Many Marlins fans applaud possible ownership change
MIAMI (AP) One of several long lines at the Miami Marlins' fanfest stretched past the beer and pizza kiosks, beyond a stairwell, an elevator, rest rooms and the team store, as fans waited more than 30 minutes for an autograph from Severino Gonzalez, a pitcher with four career victories.
But then Marlins fans are accustomed to waiting. It has been eight years since their team had a winning season, and 14 years since Miami's most recent playoff game.
So on Saturday, many Marlins loyalists were delighted their wait for an ownership change might soon be over. Joshua Kushner, whose older brother is an adviser to President Donald Trump, has a preliminary agreement to buy the franchise from Jeffrey Loria for about $1.6 billion, a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations said Friday.
''Spectacular,'' said George Casali, waiting with his two teenage sons in the line for Gonzalez's autograph. ''Anybody but Loria. I don't like him as an owner. I'm a Marlins fan, but I'm not a Loria fan.''
Among more than 20 people interviewed at fanfest regarding news of a possible deal, all but two said they were glad Loria might sell. And these were people who regularly attend games. There are many baseball fans in South Florida who say they refuse to set foot in Marlins Park because of Loria.
''He did never anything good for the team,'' said season-ticket holder George Gonzalez, perhaps jumping the gun by speaking of Loria's ownership tenure in the past tense. ''Every time we had good players, he sold them out. We were looked at as a farm team instead of a major league team.''
Loria's unpopularity stems from the team's perennially low payrolls, and a financing agreement for 5-year-old Marlins Park widely viewed as unfair to taxpayers.
It hasn't helped the New York art dealer's reputation for draining money from the Marlins that his selling price in the preliminary agreement is 10 times more than what he paid for the franchise in 2002.
Kushner's final offer could be much lower than $1.6 billion. Other interested parties might yet outbid Kushner.
Team president David Samson would neither confirm nor deny that Loria, 76, plans to sell. But Samson said the team is approached by a prospective buyer once on a month on average, and Loria is receptive to offers.
''You always listen to anything,'' Samson said. ''That's responsible.''
Samson said he spoke this week with Commissioner Rob Manfred about reports of a preliminary agreement to sell.
Loria's age is not a factor, Samson said, but the owner took very hard the death of ace Jose Fernandez in a boat crash near the end of last season.
''Devastated is the word I would use,'' Samson said.
Kushner, 31, is a New York City businessman and investor and part of the real estate family that also includes Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and an adviser to the president. Joshua is Jared's younger brother.
Those relationships prompted jokes that the Marlins will move to Mar-a-Lago. But season-ticket holder Gonzalez, for one, doesn't anticipate the president will soon be tweeting about the Marlins.
''Trump has nothing to do with it,'' Gonzalez said. ''He has too many big things to worry about to be worrying about a baseball team.''
For the moment the team remains Loria's, and he'll be at spring training when the team opens camp next week in Jupiter, Florida, Samson said. Loria approved increasing payroll by one-third this season to about $100 million, raising speculation he wanted a competitive team to make it more appealing to potential buyers.
The playoff drought, the longest in the National League, might end before Loria's tenure.
''All I can tell you,'' Samson said, ''is I sit here happy with where I think the Marlins are.''