Greg Cote

Derek Jeter is everything Jeffrey Loria is not — and just what the Miami Marlins need

On April 1, 2012, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen talk before the game between the two teams at Marlins Park in Miami. Will Jeter end up owning the Marlins?
On April 1, 2012, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees and Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen talk before the game between the two teams at Marlins Park in Miami. Will Jeter end up owning the Marlins? el Nuevo Herald

Oh, let it be Derek Jeter! Please? If there is a baseball god, let that mysterious deity somehow align all of the stars so that this star ends up owning the Miami Marlins.

I use the word “owning” loosely here, of course. Jeter is the public front of one of the groups of investors interested in buying the Marlins. A source tells me that the eventual selling price is expected to settle closer to $1 billion than the $1.6B figure that has been bandied about, and that Jeter’s personal investment would be as small as around $10 million.

Similarly, Magic Johnson was out front as headliner of the ownership group that bought the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion in 2012, even though Magic’s buy-in turned out to be a (relatively) modest $50 million.

The situations are similar beyond the fact that Jeter, as Yankees captain, and Johnson, as Lakers icon, were at the very top of the superstar strata as athletes — men not only historically great but also beloved.

The storied Dodgers needed an image makeover at the top after the turbulent ownership of Frank McCourt dragged that club through the unseemliness of a protracted ugly divorce and bankruptcy.

The not-so-storied Marlins also dearly need the fresh air of change at the top after the largely unsuccessful and immensely unpopular ownership of penurious Jeffrey Loria, the collective dislike of whom is beyond repair in this market. Marlins fans were rapturous earlier this year at the announcement that the club was actively up for sale.

Jeter, 42, would be what the Marlins need largely because he is everything Loria isn’t: a smiling, youthful, engaging, charismatic face of the franchise.

Is he “qualified?” Unequivocally, yes. He has the knowledge of and passion for baseball. He has longed to own a team and steer its direction. He is accustomed to excellence. He has succeeded in various business ventures. And his reputation is unstained. He’s “The Captain.” New York loves him, and so would South Florida.

Ownership changes in sports are common. Exactly half of all NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams — 61 of 122 — have changed owners since Loria bought the Marlins (for a mere $158 million) in 2002. And they are spread evenly across the sports, with 17 in hockey, 16 in basketball, 15 in football and 13 in baseball.

Original Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga left vilified after he dismantled the 1997 World Series championship team in a fire sale. The owner who replaced him, John Henry, failed to produce a winner or a new stadium. Loria did see Marlins Park realized but hasn’t won consistently (they haven’t made the playoffs since winning a title in 2003), has egregiously underspent on players and has alienated a huge swath of the fan base.

The new owner will arrive hailed in the Anybody But Loria category. “Be careful what you wish for” always is a proper caution in such a change, although Jeter out front would be widely celebrated.

As a bonus, he would appeal to the many Yankees fans and transplanted New Yorkers among us, and help lead them to become Marlins fans. He would also be the perfect fit with manager Don Mattingly. They played only one season as teammates (1995), but Mattingly coached Jeter for years.

Mattingly said this week that Jeter “always talked about” owning a team some day, and noted, “He pretty much seems to be good at everything he tries to do.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Jeter, “I think he’d be a great owner.”

The Jeter-fronted group is being represented in talks with the Marlins by former Morgan Stanley brokerage chief Gregory Fleming, according to a FoxBusiness.com report.

There are other bidders, says the same report, including a Citigroup-backed consortium led by former Florida governor and failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush, and also a group said to have the financial backing of Goldman Sachs.

It isn’t known if the first group linked to interest in the Marlins, New York’s Kushner real estate family, will re-enter the fray, or whether additional bidders will arise.

The competitive interest in buying the Marlins seems to have surprised many in the media, but it doesn’t surprise me.

It speaks of the great potential in this market that Loria has failed to unlock.

The retractable-roof stadium that opened in 2012 is still like-new, and Loria’s sweetheart deal with the county and city enhances the franchise for potential buyers. So does Miami’s proximity to baseball-loving Latin America. So does South Florida’s diversity and the potential — with the right ownership and marketing and a winning team — to see a major spike in attendance.

The oxygen effect of Loria leaving will set the whole thing off.

Any new ownership group will be met with optimism. But one led by Derek Jeter would generate genuine excitement.

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