Mar 6, 2021; Jupiter, Florida, USA; Miami Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter watches the game between the Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals from a suite during a spring training game at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

If you share in my appreciation of mid-2000s Judd Apatow comedies, you no doubt remember Paul Rudd’s cameo as stoner surfing instructor “Kunu” (mainland name Chuck) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, urging Jason Segel’s character—a novice surfer—to “do nothing.” When Segel takes his advice literally, lying motionless on his board, Rudd responds, “Well, no, you got to do more than that.”

I only bring it up because it’s an apt metaphor for Derek Jeter’s debut season as an MLB analyst, creating remarkably little buzz for a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer who played his entire career in pinstripes. Stiff as a board with a nonexistent sense of humor, Jeter hasn’t exactly endeared himself to audiences, displaying the annoyed body language of someone who’d rather be loading up a dishwasher than sharing a studio desk with Fox colleagues David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez (with whom he has a complicated history). Jeter’s lone viral moment this postseason came when the fun-loving Ortiz distributed cowboy hats to his fellow panelists, which the legendary shortstop clearly wanted no part of. Claiming to be in on the joke, Jeter downplayed the awkwardness in a subsequent tweet, though his explanation read like spin, pushing a new narrative after rightfully being labeled a “wet blanket.”

As a relative newcomer to sports media, perhaps Jeter deserves the benefit of the doubt, though if this is who he wants to be, playing humorless curmudgeon to Ortiz’s zany prankster, it might be time to cultivate a new image, one that isn’t a fun vacuum sucking up joy with the surgical efficiency of a Dyson V8. You get the sense, as he sulks quietly at his desk, routinely going minutes—if not entire segments—without contributing, Jeter sees this as beneath him, grunt work reserved for needy narcissists in a last-ditch effort to stay relevant. Which begs the question, if he doesn’t enjoy it, why did Jeter take the job?

Since retiring in 2014, Jeter has followed an unusual trajectory, starting a family with former Sports Illustrated model Hannah Davis, founding a popular website for athletes to share their stories (The Players’ Tribune), holding a prominent role—however briefly—in the Marlins’ front office and appearing in a seven-part docuseries chronicling his rise to fame. Boasting a net worth well north of $200 million, Jeter could easily have retreated from the public eye, living out his years as an impossibly wealthy recluse, content with his legacy as one of the most unflappable postseason performers of a generation. Jeter’s ambition and entrepreneurial spirit are both admirable, though it also points to an identity crisis of sorts.

His days as New York’s most eligible bachelor a distant memory, there’s a restlessness about Jeter that permeates his every move, running through his post-MLB bucket list in rapid succession, throwing ideas at the wall, seemingly at random, and seeing what sticks. Whatever the 49-year-old father of four is searching for, he doesn’t seem to be finding it at Fox. There’s a fine line between cool and aloof and Jeter’s default setting veers dangerously close to the latter, showing little patience for Ortiz’s on-air shenanigans while continuing to keep his former teammate, A-Rod, at arm’s length.

Fox, in its lust to compete with ESPN and others in the broadcast rights arms race, has developed a habit of miscasting talent, too often jamming square pegs into round holes. Jeter would seem to be the latest example of that trend, wrongly assuming his on-field accolades would translate to behind the microphone.

Jeter is, by all accounts, a baseball savant, a student of the game who experienced, firsthand, some of the most iconic moments in MLB history. And while many fledgling announcers will stumble and stammer, paralyzed by the echo chamber of their own thoughts, Jeter isn’t one of them, presenting himself with the same poise and confidence that made him a 14-time All-Star. He’s handsome, well-spoken and enormously successful. The only criteria he’s missing is some semblance of a personality, coming off as guarded and defiantly impersonal.

John Smoltz isn’t a bundle of joy either, but what separates him from Jeter is his cogent analysis, delivering substance whereas Jeter tends to hit the same tired notes, offering boilerplate observations that don’t move the needle. It’s disappointing but also who Jeter is, consistent with his reputation as a fiercely private person refusing to give the New York tabloids their pound of flesh. While those are probably good survival instincts in a city ravenous for even the smallest morsel of gossip, it doesn’t make for compelling TV, with Jeter’s stubborn refusal to open up posing a significant obstacle to his long-term success.

Before he joined Fox, Jeter partnered with ESPN on The Captain. The documentary, which premiered last summer, was largely viewed as a failure, a vanity project alternatively described as “nostalgia porn” and an “infomercial,” appealing only to Yankees fans desperate to relive their turn-of-the-century glory days. The problem, among other complaints, was that Jeter wouldn’t spill the tea, teasing audiences with promises of clubhouse secrets that never materialized. It was hard to see the series as anything other than PR, a glorified exercise in navel-gazing immortalizing the Michigan-bred slugger as the consummate professional.

Beneath Jeter’s cold exterior is a soft spot waiting to be exposed. We saw it come out last week when Astros outfielder Mauricio Dubon cited him as his inspiration for pursuing a big-league career. However, those moments have been few and far between with Jeter still wearing armor, refusing to engage when Ortiz teases him about the Yankees’ historic collapse in 2004.

Ortiz is no one’s idea of a polished broadcaster but at least he’s having fun, cognizant that Fox, if nothing else, is an entertainment product, doing his best to stoke the viral flames with catchphrases and silly hats. If he were up for it, Jeter could play up his rivalry with Ortiz, mirroring the love/hate relationship shared by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal on TNT. But that would require Jeter to loosen his vise grip on the image he’s been protecting for the better part of three decades, throwing caution to the wind and finally letting his freak flag fly.

Brandon Tierney has emerged as one of Jeter’s more vocal critics, questioning his ability to connect with fans. “He’s a smart guy and knows the game, but he just doesn’t have it [as an analyst],” said Tierney, still bitter over Jeter stonewalling the media throughout his Yankees tenure. “He’s boring. I cannot ignore the fact that when he did not need us, being the fans and the media, he gave us nothing. Now that he’s getting paid big money, he does, and that bothers me.”

Kevin Manahan of NJ Advance Media countered with his own column defending Jeter, crediting the five-time World Champion for maintaining his dignity, refusing to play the class clown. “Jeter knows his brand and he’s not surrendering his integrity,” wrote Manahan. “He’s not Gronk. He’s not Charles Barkley. He’s The Captain.”

Jeter doesn’t gossip or hot take. He won’t riff. He’ll share the occasional anecdote, but it’s never revealing or vulnerable. Jeter doesn’t have to be a caricature, but he has to be SOMETHING. Maybe there’s a great broadcaster buried deep inside, but until Jeter lets his guard down, we’ll never see it.

[NJ Advance Media]

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.