difficult it is to win. We want to have an organization that, year in and year out, we have an opportunity to compete for a championship.”
A publicist said Jeter was not available to take questions Monday to expand on his reasons for leaving. But while the Marlins signed outfielder Avisail García for four years and $53 million in November, they have resisted the kinds of expensive free agents who can fast-track a team to contention.
Jeter is notoriously impatient, and changing the culture of a franchise may only be so rewarding. He is also very careful with who he trusts, and if he feels he has been misled, he will never forget it. With his brand, his brain and his bank account, Jeter has plenty of options to live the good life. If the Marlins no longer shared his vision — whatever that means, exactly — there was no use wasting his time as their leader.