Column: Jeter's Success As MLB Owner No Sure ThingOctober 19, 2017
During a Hall of Fame career spanning 20 years, Jeter was ultra-competitive and confident on the field. Those traits, along with an unmatched work ethic, made him a stalwart of the Yankees teams of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that won five World Series titles. Jeter’s confidence was never on display more than in 2004 when the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez in a trade with the Texas Rangers.
A-Rod, a natural shortstop, was a better hitter than Jeter and more importantly, a much better fielder. The logical baseball decision would have been to move Jeter from shortstop to third base and install A-Rod at short. But Jeter would have none of it. He refused to accept the fact anyone was better suited than he was to man the most important position on the field. Rather than create controversy for his new team and manger, Rodriguez graciously accepted a move to the hot corner.
During his playing days Jeter made it clear he wanted to own an MLB team and there are good reasons why MLB would want him in that role. He was a superstar player with a clean public image, recognizable on and off the field to fans and non-fans alike, someone who could bring new, younger fans to the game. However, rarely does an owner become the face of a franchise, drive interest in the team or sell tickets. Jeter may be an exception to the rule, as Michael Jordan has done, in part, with the Charlotte Hornets.
But the real question is whether Jeter’s past experiences on the baseball diamond will translate to the executive suite? The skill set required to be successful on the field – physical tools, instincts, competitiveness, confidence – won’t guarantee success off the field. In his position as head of business and baseball operations for the Marlins, Jeter will be responsible for turning around a franchise that is swimming in debt and hasn’t finished with a winning record in nine years.
Communication, leadership, personal skills, and dealing with the media are skills Jeter will need in abundance. He was known for being a quiet leader as a teammate but that won’t suffice in his executive role. Jeter must supervise employees, delegate important tasks, make trades, and oversee the drafting, signing and development of players. In short, he must be a businessman, not a ballplayer.
As they say in show biz, you only have one chance to make a good first impression and Jeter failed to impress on his first move. Before his purchase was approved, Jeter asked the Marlins to fire four highly respected and popular employees, Tony Perez, Andre Dawson, Jeff Conine and Jack McKeon. Perez is a Hall of Famer, a Cuban native who has ties to the substantial Cuban population in South Florida. Dawson, also a Hall of Famer, played his final two seasons with the Marlins and has worked for the team since he retired in 1996. Conine played for the team for eight years. McKeon was hired as manager mid-season in 2003 and is beloved for leading the team to their second World Series title.
Not surprisingly, Jeter’s request was a public relations disaster in Miami. One wonders how somehow who so carefully burnished their reputation as a player could have been so naïve and callous. To his credit, Jeter had second thoughts. Almost immediately after gaining MLB approval, Jeter began walking back his decision and has reportedly reached out to all four men.
Only time will tell if Jeter has the business acumen needed for the daunting task that lies before him. One thing is certain. Having the ability to hit .300 and excel in the baseball playoffs doesn’t necessarily translate into business success.