What Is Going On With Derek Jeter?

Throughout his playing career, Derek Jeter received a public reputation that made him a modern-day Stan Musial—supremely talented, scandal-free, humble, and even wholesome. He became the ideal—athletes of today dream of having the long-term, on-field success coupled with the off-field money and reputational benefits that Jeter received.

As a part-owner of the Miami Marlins, Jeter fired Andrew Dawson, Jack McKeon, Tony Perez, and even the man who goes by the name “Mr. Marlin”, Jeff Conine. Jeter also reportedly wanted the Marlins’ play-by-play announcer fired, which happened (though network executives claimed that it made the decision independent of the Marlins’ ownership wishes).

A few days later, it became public knowledge that Jeter sought the firing of Marty Scott, an MLB talent scout of forty years who was fired while in the hospital for having a cancerous tumor removed as well as polyps from his colon. He was also awaiting a kidney transplant resulting from the advancement of his diabetes.

What is going with Jeter?

So far, the sports press has been intrepid in their coverage of Jeter’s rise to ownership, calling these moves “questionable” or “controversial.” Or a blanket assertion that ownership has the “right” to make these moves—that claim sidesteps the issue, as no one is questioning the ownership’s right to fire employees, but rather, are attacking the morality of how they chose to wield the authority that they possess. Most likely this hesitation is the result of two-decade’s of goodwill and the halo effect that Jeter built up during his playing career.

But if we choose to strip that aside and analyze the act of firing Marty Scott while he’s in the hospital between a cancer and kidney operation, the facts should lead us towards one conclusion: Jeter’s role in approving or otherwise seeking out the firing of Marty Scott is profoundly immoral unless it were necessary for the organization to fire Scott under these circumstances.

And, given the largesse currently in baseball, the only reason it could be financial necessary would be if: (1) the Marlins ownership group overpaid for the organization and took out too much debt, in turn making the workers pay the tab for the inability to value the business correctly, or (2) general incompetence in running the organization (if the latter, then someone should be running the organization).

My theory is that Jeter is afraid that his good-guy image as a baseball player somehow compromises his ability to make businessmen-like decisions, and in recent years, we have developed this false belief that businessmen-like decisions are those which are callous and otherwise indifferent to an organization’s human capital.

I believe Jeter wants to establish that he can make financially difficult decisions, and is therefore, overcompensating to make decisions that are unpopular. “See, I’m not just something sprung out of a Norman Rockwell painting. I can get as dirty as an industrialist.”

There is reason to assert that the marketplace will bring about some punishment that tracks the immorality of the decision. By that I mean, Miami has fired both popular and ill individuals on their payroll. When they need scouts—any scout is going to think “Gee, if the likeable legends and the guys with cancer can get fired about here, what is going to happen to me when I go out of style?” As a result, the Marlins will have to pay full market rate and even a market premium to bring in talent.

This is a miscalculation on Jeter’s part. In the past, he has expressed admiration for Warren Buffett. One reason why Buffett enjoyed an advantage in building Berkshire is because the employees were so desirous of Buffett’s price that they accepted lower salaries than they could command elsewhere because they felt satisfaction by impressing him. To the extent that Jeter enjoys a similar advantage, he is in the process of throwing it away.

I also can’t help but notice the trend of describing trivial acts as profoundly immoral, and then acting more reserved when characterizing acts that are clearly immoral. Google any article about Oklahoma QB Baker Maysfield’s vulgarity in Kansas or Jameis Winston’s decision to steal crab lags and make derogatory remarks, and there is no shortage of social sports commentary analyzing these acts in a manner you’d reserve for Class A misdemeanants and felons.

But yet, when a loyal Marlins employee is fired while having a tumor removed, it is only “questionable” or “controversial”. No, it is immoral. It not only violates the golden rule, but is an assault on human dignity in a manner that is pathological in how it lacks empathy. These types of acts will inflict externality costs on the Marlins ownership group that are deserved. The marketplace will punish the Marlins as future executives will demand higher salaries to join the Jeter-led regime. And any up-and-comers that cannot demand market rates will seek them once they prove their talents.

When people are rewarded over the long-term for immoral behavior, I recognize that a dilemma exists. But I am shocked at how cheap people are willing to sell out even when there is long-term payoff that awaits. Not only did Jeter and the Marlins ownership group do something immoral by hiring Scott under these circumstances, but Jeter’s legacy will be tarnished as this behavior continues and the Marlins will have to pay a higher rate for future executives.