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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2017 — No. 5: Derek Jeter buys the Marlins

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We’re a few short days away from 2018 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2017. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Well, it wasn’t just Derek Jeter. In fact, he put up only about 2% of the purchase price. The big money behind the Marlins ownership group is venture capitalist Bruce Sherman. But even though Sherman will the “control person” of the team under MLB’s rules, Jeter is obviously the most famous member of that crew and is the defacto face of the organization. I mean, the guy named himself CEO of the team — overseeing both business and baseball operations — after the sale went through, so he’s the one in the spotlight.

While Jeter is a famous and popular all-time baseball great — and while the widely loathed Jeff Loria is no longer the team’s owner — the Jeter-Sherman regime has, thus far, not done much to make Marlins fans happy.

At the outset of his tenure Jeter alienated fans and those close to the team by firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon, reportedly doing so over telephone. After the news of those firings broke there was some walkback on it all — Jeter says he merely wanted to do what most teams do, limiting such figures’ roles to purely ambassadorial duties — but the public relations damage had already been done.

The actual baseball decisions he and Sherman have made thus far are more troubling. In the past month they have traded away 2017 MVP Giancarlo Stanton, slugger Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Dee Gordon. As the year ends they are entertaining offers for the excellent Christian Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto. While such wholesale selloffs have, in the past, netted teams a ton of prospects, so far the Marlins returns on trades have been paltry at best. Jeter has talked a big game about rebuilding the team on a more sound baseball and financial footing, but these deals seem to be 100% motivated by Sherman and Jeter’s desire to cut payroll. Indeed, that was reportedly the plan since before their bid for the Marlins was even approved.

All of which makes sense when one realizes that the sale price of the team — a reported $1.2 billion — was financed by a large amount of debt. The Marlins, who lose a lot, draw poorly and don’t have a great TV deal, have never been a cash cow, but adding on a massive amount of debt service to finance the purchase is strapping them even more. Jeter will get a reported $5 million a year — a massive salary for someone in his position, especially considering he has no experience in the role whatsoever — and he and Sherman will, in all likelihood, one deal realize a hefty profit when the team is sold. In the meantime the baseball team itself is going to be terrible.

For his entire baseball career, Jeter — the five-time World Series champion — was praised. He was rarely if ever the subject of critical press coverage and rarely did he make a public relations mistake. He’s owned the Marlins for just a hair over three months and things have done a complete 180.

It’s almost as if winning is the most important thing in baseball and one’s reputation flows, primarily, from that.

How long do you stay a fan of a team that left town?

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File this under “not a really deep thought, but there isn’t much going on this morning, so why not?”

I was catching up with the latest, and final, season of “The Americans” over the weekend. I will give no spoilers and ask that you do the same, but I want to talk about something that came up in the second episode.

The episode takes place in October 1987 and a character is listening to a Twins playoff game on the radio. He later talks about baseball and the Twins with some other characters. The context is not important, but the guy — probably in his mid-late 40s, living in the Washington D.C. area — makes a point to say that he has been a Twins fan since the beginning, and then says he was, in fact, a fan of the franchise back when they were still the Washington Senators.

In case you are unaware, the original Washington Senators moved to Minnesota following the 1960 season and became the Twins. At the same time an expansion team, also called the Senators, was placed in D.C. to replace them. That franchise would stay in D.C. for 11 seasons before moving to Texas in 1972 to become the Rangers.

In light if that, am I the only one who has a hard time buying that such a man actually existed? How would the character, who was a kid when the original Senators moved, be a Twins fan some 26 years later?

There were relatively few televised baseball games back then. Just a game of the week and some out of town coverage of local teams. There was obviously no internet. Outside of the 1965 World Series, it’d be a shock if more than a couple of Twins games were broadcast to the D.C. area during the rest of the guy’s childhood. Maybe he kept up with the Senators players like Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison via box scores, baseball cards and The Sporting News, but I couldn’t imagine a D.C. guy raised on the Senators keeping up with the Twins through the 1970s and 1980s. Would he not become a new Senators fan or, eventually, a Rangers fan? Maybe, like so many people on the D.C. area, he picked up the Orioles as his team due to their 1960s-70s dominance? Any number of things could happen, but I’m struggling to imagine the existence of a Senators guy who becomes a hardcore Twins fans up to and including 1987.

All of that got me thinking about other relocated teams.

The Dodgers are the most famous example, of course, with the narrative being that Dodgers fans in Brooklyn felt betrayed by Walter O’Malley and thus turned their back on the club, later adopting the Mets as their rooting interest. The betrayal narrative is less pronounced with the Giants, but that’s the same general story with them too. I mean, there’s a reason the Mets picked orange and blue as their colors. They wanted to, and largely did, co-opt the old NL New York fans.

I’m sure a lot more Dodgers and Giants fans continued to follow their teams in California than would let on, given that many of the same players starred out there in the ensuing years, but that likely died out as those players retired. Bob Aspromonte was the last Brooklyn Dodger to play in the bigs, retiring after the 1971 season. Willie Mays played through 1973. I assume NL fans in New York kept some nice thoughts for them — particularly because the Mets picked both of them up for the tail end of their careers — but I can’t see those guys rooting for, say, Steve Garvey and John Montefusco in 1979.

Others:

  • There likely aren’t many St. Louis Browns fans left — they last played in Missouri 65 years ago — but even if the ones they had in 1953 felt like rooting for the Cardinals was impossible, I bet most of their kids and grandkids became Cards fans;
  • The A’s fans in Philly — and later Kansas City — probably have a similar story. I mean, there’s a reason that franchise skipped town twice, so to expect undying love over the decades, with the Phillies and Royals around, is a bit much. The Philadelphia A’s glory years were like 90s years ago now anyway, and all of those fans are dead. The A’s modern glory years have all come in Oakland. No one in Philadelphia or Kansas City is looking to the California with an aching in their heart;
  • I could imagine someone’s grandfather in Milwaukee still thinking that the Braves are his team, but not many other people. The Braves won a World Series and two pennants in Milwaukee, but that was an awful long time ago and they moved to Atlanta before the A’s moved to Oakland. Don’t even get me started about Boston Braves fans. They all have to either be dead or have long since moved on. Following a team to a new city is a big ask, but following them to two new cities over 66 years seems pathological. UPDATE: OK, there are some pathological people out there.
  • I have some Nationals fan friends and they tell me that there is a small, weird contingent of Expos fans who root for Washington now. I get that since it wasn’t terribly long ago, but was Brad Wilkerson really a good enough reason to carry a torch? I’d like to talk to some of those people and ask them about their value system;
  • The only other team to move was the Seattle Pilots. They played one season in Seattle and no one would remember that if it wasn’t for Jim Bouton’s book, “Ball Four.” If you find someone claiming to be a Pilots fan in Seattle, you’ve found yourself a hipster peddling revisionist b.s.

Anyway, that’s a lot of words wasted on a couple of lines from a TV show, but as always, your thoughts are appreciated.