Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal had a front row seat to Derek Jeter’s playing career, a stretch that began in 1992 when the Bombers drafted the shortstop with the sixth overall pick, and which lasted through the 2014 season, Jeter’s last in pinstripes.
What still impresses Swindal to this day, is thinking back to the Yankee captain’s path through the team’s farm system and into his rookie season, 1996, when he led the Bombers to their 23rd World Series title. Even then, says Swindal, Jeter understood the Yankee brand, and he understood the importance of respect toward the team’s then owner, Swindal’s late father, George Steinbrenner.
“I’ve always said — Derek is the pride of the Yankees of our generation, on and off the field. He’s been amazing. He’s given back to the world. He’s been respectful of fans. He’s been respectful of his teammates. He’s been respectful of my father and our family, and most importantly, the Yankee logo,” says Swindal.
Jeter has successfully transitioned into his post-baseball life, putting his name and brand into numerous business ventures, including his latest endeavor of trying to become part owner of the Miami Marlins baseball team along with Bush family scion, Jeb, the former Florida governor and a 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Although a Fox Business report said Friday that the Jeter/Bush group is encountering hurdles coming up with the finances to meet the estimated $1.3 billion sale price, they still remain contenders.
The Yankees will officially retire Jeter’s No. 2 Sunday, closing the book on a storied baseball career that resulted in Jeter winning five World Series titles, collecting more than 3,000 hits, being named captain of the most successful sports franchise in the world and now having his number retired alongside the Yankee legends like Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio.
But Jeter’s second act as a businessman and a soon-to-be-father is only in its early stages, and Swindal says she is not at all surprised that the Jeter touch has resulted in each of his endeavors thriving. That off-the-field success was something the former shortstop laid the seeds for over 20 years ago when he started his Turn 2 Foundation in 1996, a non-profit that in Jeter’s words has a mission to “cause prevention of drug and alcohol abuse for kids,” while trying to “maximize their potential.” As he bids farewell to Jeter, the Yankee shortstop Sunday, the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer is ready to shift gears into a new phase, Jeter Inc.
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During an appearance at the Jackie Robinson Foundation awards dinner last year in Manhattan, Thomas Tull, the Hollywood producer who founded Legendary Entertainment — which has produced the Robinson biopic, “42,” as well as the hugely successful “Dark Knight” film series — told the Daily News that Jeter made a lofty proclamation to Tull when the two men were discussing a partnership to launch the Players’ Tribune website, a forum for former and current athletes to write first-person stories.
“He said something to me at the end of his career — he wanted to have a better business career than he had a baseball career, which is a high bar,” Tull said in 2016. “If I was going to bet on anybody, it’s Derek Jeter.”
A year after that event, Tull says his respect for Jeter as a business partner has only grown exponentially.
“Derek is what I like to say, a squared-away guy,” says Tull. “He does everything the right way, does his homework when preparing for anything. He’s intense. Once he has a vision, he lays out very clearly how he wants to get there. When we were discussing the Players’ Tribune, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I know we’ll be successful.’”
Tull adds that the first-person forum that the Players’ Tribune — launched in 2014 — provides was “Derek’s vision,” and that the retired shortstop’s role with the website is “very active.” And Tull says he has no doubt that if Jeter assumes an ownership role with the Marlins or another team, “he will do amazing things.”
“When you really understand him, he’s a deep thinker,” says Tull, who sold Legendary to a Chinese media conglomerate last year for $3.5 billion, according to Variety, and stepped down from his CEO post in early 2017. “He has tremendous insight. He’ll be hands on, and Derek is so passionate about the game, and playing it the right way, that I think he’d make a unique owner. He’s savvy. When you put all of that together, with his pedigree, that’s pretty fantastic.”
Jeter’s media interests also extend to the storied Simon & Schuster publishing house, where Jeter has his own Jeter Publishing imprint within the company. The imprint launched in November 2013, and is partnered with Gallery Books and Simon & Schuster Children’s publishing. Lest anyone thinks Jeter is just using his name to apply to the spine of adult non-fiction and children’s book titles, Gallery president and publisher Louise Burke says think again.
