It's time for a force-out play to end the Marlins travesty
By Michael Lewis
Other than taxpayers burned as the county blew $3 billion on a stadium from which only the Miami Marlins benefit, the biggest losers of the Marlins' ongoing debacle are, ironically, other sports.
If you're Steve Ross seeking a handout for a roof and upgrade at Sun Life Stadium for your Miami Dolphins, anger at a baseball stadium giveaway to Jeffrey Loria and Co. makes your persuasion job ten times harder.
If you're the National Football League backing government aid to Mr. Ross as a sweetener to bring the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl to Miami — where you'd prefer to play anyhow — the blocking and tackling won't be as easy.
If you're the operator of the Sony Open on Key Biscayne serving up a deal with the county to bond expansion of the tennis center and give you a low-cost, decades-long lease extension, you know commissioners are taking increased heat for their baseball faults.
If you're an entrepreneur looking to add pro soccer and the county has given a preliminary green light to build you a stadium, you'll be concerned that your commission standard-bearer, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, also supported the $3 billion freebie for the Marlins.
Even Miami Heat owner Micky Arison might fret that Marlins fallout could force the county to put on a full-court press to collect on its contract for profit-sharing at county-funded AmericanAirlines Arena.
At minimum, taxpayers will henceforth scrutinize two things in sports deals: written agreements and promises.
They'll recall that the Marlins contract was abysmal from policy and fiscal standpoints, full of lopsided giveaways.
Taxpayers will also note that vital elements not in that contract at all — team finances and player salary intentions — were totally misrepresented.
They should also focus on what's most vital in any contract: no written agreement can protect you if you deal with the wrong people. The things not in a contract — ethics, sincerity, truthfulness and the desire to do the right thing — are what can kill you.
Anyone who'd looked at Jeffrey Loria's record before he got a $3 billion stadium gift would have learned about the Montreal Expos, a team he controlled though he owned just 24%. He let the team decay so much that his partners refused to meet cash calls and he wound up owning 94% — then sold the team to the league for $120 million, ten times his investment.
Then, he got a $38.5 million interest-free loan from the league, added that to the $120 million and bought the Marlins, all with Major League Baseball's blessing. Who knows if he's yet repaid that loan despite making more profit here in 2008 and 2009 than any other baseball team.
Today, as the Marlins' estimated value nears $500 million, the best solution is for the league to force Mr. Loria to sell, turning his $12 million into almost $500 million from the sale, not to mention what he's pocketed as fees to run the team.
Poor Mr. Loria.
People had hoped baseball's commissioner, Bud Selig, would force the Marlins to rescind a trade of five solid players for seven mostly unknowns, saving Mr. Loria $160 million in salary and bringing total salaries unloaded since July to $210 million. Even if ticket and concession sales fell to half as fans subsequently stayed away, over three years the owner would be about $10 million better off with the salary dump, a factor Mr. Loria no doubt carefully calculated.
Mr. Selig failed to reverse that travesty, rubberstamping it Monday. He had the power, just as he can move the Marlins anywhere else at any time without compensating us a penny as we continued to pay $3 billion for the stadium.
That power is called "the best interest of baseball" — a power the stadium contract with the county and City of Miami endorses, believe it or not. The contract says baseball can do what it likes here because it's baseball. Period. End of story.
Baseball twice in the 1970s rescinded lopsided trades made for purely financial gain by a much-reviled owner — a saint compared with Marlins owners.
But cancelling a trade wouldn't have been enough anyway. You can't cancel the indelible image of Mr. Loria and all he stands for.
Fans are burned, taxpayers are burned, officials are burned — including those who voted for the stadium and now bear that stigma for life. They won't cool off while Loria & Co. ride high here.
Thursday a ticket sales squad sent fans invitations to a Dec. 1 celebration of the Marlins' 20th anniversary. One e-mailed back, "You couldn't pay me to attend. I hope the team is sold or dismantled." Others were no doubt less measured.
Many seek a boycott, but the public's mood makes that redundant. As Yogi Berra has been quoted, "If the fans don't come out to the ballpark, you can't stop them."
The Marlins don't need to sell many tickets to profit. In this top television market, TV revenues flow in no matter the attendance.
But baseball doesn't need a Jeffrey Loria, either. Any owner could run the Marlins profitably, even one who paid for talented players and who made winning almost as high a priority as lining his pockets.
Team owners should earn profits. It's a business. Profitable teams stick around.
But turning a $12 million investment into a $500 million value while pocketing tens of millions for so-called administrative work in just over a decade is decadent. It's a bad joke on both Miami and Major League Baseball — which, don't forget, put Mr. Loria here with its interest-free loan.
Although Mr. Selig failed to rescind a player giveaway by an owner seeking merely to cut his costs close to zero, a far bigger question looms: How quickly will baseball force out Loria & Co.?
If Mr. Loria hasn't repaid the loan, call it. Even if he has repaid it, move him out of Miami and out of baseball.
Throwing the Loria crew out is clearly in the best interest of not just baseball, the community and the governments that handed the world to Mr. Loria, but also of the Dolphins, the Sony Open, pro soccer and the Miami Heat, who all will suffer as long as we suffer the Loria regime.
Mr. Selig has the power to do it. Does he have the brains and the guts?
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