MLB

How Derek Jeter Divides His Loyalty Between the Yankees and Marlins

Derek Jeter has sought to bring the organizational style of the New York Yankees to the Miami Marlins’ front office. The results of this culture change are finally bearing fruit. After some years at the bottom, the Marlins have been a pleasant surprise this MLB season.

Jeter’s success with the team could reshape his legacy in baseball. But his status in New York leads to an existential question: Does he see himself as a Yankee or a Marlin?

Despite all reason, Miami has been excellent in the NL

The smaller the sample size, the higher chance of an upset. COVID-19 has forced leagues into tough situations. Its impact on MLB games is unknowable but present. Would the Denver Nuggets or Miami Heat have made such deep postseason runs under normal circumstances? Maybe. Even within this context, what the Miami Marlins have accomplished this season is remarkable. 

It couldn’t have started any worse. The team was a prime example of MLB’s flawed safety protocols. Just after the season started, 20 Marlins tested positive for Covid-19. Only five players were active for all 60 games. The team had to make 174 moves just to fill the roster. Despite the obstacles, the Marlins didn’t keep their heads above water. They finished with a winning record — only one game over .500, but still — since 2009. Miami made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. 

This achievement is a testament to the young and overlooked talent uncovered by Miami’s front office. After the Marlins clinched their postseason berth, many scouts and baseball operations staffers received a phone call from their famous boss. 

Which franchise does Jeter identify with more?

Former Yankee Derek Jeter
Marlins CEO Derek Jeter signs autographs and poses with a fan | Mark Brown/Getty Images

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The happy days of 2020 seemed like a fantasy when Derek Jeter and the actual owner of the team, Bruce Sherman, bought the team in 2017. Trading established players like Marcell Ozuna, JT Realmuto, and worst of all, Giancarlo Stanton, angered a fan base that had seen too many failed rebuilds to trust their plan.

A 57-win season in 2019 did little to win people over, but their performance in this truncated season was enough to earn some plaudits, and in Jeter’s case, a glowing New York Times profile of his work for the team. 

Jeter’s 158 games in the playoffs more experience with high-stakes baseball than anyone else. He has called on that knowledge to instill a tougher mentality within the Marlins organization.

There are people with Yankees ties in the front office, scouting, and coaching staff in Miami. Jeter and head coach Don Mattingly were both captains in New York. Jeter is loyal to the team he works for, but when he looks in the mirror, he has no doubts about which franchise is more embedded in his being.

“People will say, ‘What are you, a Yankee or a Marlin?'” Jeter said. “Well, look, I’ll always be a Yankee. My entire playing career was in New York. You’d never want to change that. I have quite a special relationship with the Steinbrenner family and the fans in New York. But now we’re building an organization down here in Miami, which doesn’t mean you have to pick one or the other.”

Don’t be shocked if the Marlins and Yankees meet in the playoffs

Like every team in the playoffs, the Marlins can dream of a World Series. They beat the Chicago Cubs 2-0 in the Wild Card Series and will face off against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. The Braves finished with a better record, and came out ahead in several major statistical categories, but write off Miami at your peril. 

The team has a number of impressive young pitchers who could leave their opponents swinging for air quite often, as they did against Chicago, and their ability to steal bases is a useful tool to generate extra runs out of nowhere.

Playoff baseball is also so fundamentally random that any team could get hot and shock the world. Eight wins and the Marlins are in the World Series, where they could potentially face the Yankees for the title. I wonder who Jeter would be happier for if they won?