“Last year, we wanted to go out to the agents in the book community, because they really were thinking that this was an imprint for only sports books, no matter how many times we’ve stressed that it wasn’t, that we wanted to publish other people’s stories,” says Burke. “We culled from all the agents in New York, we invited them to a breakfast at the Paley Center, and we asked (Jeter) to come and do a quick Q & A. One of the things that impressed me the most — and I know it’s one of his mantras — he showed up earlier than anyone. Not only did he agree to come, but he was waiting for us when we got there.
“That speaks to how serious he takes anything,” adds Burke. “Of course, he was charming, and he shook hands and had a conversation with any agent that wanted to speak with him personally. We had an hour-long question and answer, and then mingling. I really got to see him in his element, but also that he took it so seriously. A lot of celebrities, they go through the motions. He was present. It was a wonderful experience, and we started to get submissions outside of sports.”
Burke says that while Jeter is not physically present for the day-to-day publishing operations of his imprint — he lives in Tampa full-time — the former Yankee is intricately involved in the book acquisition process.
“He’s constantly on the phone talking about potential book projects. We don’t make a move without him basically,” says Burke. “He’s never heavy-handed about it, and he tries to leave the business part to us. But he gives feedback constantly, and he’s interested in helping people tell their own stories. He has interest across all categories.”
Jeter combined efforts with former NFL player Tim Green on a book, “Baseball Genius,” but when the two went on TV to promote the title, Burke says Jeter took a back seat in the fame category.
“Derek said, ‘This is Tim’s area, I’m just window dressing.’ They had a great rapport,” says Burke.
Jeter is also a brand ambassador for Luvo frozen foods company — Tull has a stake in the company as well — and Jeter of course is still one of Nike’s biggest pitchmen. But his boldest business goal, and one that he has publicly discussed going back to his playing days, is to be a Major League Baseball team owner, just like The Boss.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is ready to sell his South Florida franchise, and Jeter’s group is in contention with a group led by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s son, Tagg, and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine.
There is also a reported third group that has emerged which includes Joe Molloy, the ex-husband of George Steinbrenner’s daughter Jessica (Jennifer’s sister), who himself was a former Yankees managing partner when The Boss was banned from running the team in the early ’90s.
Even though Molloy won’t comment on the reports that he is vying for team ownership against Jeter, Molloy says that long ago he saw the makings of success when the Bombers drafted Jeter while Molloy was running the team.
“He was only a 17-year-old kid. He was a baby when we first got him, but there was kind of a mystique about him,” says Molloy. “He was confident in who he was, and that confidence has transcended in his career and beyond. We made a very good choice.”
Jeter started the Turn 2 Foundation in 1996, his rookie season with the Bombers, and began to build a brand synonymous with helping kids through adversity. After he retired following the 2014 season, Jeter made an appearance on the Upper West Side for the foundation, and his sister, Sharlee, told The News then that her brother and the Turn 2 team had to spend years proving “that what we are doing is necessary and worthy of people supporting it,” even though Jeter’s name was attached to the mission.
“Now we’re able to stand on the success of our programming. Derek, of course, is what keeps us going — his support, his donations to the foundation and having all of his business partners and marketing partners play a role in supporting, financially, the foundation,” said Sharlee then.
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Jennifer Swindal likens Jeter to “a little brother to me,” and adds that the Yankee captain reminds her a lot of her younger brother Hal, the team’s current managing general partner. And, she says, Jeter’s new role as father — he and wife Hannah Davis are expecting a baby girl this year — and as possible team owner, will only add to an already formidable legacy. Even if Jeter has to change from pinstripes to another team’s uniform colors.
“Derek will be an amazing father. He was raised with such amazing values, with his parents always being there. I’d like to think that that will go forward. I know it will. He’s an amazing uncle to his nephew. It’s going to be really neat to see and watch,” says Swindal. “Watching him over years has been very special. I cherish my role in life having been a parent, and now a grandparent, more than anything in the world. I know the best is yet to come for him.
“And I hope the rumors are true (about Jeter’s bid to buy the Marlins). I think he would be amazing. I think he would be hands on,” adds Swindal. “We’re family at the Yankees, especially those that have played all the way through my life. He’ll be great for baseball.”
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