The business of Derek Jeter Inc. when it comes to selling T-shirts, hats and other souvenirs has always been good. But it grew into a cottage industry this summer as the New York Yankees shortstop closed in on 3,000 hits — something even Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle never accomplished in pinstripes.
Major League Baseball created a new line of Jeter-themed merchandise commemorating the milestone that go on sale later this year, says Howard Smith, senior vice president of licensing. He's not ready to talk about the details yet. Jeter and the Yankees did unveil a "DJ3K" bracelet that will benefit Jeter's Turn 2 foundation.
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"Derek Jeter's as good an ambassador for his sport as anybody for their particular sport," Smith says. "Being that he's achieved so much in the sport, you can rest assured we'll be doing some pretty neat things to recognize 3,000 hits."
How much will those 3,000 hits be worth in memorabilia sales? That's still anybody's guess. But over his career, Jeter has consistently shown himself to be one of the most marketable athletes on the planet.
Jeter's never been involved in any major scandals — unlike golfer Tiger Woods or teammate Alex Rodriguez. He's never damaged his own personal brand with a media stunt that backfired on him like LeBron James' The Decision. Despite the hot glare of the tabloid media in New York, the single Jeter has somehow managed to keep his private life private.
All that adds up to dollar signs for Jeter, his reps, the Yankees and MLB. Jeter's No. 2 was the best-selling player jersey during the 2010 season, according to Evan Kaplan, director of licensing and business development for the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Jeter beat Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins for the top spot. Rounding out the top 10 in jersey sales last season were, in order: Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies; Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals; Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers; Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox; Rodriguez; and Tin Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.
Boosted by Jeter's star power, the Yankees led all clubs in licensed-product sales, according to MLBPA. The Red Sox came in second, while the Los Angeles Dodgers, Phillies and Chicago Cubs rounded out the top five.
MLBPA is working with baseball licensees such as Majestic to quickly churn out products recognizing Jeter's achievement, says Kaplan. The products could range from T-shirts to collectibles.
"The Yankees have a strong fan base, and we expect there to be a big response to 3,000 hits," he says.
MLB doesn't release sales numbers. But "year in, year out," Jeter ranks at or near the top, says MLB's Smith.
"Look, let's face it. He plays one of the most marketable positions on arguably one of the most marketable sports franchises in the world. He does it quite well and he does it in a manner that makes Yankees fans proud. The fact of the matter is, there isn't a product in the mix where Jeter hasn't done pretty well for Major League Baseball."
The Yankees declined to comment for this story, but Brandon Steiner has a deal to sell sign hand-signed and game-used merchandise from Jeter and other Yankee players through the Yankees-Steiner Collectibles joint partnership formed in 2004. Jeter's always been the No. 1 seller, says the founder and chief executive of Steiner Sports.
Not since Don Mattingly and Cal Ripken, have fans been as crazy about a baseball player as they are about Jeter, he says. Many collector/fans have created virtual shrines to No. 2 in their offices, rec rooms, basements and bedrooms.
To commemorate No. 3,000, Yankees-Steiner will offer bats, balls, hats, photos, game bases, photo collections and everything else from Jeter's career. Steiner expects sales to total in the "millions" as fan memories fade of his bitter contract negotiations in the offseason.
"There's people who just live and die with Derek. They stop what they're doing when he's at bat. That's special," says Steiner. "We know Mickey Mantle was loved. But there's a lot of great players who are not loved. That's the ultimate compliment, the ultimate respect you can get from the fans. It's kind of like rock bands. You have people who are all about the Beatles. They can't get enough of them."
Another big plus for Jeter is he'll be the first career Bronx Bomber to reach 3,000 hits. That distinction alone is worth its weight in gold at the cash register, according to Steiner.
"Whenever you get into firsts in any level of collecting, that always stands tall. First and last. You can wonder if he's going to be the last (Yankee to reach 3,000 hits). But you know he's the first."
Still, the price and demand will depend on a number of variables, such as whether Jeter stroked No. 3,000 in the Bronx or at an away game.
"Does it happen at Yankee Stadium? It would help. We certainly hope it does," says Steiner earlier. "There's something special about events if they happen at Yankee Stadium."