November 19, 2012
Marlins Ownership and a History Lesson in Greed
“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right; greed works.” —Gordon Gekko, Wall Street
I don’t know if Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria owns a copy of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. The movie, which came out at the height of the 1980s’ “excess is best” period would seem to play well with him. That now infamous speech by Gekko summed up everything that was wrong with not only Wall Street but also where America was headed. Loria, it seems, is still living in the 80s.
I’m not saying Jeffrey Loria is Gordon Gekko. The biggest difference between the two is that while Gekko out-and-out broke rules, Loria has been able to skirt the edges of them, dodge bullets, and snub his nose in the process.
To understand Loria, the greed element, and what his most recent fire sale means requires understanding of his history within Major League Baseball.
Loria Gets the Expos
It’s here where the “Loriaizing” of each club he’s owned began to take shape. He almost immediately said that Olympic Stadium was substandard and that a new ballpark was needed. When that didn’t seem to be taking hold, Loria and his stepson David Samson, who was made club Executive Vice President, began dismantling the fan base further by not coming to an agreement for English-speaking radio and television deals. The effect was simple: it made the case that Montreal was not a viable baseball market even if the actions of the ownership had played a key part in driving fans away.
Bud Selig really couldn’t do anything about Loria being in his midst when he began purchasing majority interest in the club, and besides, if he could get the Expos either a new stadium or shut down via contraction, so be it. The latter of those options didn’t come into full bloom until Loria left Montreal. The league pulled a nepotistic maneuver when the sale of the Boston Red Sox surfaced in 2002 and a group that was comprised of then-Marlins owner John Henry came on the scene. A love triangle of sorts was concocted. The league would purchase the Expos from Loria for $120 million. In turn, Loria would purchase the Marlins for $158.5 million, which would allow Henry to purchase the Red Sox. Loria didn’t have (or maybe didn’t want to dig up on his own) all the money needed, so the league gave him a $38.5 interest-free loan to bridge the gap. Loria and Co. were so cheap that when the sale was complete, they took all the office furniture and computers, leaving people like Omar Minaya, who was GM of the Expos, with a mess. The rest of the minority owners filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit against not only Loria but Bud Selig and the league for conspiring to purposely derail the club in order to contract it (read the RICO complaint, plus see MLB’s response here). An arbitrator sided with Loria and the league, and eventually, the Expos wound up in DC as the Nationals.
Loria Lands Sweetheart Deal for Marlins
Samson Disparages the Brewers and Touts “Building It Up and Tearing It Down”
“Can you believe those [effing] Brewers?” Samson said, not hiding his disgust. “They’re giving away tickets to the last game of the season because they finished over .500. How [effing] stupid is that? Giving away tickets for being ‘average.’ I tell you, we’ll build it up and tear it down year after year if that’s what it takes to win a World Series.”
I was stunned. First off, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was doing something positive for the fans after not being above .500 for years under Selig’s tenure. It was a smart move that, as we’ve seen, has endeared him to the community, which in turn has allowed the Brewers to draw attendance totals over 3 million more than once now (2008: 3,068,458; 2009: 3,037,451; 2011: 3,071,373) and has helped them be competitive. In terms of the tearing down and building back up of the Marlins’ roster, it was then that I realized that only quick fixes would ever do for the organization. That the ballpark was not going to really be part of it. That what Wayne Huizengahad done with his fire sale after the 1997 World Series was not limited to just Wayne Huizenga. This was something that seemed to be embraced by Loria and Samson as well. But that was 2003. It was possible that if and when a new stadium did come about, things might change.
Marlins Bilk Public for Stadium, Get Hand-slapped by MLBPA, Funnel Money to Themselves
The Basic Agreement requires that each Club use its revenue sharing receipts in an effort to improve its performance on the field. This requirement is of obvious importance to all players, Clubs and fans of the game. In recent years, the Union has had concerns that certain Clubs have not lived up to this requirement, and has consulted regularly with the Commissioner’s Office about those concerns. The Florida Marlins are one of a number of Clubs that have been discussed.
Of course, the Marlins being the Marlins, hand caught in the cookie jar and at the point where the MLBPA was on the verge of filing a grievance against the league, denied wrongdoing:
The Marlins have consistently made every effort to put the best product on the field and our record supports the fact that we have been successful in that regard,” said Samson as part of the release from the league and union for the players. “Throughout the discussions, the Marlins maintained that there had been no violation of the Basic Agreement at any time. While we know that the Marlins will always comply with the Basic Agreement, we were happy to work cooperatively with the Union and the Commissioner’s Office on this matter.
At that stage, the Marlins had ranked no higher than 20th by end of year player payroll:
A few months after getting taken out behind the woodshed by MLB and the MLBPA for not using revenue-sharing funds properly, Deadspin and The Associated Press leaked financial documents from several clubs, including the Marlins (see here). The documents fueled the debate of whether the club had any interest beyond using revenue-sharing as a form of welfare, but it also showed that the club was cooking the books. On page 34 of the financial documents, under the section “Management,” it cites Double Play Company, which was getting paid in the high $2 millions annually and then saw their fee increase to $3.2 million. This was counted as an expense. Who are the listed owners of Double Play Company? Jeffrey Loria and David Samson. In other words, millions of dollars each year funnel out of the Marlins coffers and line the pockets of Loria and Samson through the fees.
Marlins Go on Spending Spree
The Marlins Fire Sale to the Blue Jays
Why There’s Nothing That Can Be Done About It
"I've talked to two baseball people—I have a lot of people that I check with and talk to—who have, actually, an interesting view on the trade," Selig said at an airport hotel just outside of Chicago after the meetings. "They think that (Miami), in terms of young players, did very well. These are two independent baseball people. These are not chefs in these kitchens here.”
"So I want to think about all of it and I want to review everything. I want to be my usual painstaking, cautious, slow, conservative self in analyzing it... There are a lot of variables here."
The clamor by those that cover baseball and by the players affected has been loud in disgust of the move.
"They talked about that, a winning philosophy, and how they were building a winner to play in the new ballpark," Giancarlo Stanton said to Peter Gammons after the deal. "They talked about me and Jose. They talked about how they'd have Jose and [Emilio Bonifacio] and Hanley [Ramirez] in front of me and how they would go get a bat to protect me.”
"Jose, Bonifacio, Hanley... all three are gone now. I had people warn me that something like this could happen, but it runs against the competitive nature every athlete has, that nature that everything is about winning. This kind of thing is what gets talked about all the time around this team. Former Marlins come back and they warn us. It gets talked about during the stretch, in the clubhouse, after games, on the road. Again, I do not like this at all."
It goes further. The Marlins were smart not to put no-trades into writing, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t lie through their teeth to get the deals with Reyes and Buehrle done by making promises they didn’t keep.
But here’s the deal: based on what’s recently transpired and the rules on transactions, there’s little that could reasonably stop the deal, even if Selig wanted to evoke the “best interests of the game” line.
For the Marlins, it’s a matter of how can they weasel more money out of fans who continue to partake in what can only be described as battered spouse syndrome for baseball fans. Jeffrey Loria has now reached the pinnacle in his ownership career. Congrats; you’re now considered one of the worst owners in sports... if you ever weren’t on that list.