Miami Marlins president Samson criticizes elected officials, press
By Scott Blake
Reflecting on the controversy surrounding the Miami Marlins’ new baseball stadium and parking complex, team President David Samson on Tuesday had some colorful and critical words for elected officials and pundits.
“I don’t have to hold back now that the stadium is built – not that I ever have,” Mr. Samson said while addressing a group of about 75 people who came to hear him speak at a Beacon Council breakfast meeting.
He called people who run for office “not the cream of the intellectual crop,” adding about the entire population, “That’s not to say we’re not the smartest people in Miami. My guess is, if you’re in this room, we’re immediately in the top 1%.”
Mr. Samson also had a few words about state officials.
“I went to Tallahassee,” he said. “I don’t know what they do up there. There are so many special interests. You walk through the building, and they’re watching ‘Family Feud.’ You see people running around, working on legislation. All I know is that gavel goes down and nothing gets done.”
Mostly funded through the sale of county and city bonds, the stadium deal has been widely criticized by some in Miami’s political and business circles as a public “giveaway” to private interests and a “sweetheart” deal between the team and elected officials.
During his speech Tuesday, Mr. Samson blasted Norman Braman, former owner of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles and now a Miami auto dealer and activist who filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Marlins’ stadium deal.
“I don’t see Norman Braman trying to fix anything,” Mr. Samson said. “If he has the time and money, let’s see [him] run” for public office. “He should stop saying how bad it is, and start trying to make a difference.”
Mr. Braman helped lead last year’s successful campaign to recall Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who drew opposition for his pushing of tax increases and the stadium deal.
Calling voter turnout for recall elections “pathetic,” Mr. Samson said recalls have a negative effect on the political process by making public officials who are not even targeted “shake in their shoes” instead of “making them do what’s good for the community.”
Mr. Samson might have saved his most biting criticism for Miami Today Publisher and Editor Michael Lewis, who has written a number of editorial columns opposing and criticizing the public-private deal that financed construction of the Marlins’ complex.
“I don’t read his columns anymore,” Mr. Samson said. “It’s crushing to have someone write their emotions disguised as facts. People with a pen can use it as a sword to destroy a project without having all the facts.”
Mr. Lewis later defended his columns and said his editorial positions do not influence the newspaper’s news coverage.
“Mr. Samson is right that Miami Today was against the stadium deal,” Mr. Lewis said. “It was a bad deal for the taxpayers and we said so editorially. However, in the news columns, Miami Today is strictly neutral and fair, as well as being factual.”
During his speech at the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development agency, Mr. Samson said he visited San Antonio and Las Vegas to shop for a new home for the Marlins when the stadium negotiations stalled in Miami.
Mr. Samson said he was overcharged for a cowboy hat in San Antonio, and in Las Vegas then-Mayor Oscar Goodman brought four showgirls into the room for their meeting.
If the Marlins were to move to Las Vegas, Mr. Samson said, he suggested the casinos there buy out game tickets in advance so nobody would be drawn away from the casinos.
“We don’t care if nobody comes,” Mr. Samson recalled with a smile. “We’ll play in front of nobody, and we’ll have all the money.”
Regarding the stadium talks in Miami, Mr. Samson described former County Manager George Burgess as “pit bull” in negotiations – someone who knew “how to make you sweat.”
Mr. Samson said Mr. Burgess once made him wait in a room without chairs. Eventually, Mr. Samson said, he just sat on the floor, checking his ego in hopes of getting a deal done. Mr. Burgess, the county’s chief negotiator in the stadium deal, resigned after Mayor Alvarez was ousted in the recall election.
Looking back on the controversy, Mr. Samson said: “The only way you can succeed to the fullest is to risk it all. You have to be willing to get smashed,” adding, “You have to be in a true fiasco to have a true success.”
Several years ago at the team’s previous home at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Mr. Samson recalled, the Marlins “stunk” and were losing lots of games. Attendance was among the league’s worst and the team released a lot of players.
In making the move to Little Havana, Mr. Samson said, the team had some tough contract negotiations with new star player Jose Reyes, at one point cutting off talks.
“We walked away,” Mr. Samson added. “In negotiations, you have to be willing to go to the edge of the cliff.”
Eventually, Mr. Reyes, among others, was signed. “He said ‘I really want to play in Miami as long as you pay me $1 more than anyone else… I really want to make the most money I can,’” Mr. Samson recalled.
In the end, he said, the stadium construction also came together – with the team, the county and the city completing the project without cost overruns.
Currently, he said, the Marlins organization is working its way through a list of 20 items to address in preparing the stadium for the Marlins’ season opener April 4.
He said team officials will take responsibility if the franchise doesn’t succeed in its new 37,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. “We don’t put any responsibility on the fans if they don’t come” for future games, he added.
However, the franchise has high hopes.
“For anyone who is OK with mediocrity,” he said, “we’ve going to blow them out of the water.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Mr. Samson said ballplayers should not be held up as role models, and parents should not have unrealistic expectations for their boys someday becoming Major Leaguers.
“To parents, I would say ‘Your son is very cute, but he will never be a Major League Baseball player,” Mr. Samson said. “Every Major League player was the best player on every team he was ever on – by far. And that’s every Major League player.”
Pro ballplayers are treated like heroes, but they “can’t live up to it,” he added. “They’re fallible human beings, but people make them into deities.”
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.