When the announcement was made that retired Yankees star Derek Jeter was joining MLB and the Rays on their trip to Cuba, I cringed. While Derek Jeter is a great ambassador for the game and will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, he did not need to go to Cuba. There was no reason for him to be there. It would only reduce the Rays attention and exposure and hinder Cuban baseball fans from focusing their attention on Rays players. In an attempt to create a bond between the Cuban people and the team from Tampa Bay, Derek Jeter – Yankee immortal – would only get in the way.
A few days later, Cork Gaines of Rays Index wrote a post that rekindled the old rumor that Derek Jeter might eventually want to buy into the Rays ownership group. Cork wrote that Jeter joining the Rays contingent would add to the speculations and the rumor. Cork was right.
Yesterday, Buster Olney of ESPN wrote a piece on ESPN.com putting the Jeter-Rays rumors on the national stage. According to Olney,
After it was announced that Jeter would be part of Major League Baseball’s entourage to Cuba, there was a fair amount of buzz within the industry that this might be the latest indication that Jeter will eventually but inevitably join the Tampa Bay Rays‘ ownership group.
This rumor needs to die. It needs to die a slow, agonizing, torturous death. It needs to be sent to the Great Pit of Carkoon, home of the almighty Sarlaac, and slowly digested for a thousand years.
It is a horrible, horrible idea that serves no purpose other than to promote the career of Derek Jeter. It will not help the Tampa Bay Rays in any local fashion.
While Derek Jeter has made his home in Tampa, he has no affiliation with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has never played for the Rays, nor was he ever been part of the Rays organization.
Derek Jeter is a Yankee. He will always be affiliated with the Yankees. The Yankees, of course, are division rivals with the Rays. The Yankees also happen to spring train in the Rays market. So where will Jeter’s loyalties be? Will he attend Yankees spring training games?
Will he denounce his Yankees background?
That has zero chance of happening.
Jeter will also do nothing to win over new Rays fans. Yankees fans whose fandoms are generational will not root for the Rays because Jeter owns them. To think that is foolish. What is the motivation? Tampa area Yankees fans will still go to Tropicana Field or Stadium X when the Yankees visit and root against the Rays. Because that’s what they do as Yankees fans.
As a matter of fact, Jeter’s affiliation with the Rays could have an opposite effect. It could turn off Rays fans who dislike the fact that the Rays had to piggyback on the Yankees identity in order to forge their own. That the Rays had to make themselves the Tampa Bay Yankees led by a Yankee great.
It’s bad enough the Rays host the Ted Williams Museum, a museum that is a tribute to perhaps the greatest Boston Red Sox player ever. To affiliate themselves with an all-time Yankee would be to tie themselves to another team’s legacy.
Olney writes that Jeter would be a great fit “in the same way that Magic Johnson was the right guy to be part of the Dodgers’ new ownership group in L.A.”, but there is a big difference. Derek Jeter did not play his career in Tampa Bay. Magic Johnson is perhaps the most popular player in Lakers history. By this logic, Jeter should join the Steinbrenners in Yankees ownership.
What if Jeter had retired to San Diego? Would Olney, et al talk about him buying the Padres?
Some may bring up Steve Yzerman’s relationship with the Lightning as proof Jeter to the Rays makes sense. But Yzerman had been retired for nearly four years and held several front office positions before joining the Lightning as GM. The Lightning also only play the Red Wings at home twice a season. The Rays play the Yankees at least nine times. The Red Wings also don’t train in the Tampa Bay area.
Imagine if the Red Wings trained in Clearwater, over 30% of Tampa residents were from Detroit, and local media covered the Red Wings ownership as if they would locals. In that case, the hiring of Steve Yzerman would have been interpreted differently.
Others may point to Don Mattingly managing the Florida Marlins as an example of bring the Yankees prestige to another team. But there is a big difference. Yankees fans in South Florida could root for Mattingly to do well in the National League while they root for their Yankees in the American League. The two teams hardly ever cross paths.
The Tampa Bay Rays have had enough trouble forging their own identity and creating a fanbase. Affiliating themselves with Derek Jeter would be a huge mistake. If the Rays are going to sell ownership stake to a local athlete, they would be better off selling to Hulk Hogan.