By David Lennon
Yankees’ Derek Jeter waves to fans as he is introduced when Bernie Williams plaque in Monument Park was dedicated before l game against the Texas Rangers Sunday, May 24, 2015, at Yankee Stadium.
BOSTON — Derek Jeter’s pursuit of an ownership stake in the Marlins didn’t come as any surprise to people around the Yankees, some of whom heard the former captain talk about his lofty ambition while still wearing pinstripes.
“One thousand percent,” said CC Sabathia, who remembered those conversations. “This was something he wanted to do.”
Only now it’s looking like a reality — less than three years since Jeter played the final game of a two-decade career with the Yankees. It’s materialized so quickly that the team has yet to retire his No. 2 or give him a plaque in Monument Park. That won’t happen until May 14, and we figure he’ll leave the Marlins gear at home for the occasion.
The concept of Jeter running another franchise after building a Hall of Fame resume in the Bronx isn’t quite as jarring as it would have been to see him wearing another uniform. But becoming a part-owner of the Marlins, backed by the investment group headed by Jeb Bush, does cast his post-playing relationship with the Yankees in a different light.
Jeter has kept his distance from the team since calling it quits at the end of the 2014 season. And most noticeably during spring training, when he has declined to stop by at Steinbrenner Field, despite having his home just down the road in Tampa. While Jeter does have some involvement with the Yankees’ minor-leaguers, and takes them out to dinner each spring, much of that stems from his close friendship with Gary Denbo, the club’s vice president of player development.
Evidently, Jeter’s absence was more than wanting a break from the game because he didn’t hesitate to jump right back in with the Marlins, who likely will soon have the Yankees’ legend as the face of their franchise. And by doing so, it could effectively put an end to Jeter ever wearing pinstripes again, in any capacity. Joe Girardi mentioned how the team was rebuffed in their efforts to get him to Steinbrenner Field this spring, at a time when the Yankees could have used his popularity to help kick-start the new Baby Bomber movement.
“We called him and tried to get him to come this year,” Girardi said after Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park was postponed by rain. “It just didn’t fit his schedule.”
Jeter’s retirement is full of non-baseball interests, with the website he founded for athletes to tell stories in their own words and as well as a publishing imprint. He married the model Hannah Davis, who is expecting the couple’s first child next month, right around the time Derek Jeter Day is set for the Bronx. That might also create some scheduling conflicts.
If indeed the Marlins sale does go through, that May 14 night at the Stadium could very well be Jeter’s final act as a Yankee. At least on that particular patch of grass. He’ll have his day in Cooperstown, of course, with the NY cap on his plaque. But Jeter’s loyalties going forward have to be with the Miami franchise and anyone that played alongside him doesn’t believe it will be a tough transition. Even when the two teams go head-to-head, Jeter’s competitive streak would beat out the nostalgia.
“I think he’d want to win,” Sabathia said.
And it’s not like Jeter is getting involved with the Marlins to pull levers behind the scenes. He’s the one bringing the baseball cred to the Bush group, and as such, probably will be called on to be more of a public presence. Jeter chose his words carefully during his tenure as the Yankees’ captain, mindful of his extremely high profile in the sport, but we have to assume his Marlins’ role with a billion-dollar organization is going to carry significantly more responsibility than his shortstop gig.
When Jeter first talked about owning a team, and someday being the shot-caller for an MLB franchise, it was only natural to envision him with the Yankees, the only team he’d ever played for. But maybe now there is the additional allure of competing against them. If not always directly, as an NL team, then in the same 30-club arena.
“I think he’ll always be considered a Yankee,” Girardi said.
And now we’re about to see if the Bronx-honed talent travels well to South Beach.