From 1996 to 2003, two teams, the New York Yankees and then-Florida Marlins, combined to win six of eight World Series. Four titles in five years, which is what the Yankees had, is one big achievement, but the Marlins’ two in seven, with the second by way of a victory over the Yankees, is nothing small, either. The Yankees, 21 years after their ’96 title, hold up as the defining success story of the late nineties and early aughts. But the Marlins, 20 years after their ’97 title—well, the successes they had back then look like happy accidents in their generally regrettable franchise history.
The ’97 Marlins gave us the post-World Series fire sale, perhaps the event most emblematic of skinflint owners’ greed and shortsightedness in that era. (The aborted 2002 plan to contract the Expos and Twins, in which current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was especially complicit along with Twins owner Carl Pohlad, also ranks high, here.)
The ’96 Yankees, though, gave us Rookie of the Year Derek Jeter, who despite not being the best shortstop of his era to play for New York (that would be Alex Rodriguez) came to embody in the popular imagination, when all was said and done, that which was great about baseball and winning and pinstripes and celebrity and jump-throws from the hole.
There would be no earthly reason to connect the legacies of the Marlins and their misbegotten roster moves and the Yankees and Jeter and their prim dominance—what two approaches could be more opposed to one another?—except for the fact that Jeter, if multiple reports are to believed, is set to become CEO of the Miami Marlins. (His appointment, and his reported $25 million investment in the team to go with it, are contingent upon Major League Baseball approving the $1.2 billion offer from the investor group led by retired financier Bruce Sherman.) He has thereby made the connection for us.
And there is more than a little to puzzle over. Marlins manager and fellow Yankee great Don Mattingly said back in April that Jeter had always talked of being an owner, and Jeter’s ventures (The Players’ Tribune, other startups) after his retirement in 2014 suggested that his eye was trained on moguldom rather than coaching or broadcasting.
There is little that’s surprising in Derek Jeter taking control of a baseball team. But it is surprising, for all the reasons mentioned above and some more to be mentioned below, that the team in question is the Marlins.
The Marlins have never won their division and have finished second only three times. This is a franchise that pines for the days of Juan Pierre and Carl Pavano, and just yesterday lost a game by accidentally pitching to Bryce Harper because its best starting pitcher didn’t know the team’s signs. This kind of thing just happens to the Marlins.
And they play in a market which, while sizable, has demonstrated no affinity for professional baseball. Including 2017, they have ranked last in attendance each of the last five seasons. The last-place attendance streak would be 12 years long if not for a momentary exit from the cellar in 2012, when the team opened its colossal scam of a new park.
Clearly, this is not what Jeter is used to. And while Loria may deserve the blame for a great deal of the Marlins’ irrelevance and dysfunction, some of it may simply be inherent to the South Florida baseball experience or the franchise itself. Sure, he and his group may make money, if franchise values continue heading skyward. As for the on-field results? Jeter could very well implement all the best approaches and woo all the best up-and-coming executives and still have things go sideways. It’s hard to win as an executive when you’re competing against a mix of billionaires and super-credentialed technocrats. He has his work cut out for him.
He need not take this columnist’s word for it, though. He can ask his fellow Marlins investor Michael Jordan, who has outdone even Jeter as an icon, a winner and a businessman, and who in 2010 bought a majority interest in the team that was then known as the Charlotte Bobcats. Jordan's now-Hornets have won exactly as many playoff series since his acquisition as the Marlins have since 2004: zero.