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Derek Jeter and the balance between boss and celebrity

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick provides a behind-the-scenes look at how Jeter and his new Marlins administration are trying to build a successful franchise from the ground up.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The new ownership group that completed their acquisition of the Marlins last fall includes investors you’ve never heard of. Many of them contribute solely with their bank accounts, with no obligation or desire to actually oversee the franchise.

Derek Jeter is the exception. The soon-to-be Baseball Hall of Famer and CEO has made Marlins Park his office and the city of Miami his full-time residence. “Re-engaging with the community” is Jeter’s No. 1 goal, according to a massive profile published Tuesday morning by Jerry Crasnick on ESPN.com.

Crasnick describes how the former star shortstop has adjusted to “his new uniform of dark slacks and a white collared dress shirt.” Marlins fans have often seen Jeter in the owner’s suite during evening home games this season, but may not now he generally arrives there by 9 am. Aside from confiding with president of business operations Michael Hill on how to build a major league contender, he’s just as heavily involved on the business side and in player development.

And he hears all of your “Dímelo” suggestions:

Jeter craves feedback from ticket holders—the blunter, the better. Before this season, the Marlins installed video booths at the park marked with the Spanish word Dímelo (talk to me). He brings up the videos on his computer and diligently watches them, in the same way his management predecessors might have read letters or emails from the fan base.

Jeter reiterates that his group took over a “broken” organization, one that owned the longest postseason drought in the National League and had repeatedly operated at a financial loss.

“If we came in and didn’t make any changes, people would think we were crazy,” he says.

On the other hand, Crasnick rightly points how they may have initially gone too far with several offseason decisions. Popular, relatively inexpensive advisors like Jeff Conine and Andre Dawson were fired just so Jeter could distinguish his administration from Jeffrey Loria’s. The rush to unload productive veteran players angered controllable star Christian Yelich, leaving them little choice but to trade him as well.

Current manager and former Jeter teammate Don Mattingly (predictably) offered a vote of confidence:

“If you think anything that happened over the winter is going to deter him, you’re sadly mistaken. There are going to be some bumps in the road, but he’s not going to give in or give up. He was the toughest player I’ve ever seen mentally, and that translates to what he’s doing now.”

While Jeter has been “relationship mending” with South Florida officials, Gary Denbo—vice president of scouting and player development—is taking more of a “tough love” approach on a mission to turn around a depleted farm system. Multiple sources who spoke to Crasnick worry that “his domineering managerial style has been a drag on staff morale.” Denbo frequently raises his voice, spewing criticism that reportedly borders on verbal abuse.

He didn’t exactly deny that, rather offering this perspective:

“We’re trying to raise the expectations and have higher standards in the organization. Am I direct and honest with people? 100 percent. Absolutely, I am. But there’s a sense of urgency to get the organization back on good footing and back toward competing for championships, and it’s part of my responsibility to do that.”

Again, Don Mattingly was supportive of this approach. He doesn’t mind minor leaguers getting mentored with a bit of militaristic style if it means they’re matured by the time they ascend to the highest level.

Crasnick also spotlights new education coordinator Emily Glass. She’s made recommendations to Jeter throughout the year about incremental changes that could contribute to a more cohesive working environment. Glass has pushed for upgrades to the Marlins’ facilities in the Dominican Republic and a language instruction program to strengthen communication between American-born and foreign personnel. Jeter signs off on everything.

A key takeaway from the article is that Jeter is still struggling psychologically with the transition to a different career. He admits to feeling powerless after so many years affecting games on the field, and considers himself a “frustrated game watcher” who focuses on player mistakes. He enjoys interacting with fans and young players, but cringes at his Yankees highlights and finds no satisfaction when the Marlins or their business partners glorify him with grand introductions at special events.

Still, Jeter embraces this opportunity to compete again. You can question his qualifications as an executive or the viability of Miami as a baseball market, but the effort will always be there.