Show humility after taxpayers' $3 billion gift, Mr. Samson
By Michael Lewis
After an eyebrow-raising speech, Miami Marlins President David Samson wants to shoot the messenger rather than own up to his message.
Last week he revealed how he lured government into a deal that handed the Marlins $3 billion in taxes for a stadium as he also demeaned elected officials. He even threw a star player under the bus.
But after two Miami Today articles detailed his Beacon Council talk, he denied all, saying broadly he was "misquoted, misrepresented, mis-everything."
Some of what he said was foolhardy. After taking $3 billion from us, show some humility and maybe even a bit of gratitude.
But Mr. Samson's mouth has no governor. His comments and then denials of what more than 20 segments of video released late in the week show him saying don't help his team, already linked to a US Securities and Exchange Commission investigation over stadium financing.
Plus, as opening day nears, Marlins Park parking and transit woes that we've written about for months have become painfully visible.
Snippets of Samson:
nWhat business seeks from government: "Let's not sugarcoat it. Let's just be very clear. All of the services we want in the community are services to help our companies make more money."
nElected officials: "Politicians are focused on raising money and reelection, and they're forced to blow with the wind of constituents. And constituents don't necessarily know every part of the issue. That's not their job. They have other jobs as citizens of this community. So I don't know anyone in this room has the ability to speak completely intellectually on every issue that confronts the local government. And 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%."
nState government: "We went to Tallahassee, which is something that I do not suggest anyone does.... I don't know what they do up there.... There are so many special interests.... I just know the gavel goes down and nothing's done."
nFormer football team owner Norman Braman: "It's very easy for people who are on the side who are just writing checks to throw darts and to say that everyone is doing it wrong. But I don't see Norman Braman trying to fix anything. I see Norman Braman tell people how bad they're doing. Well, you know what? Stand up and run for office. Let's go, Norman. If you have all the time and money, run. Let's see what it's like for you to make decisions. Let's see what it's like to run a budget. Let's see what it's like for you to run a company that's even bigger than Braman Motors. Do it. Stop saying how bad everyone is and try to make a difference."
nGetting a stadium: "We went to Las Vegas.... I said [to then-mayor Oscar Goodman] "We have an idea for a ballpark. We're going to build a ballpark of all suites and we're going to sell them all to the casinos. And we're going to have them pre-pay for all of the food and beverage. So we actually don't care if people come to the games because we'll have all the revenue.... Just buy out the suites, buy out the seats, and don't send people. We don't really care. We'll play in front of nobody and we'll have all the money."
Even outtakes were shockers:
nThe threat of moving to get a stadium built: "We needed some leverage and we had none." So he went to San Antonio, was overcharged for a cowboy hat and deliberately wore it in TV camera view at a game. "The next thing I know people [in Miami] are going crazy. Because they said, "How could you do this to Miami? How could you wear a cowboy hat? How could you be so disloyal?' And it had the exact purpose I needed. It got things rolling. Because the worst thing in any negotiations is stagnation."
nMiamians and the recall of county Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who pushed the stadium deal: "You know what the voter turnout rate is for recall elections? It's pathetic. There's nothing that bothers me more than a community that cries about all their ills, then they don't vote because they're lazy or they're watching "Oprah' or whatever they're doing."
That's some of what David Samson says misrepresented him that he said for video cameras in front of 75 people.
As Flagler Real Estate Services Vice Chairman Jack Lowell, who heard it all, told the Miami Herald in answer to Mr. Samson's denials, "It was David being David."
A caller reminded me Mr. Samson had similarly shocked the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce several years ago, mocking foreign government officials who were invited guests.
Mr. Samson isn't alone in denigrating elected officials. But few teams would criticize those who had just spent $3 billion to build a ballpark from which team owners derive every penny. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.
Worse was trying to wriggle out of it by blaming the only reporter to detail them. How did he think he could dump it on the messenger when video would be soon available?
Comments went national because Mr. Samson all but called new star Jose Reyes a mercenary looking only for top dollar and caring not a bit if he played in Miami or wherever. True? Perhaps. Wise? Decidedly not.
The morning we published, Mr. Samson was on the fire. So when he spoke at noon to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, he told the crowd he had just discarded his speech.
Instead, he praised the chamber, the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Miamians, Miami, his family — in fact, everything but home, motherhood and apple pie. It was David not being David.
That is, until he all but threw another star under the bus.
He praised the high school player who had hit the first home run at Marlins Park, then got to Hanley Ramirez, whom the Marlins in 2010 benched for lackadaisical play and who is upset about being forced to play third base. He said that while Mr. Ramirez might like to think he had hit the first home run, he's being paid $15 million a year not to care.
Now, to Mr. Samson's complaint: We reported he said the Marlins were working through a list of 20 items in preparing to open the stadium when he actually said a 20-page list. We also omitted four words in the "on elected officials" paragraph, printed above with his preceding remarks that might clarify what he probably meant to say. He didn't ask for clarification, but we're setting the record straight.
Mr. Samson would have been wiser to confine himself to these two items rather than tarring with a broad brush in order to discredit everything that was reported.
Even smarter, he might have remained silent rather than arrogantly suggest that the Miami Today reporter who after the talk asked him about the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation should be fired. Some might suggest the same for a team president who shoots from the mouth.
As readers advised, consider the source. It was Mr. Samson, after all, who told county officials the team was too poor to survive here without a taxpayer-funded stadium at the very time it was really baseball's most profitable team.
We've criticized use of $3 billion in taxes to build a stadium from which team owners get all the revenue. But since it's there, we're rooting for it to succeed.
Mr. Samson's comments won't help sell tickets.
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