The announcement that Derek Jeter has partnered with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for a bid to buy the Miami Marlins took many by surprise.
Derek, whose uniform No. 2 will be retired at Yankee Stadium on Mother’s Day, idolizes Michael Jordan, emulating the basketball legend’s transition into a successful businessman after his playing days ended. Buying a sports franchise, as Jordan did with the Charlotte Hornets, seemed logical.
Celebrity ownership is nothing new. Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, bought the Texas Rangers in 1989 and held on until 1998, just before his run for the White House. President Trump owned the USFL’s New Jersey Generals in the 1980s. In recent years, luminaries like Justin Timberlake, Serena and Venus Williams, Will Smith, Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Will Ferrell, Gloria Estefan and John Bon Jovi have all invested in controlling interests of professional sports franchises.
Baseball has a long history with this. Some, like George Steinbrenner and Cleveland’s Bill Veeck, gained fame as owners. Others brought their fame with them, to boost attendance or to turn teams around. Here are some of the more notable ones:
1. Bob Hope
Though associated with golf, this superstar was a huge baseball fan. Born in England, he settled in Cleveland as a boy. In 1946, Veeck – always on the lookout for a publicity opportunity – asked Hope to become a co-owner of the Indians. Hope, who was often spotted at games, held an interest in the team until his death at 100 in 2003.
2. Bing Crosby
Hope’s on-screen partner, Crosby followed his pal in 1947, when he purchased a share of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Soon after his underdog Pirates miraculously upset the mighty Yankees in the 1960 World Series, Crosby sold his stake, saying, “There’s no way to top that.”
3. Nolan Ryan
This Hall of Fame pitcher took over his beloved Texas Rangers in 2010. He’s also one of the few All-Star players to buy a franchise in his own sport, a club that Jeter hopes to join. Mario Lemieux of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins is, so far, the only person to have won a championship as both player and owner, a feat that Ryan – who was a rookie on the 1969 Mets championship team – came close to achieving when his formerly-hapless Rangers made it to the World Series in his first year of ownership.
4. Bill Maher
An outspoken comedian, HBO host and native of River Vale, Maher has always rooted for the Mets. In 2012, he fulfilled what would be the dream of every fan by becoming an owner, purchasing a percentage of Mets shares from the Wilpon family.
5. Gene Autry
The “singing cowboy” was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1930s. Probably best known for writing/recording “Here Comes Santa Claus” in 1947 and debuting “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” in 1949, Autry was a media mogul who operated several radio and TV stations. In 1961, Major League Baseball asked him to front their new Los Angeles team, the Angels. He was such a beloved owner that when he died in 1998, the Angels retired No. 26 in his honor as their “26th man.”
6. Bill Murray
Cubs fans adopted Murray as the seventh-inning heir to Harry Caray, and the Chicago native has returned the love. The comic actor is so passionate about baseball that he owns several minor league clubs around the country and has expressed interest in someday moving up to the majors.
7. Kurt Russell
Soon to appear as Star-Lord’s father in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Russell’s own father, actor Bing Russell, owned the minor league Portland Mavericks. Kurt, a child star at Disney, left acting for a time to pursue a Major League career. He was scouted by several teams and made it to the AA level, but quit baseball to act full-time after an injury. His consolation prize was ownership of the Mavericks, until they folded in 1977. Like Murray, Russell has eyes on purchasing a Major League team.
8. Billy Crystal
A lifelong Yankee fan who directed the film “*61” about the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris home run race, Crystal couldn’t afford a piece of the Bombers (not even Jeter can). So he bought into the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998, and earned a World Series ring when his team beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
9. Magic Johnson
Aside from Jordan, this is the best model for Derek. A Laker and L.A. idol, Johnson will obviously never appear in a pro baseball game (wrong sport), but his impact was immediately felt when he bought the Dodgers in 2012, bringing a winning spirit back to Chavez Ravine.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said another group is still vying with Jeter’s, but Miami is already buzzing about his possible new role with the Marlins.
Given his history, leadership and work ethic, it’s likely that a few trophies will soon accompany that buzz.