Barry Jackson

How is Derek Jeter doing as Marlins CEO? Former Marlins president weighs in

Former Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, right, and the team’s then-president, David Samson.
Former Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, right, and the team’s then-president, David Samson. MIAMI HERALD

Third in a three-part series

It has been 14 months since new Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter told David Samson that he would not be retained as team president.

What’s changed is that Samson, whose contract with the team expired Oct. 31, can now speak candidly about the sales process, as he has done in recent days with the Miami Herald and ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard.

Samson addressed many of those topics here in part 1 of our series and here in part 2 including why he thought Jorge Mas would buy the team and the Marlins’ trade talks involving Jose Fernandez and some blunt comments about Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and many others.

So how does Samson think the new owners are doing?

“I don’t agree with many things Derek Jeter has said or done,” Samson said.

But he doesn’t take issue with owners Jeter and Bruce Sherman trading high-priced stars.

“We tried to patch the team together after Jose died,” Samson told me. “The team was losing money and not winning games. I think anyone who bought the team would have done the same thing.”

So where has Jeter gone wrong?

“I think the timing of the re-brand was something I would have done differently,” said Samson, who was Marlins president for 16 years after serving as Montreal Expos president for two years. “I hope it works. That was more about separation from me and Jeffrey Loria than coherent strategy to increase revenue and attendance.

“It’s clear Derek’s operating philosophy is based on doing opposite of everything I did. I am a South Floridian. I hope he’s right and I hope it works. He said the organization is broken when he took over. If I am the reason attendance was low, then all the problems will be solved.”

Of the team’s re-branding and marketing efforts, Samson added on Le Batard’s show: “They’re doing concerts and really appealing to the Hispanic market with the new colors and [the emphasis on fans in area code] 305 and hiring people and making everyone learn how to speak Spanish, which was done under Wayne Huizenga. There is nothing new here. It’s great they’re trying to re-brand and it’s great they’re trying to distance themselves in every possible way from our tenure.

“But the question is, does any of that matter if you are just going to go ahead and trade J.T. Realmuto and do another rebuild? You waste a re-brand if the rebuild is done [simultaneously]. I guess they have it figured out.

“I don’t know that we would do it that way. We tried to re-brand in 2012 and sign a bunch of free agents, all of whom ended up sucking. Mark Buehrle was OK, Jose Reyes was decent, Heath Bell was a disaster. The team was bad and we obviously got rid of everybody. Wouldn’t you want to rebuild and re-brand together?”

But Samson told me Jeter shouldn’t be judged fully yet.

“Look back to my first year as team president in 2002 and to my last year in 2017 and I think it’s very hard to judge someone after a year on the job,” he said. “I think it’s too early to tell what’s working and what’s not working. The thing about baseball is there’s no hiding. He will be judged by revenue and won-loss record.”

Samson addressed other issues with me and Le Batard:

On removing the home run sculpture and replacing it with an area for fans: “I guess they have more standing room which they needed because I guess there wasn’t enough room to stand in the ballpark so they got rid of the sculpture. It’s so wrong on so many levels. It’s quite dangerous….

“If the reason no one comes to games is because it’s me and Jeffrey, I’m glad we’re gone. Now that we’re gone, it means everyone should start coming to games … We spent a lot of time making it a beautiful ballpark and what they’re saying is they want something that’s more Miami.”

On the team’s new logo: “It was rolled out in such a weird 21st century way. We tried new logos. It doesn’t really drive the revenue meter because you share 1/30th of revenue merchandise.”

On what would happen if Marlins catcher Realmuto — who wants a trade — becomes the third consecutive former Marlin to win an MVP award, after Giancarlo Stanton did it for the Marlins (before being traded) and Christian Yelich did it for the Brewers:

“I was wondering if J.T. will win MVP because things tend to happen in threes. I might feel a tiny bit of pleasure.”

On attendance, which was again last in baseball, Samson said this has been the effect of moving from the Miami-Dade/Broward County line to Little Havana: Marlins crowds at Hard Rock Stadium were 50 percent from Dade and 50 percent from Broward or north. But at Marlins Park, it’s 80 percent from Dade and around 20 percent from Broward north, Samson said.

“The only thing we haven’t been able to do is win,” he said. “If the Marlins ever win and people don’t come, then you know pretty much it’s game over.... Maybe we could have tried to do a deal around Dolphin Stadium. That would have helped.”

He said Loria never explained to him why he decided to sell the team and Samson didn’t ask when Loria told him to begin looking for a buyer in November/December 2016.

What’s their relationship like today?

“We don’t talk all that much,” Samson told Le Batard. “He used to be my step father. Not any more in that he’s not married to my mother any more.”

He said Loria is busy buying “art. He travels. He has places in various places.”

At one time, Loria was mentioned as a candidate for the France ambassador position in the Trump administration, but Loria decided not to pursue that.

The Marlins declined to respond to any of Samson’s comments.

Samson is now active on Twitter (@DavidPSamson) and works as a baseball analyst for CBS Sports HQ.

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