MIAMI (AP) — Reacting to the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a Miami Marlins supporter who is a priest suggested in church that fans boycott the team’s games in protest.
Does Derek Jeter have a prayer?
Always a winner as captain of the New York Yankees, Jeter is now trying to revive the downtrodden Marlins, and so far he appears out of his league as a CEO.
Barely two months into the job, he has been faulted for his handling of the Stanton deal, and that’s not all. Critics contend Jeter is to blame for clumsy firings, delegating too much and hanging in the background rather than accepting his role as the face and voice of the franchise.
And long-suffering Marlins fans wonder: If Jeter’s ownership group didn’t have enough money to pay Stanton, why did they buy the team?
Jeter thrived in New York, somehow retaining an impeccable image amid the scrutiny of the world’s media capital. The theme at his retirement celebration was respect — the logo was “re2pect,” with Jeter’s jersey number replacing the S.
Now that he’s a novice baseball executive in Miami, the glare’s not as bright but the glow is gone, and re2pect must be earned anew.
“It’s definitely different,” former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. “As a player, everyone had respect for Derek Jeter and kind of treated him with kid gloves. The new role has created a different role for him. We never saw Derek Jeter beat up like this in New York.”
Part of the issue is that Jeter has taken on a task that may be impossible — trying to make baseball succeed in South Florida. The Marlins’ miserable record and attendance year after year has raised doubts about whether the sport belongs in the Sunshine State .
Founding owner Wayne Huizenga drew boos at the ballpark despite the Marlins winning a World Series title in 1997. Jeffrey Loria, who sold the team to Jeter’s group, became wildly unpopular even after his Marlins made a storybook run to another championship in 2003.
And now it’s Jeter drawing jeers when he attended a recent Miami Heat game. He also sat in a skybox at Monday night’s Dolphins-Patriots game, raising the question: Why wasn’t he at this week’s winter meetings?
“I was never planning on attending the winter meetings,” Jeter said. “Michael Hill is our president of baseball operations, and that is his job.”
But his absence reinforces the notion he’s trying to distance himself from the decisions he’s making.
Even before Jeter’s group formally took over, the Marlins fired Jack McKeon, Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson and Tony Perez, all longtime executives and team ambassadors.
There was public backlash, and another when the Marlins fired popular TV play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz. More negative headlines reported the Marlins fired a scout while he was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery.
Jeter has said little in response to the criticism.
“It has been a learning experience,” Jeter said. “There have been a lot of stories out there that haven’t entirely been true. One thing that has been consistent with me throughout my career is I do not operate through the media.”
But now the media and fans have turned on Jeter.
“This is open game,” Phillips said. “My guess is it’s really hard on him right now. You have to have thick skin and be able to take it. But the things he’s hearing, they can go right through your thick skin and into your soul.”
While Jeter’s gold star becomes tarnished, his foil for all those years in New York — Miamian Alex Rodriguez — surges in popularity. A-Rod’s on the red carpet with J-Lo, on TV bantering with Big Papi, giving advice to the Yankees on potential managerial candidates and earning praise for his work with prospects.
Meanwhile, South Florida seethes. And nothing angered Marlins fans like the departure of Stanton, the NL MVP and major league home run king.
Jeter took hits for a trade that appeared to favor his former team, but it should be noted Stanton first rejected being traded to the Giants or Cardinals.
Nonetheless, the deal marked the start of the franchise’s latest payroll purge. Huizenga and Loria dismantled, too.
“Man I really feel bad for Marlins fans,” tweeted Dontrelle Willis, the only 20-game winner in franchise history. “All the moves that have been made by the front office to send their best players in the team’s history are crazy.”
Last in the NL in attendance for 12 of the past 13 years, the Marlins lost money this year with the highest payroll in team history. Jeter argues the franchise must live within its means and rebuild a weak farm system to create a foundation for the kind of long-term success the Marlins have never enjoyed.
They last reached the playoffs in 2003, and last finished above .500 in 2009.
“The one thing everyone needs to realize is this is an organization that had not been successful,” Jeter said. “I understand. Well, actually, I can’t say I do understand. I don’t understand how the fan base feels, because they have been through quite a bit. ...
“If you haven’t been winning, it’s time to make a change. To make a change, there have to be some moves. There may be some unpopular decisions at times. But we are trying to fix something that is broken.”
Jeter has only a small financial stake in his group, which paid $1.2 billion for the Marlins. Many believe the group overpaid and is underfinanced, perhaps dooming the Marlins to small payrolls in perpetuity.
Phillips said Jeter could use an adviser willing to tell him no and steer him away from bad decisions. Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick, a longtime successful general manager, said Jeter just needs time to grow into his new role.
“When you move from being a player into the front office, there are going to be different situations along the way,” Gillick said. “You see how your decisions impact others. He’s going through that right now.”
So Jeter’s off to a rough start, with opening day still more than three months away. That doesn’t mean his overriding message is wrong.
“We’re not going to turn this organization around overnight,” Jeter said. “It’s going to take some time to get it to where we want it.”
He can preach patience, even to a disgruntled priest, but Marlins fans have little left, and Jeter is paying the price.
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker in Lake Buena Vista contributed to this report.
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