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January 15, 2013

Out of Left Field

Giving Miami the Silent Treatment

by Matthew Kory

“It is better to be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Those words appeared like a flashlight in the dark when I heard that Marlins President David Samson and Owner Jeffrey Loria decided to stop talking to the media. It’s not often such a perfect microcosm appears in this, the doldrums of the baseball year. Selfish owner refuses to allow tone-deaf team to speak to the media. That’s the microcosm version of a warm homemade apple pie. We’d be fools to waste it.

Like the Marlins deal with Toronto that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buerhle north, cutting off the media makes sense in the abstract. “Last place team trades expensive older players for prospects” isn’t a storyline worthy of universal derision. Neither is “Pilloried team stops talking to media.” It’s when they are pulled from the Petri dish and placed in the harsh light of context that their ugliness becomes offensive.

The context is the Marlins’ new stadium, about $500 million of which was paid for by Miami taxpayers. The Marlins followed the opening of their new ballpark by spending big on the free agent market. Then they finished in last place and, before a calendar year had elapsed, the new players had been traded for minor leaguers.

So news that Loria and Samson have clammed up shouldn’t rise to the level of surprise. If you found out a friend had been scamming you and you went over to his house and knocked, the door opened, and there was your friend with his arm around your wife, and she in her underwear, the conversation probably wouldn’t be a long one. Something along the lines of “[swear word] [PUNCH]” assuming he wasn’t bright enough to close the door after “[swear word].” After The Great Deception culminated with the Toronto trade, the Marlins’ relationship with Miami taxpayers and their representatives in the local media probably isn’t too different than the above. Okay, it’s different, the Marlins didn’t sleep with your wife*, but it’s safe to say the relationship isn’t a strong one. The New York Times quoted former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez as saying, “Whether the Marlins make money, whether they don’t, whether the team’s a success or not, Miami-Dade County is stuck. Whether they make $2 or $200 million, we pay what we pay.” So how weak is that relationship between team and public? Maybe weaker than the Marlins roster.

*Yet!

But let’s be more charitable. Talking to the media isn’t the little spoken-of 11th commandment. It’s an act of self-preservation. To survive, teams need the public to care about them. Newspapers, radio, TV, and internet sites like this one help make that a reality through almost constant publicity. It’s also a bargain of sorts. Newspapers et al need content and baseball helps provide that. The two need each other.

But the Marlins trade with Toronto looked so, so bad that there was no way to hide its ugliness from the world. It garnered so much bad publicity, such widespread scorn, that the Marlins might not have felt like they were getting anything out of the bargain any longer. What’s more, nothing good can come out of their words now, so why bother even trying? There are some things even the best marketing firms can’t spin. Sure, they’d tell you different, but they would. They’re marketing firms.

Maybe the oddest part of all this is that winning really does fix everything, or at least in this case winning fixes $400-plus million worth of boondoggle. If the Marlins hadn’t finished in last place last season, they might* not have traded away their expensive stars. If they didn’t make that trade, would people be yelling about stadium costs? Well, yes, and with good reason, but likely at least some segment of the media, and I’m guessing a larger one than maybe we’d like, would be less focused on the scam-sounding aspects of the Marlins and more focused on their baseball-related issues, their need for a left fielder not named Juan Pierre, for example. The story the public would hear would be less about the Marlins being some sort of base-capitalist joke and more about the Marlins being a mediocre baseball team. From the Marlins standpoint, that would be a huge improvement.

*I say “might” because there is still a chance that, contrary to some of the anti-Marlins rhetoric, the Marlins might have kept Reyes, Johnson, and Buehrle.

That improvement can’t happen now because, in addition to their stadium-related antics, the Marlins did a poor job of spending money on the free agent market last offseason. The result was a last-place team and thus the revocation of Samson’s talking privileges by Loria who, according to the Miami Herald, wasn’t using his anyway. The Herald doesn’t specify why. Could Loria be allergic to accountability? Maybe honesty makes him break out in hives. He hears Samson on the radio say something like, “We’re trying to win baseball games,” and he starts swearing and shaking uncontrollably. There’s probably drooling too.

And now Loria is doing about the last offensive thing he can do. He’s trying to deny the taxpayers their punching bag, or at least deny them the Marlins’ role in that particular play. There is something wrong with that. Not unlike the previous paragraph, it smacks of meanness. If nothing else, the public paid for the punching bag, whether or not it knew that’s what it was buying. The fans should be allowed to use it. But the Marlins are pulling even that rug out from under them.

However, in one last desperate attempt to see the other side of the issue, I’ll ask this question: What could the Marlins say that would improve their image as a bunch of con artists and liars? “Sorry” won’t cut it, and even if it would you could wait more lifetimes than your cat has before hearing anything that resembles that word. You won’t even hear the Marlins say “sari.” It’s too close. Keeping the lines of communication open qualifies as a goodwill gesture, much like closing them qualifies as a middle finger to the media and the taxpayers. And that concludes this episode of Seeing The Other Side of The Issue. Join us again next week when we look at Native American team names and try to nope they’re awful.

As the great American George Carlin said, “I call ‘em like I see ‘em and if I don’t see ‘em I make ‘em up!” That’s the danger with not talking to the media. But when the relationship has already been drugged, beaten, tied to the railroad tracks, and run over with a freight train, whether or not they make ‘em up ceases to matter.

About the only thing we can be sure of is that Major League Baseball will be better off the day Jeffrey Loria moves on to his next pursuit. I suggest he grow a bushy mustache, don a top hat, and purchase some railroads. In the end we might all be better off observing the old saying your parents hoisted on you somewhere around the first grade, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” At least give the Marlins credit for that.

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Miami Marlins,  Jeffrey Loria,  David Samson

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