Jeter’s cashing in on virtue

The business of Derek Jeter as a corporation 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. He was on 2,997 before the weekend’s games.

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. The Yankees did unveil a “DJ3K” bracelet that will benefit Jeter’s Turn 2 foundation.

“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, 37, has never been involved in any major scandals — unlike 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 him, 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.

“There was no doubt in my mind facing him early in his career that he would have the ability to get 3,000 hits as long as he stayed healthy. He’s not the same hitter right now, but back in his prime, he was a very good hitter. There was no consistent way to get him out. It was a cat-and-mouse game, going inside and outside the strike zone.”

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.