Baseball has been good for Jeffrey Loria, but Marlins owner has been awful for baseball
- With the All-Star Game taking place in Miami, it's a good opportunity to remember just how bad Loria has been and to recognize the owners who are doing things the right way.
This week's All-Star festivities in Miami serve as a celebration of what’s great in contemporary baseball. These days, that means Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge. The game itself is also something of a triumphant valediction for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who is spending his 18th and presumably final full season atop an MLB franchise. Loria has been great for baseball himself—well, if one defines “baseball” as “Jeffrey Loria.” Otherwise, he has been a stain, demonstrating greed, self-regard and contempt for fans and taxpayers at every turn.
It was Loria who accelerated baseball’s decline in Montreal before flipping the Expos for the Marlins—read Jonah Keri on the art of that particular deal—and it was Loria who presided over a parade of fire sales once in Florida to line his own pockets with guaranteed revenue-sharing dollars. It was Loria who blamed the team’s supposed financial woes on the subpar stadium, and it was Loria who managed to stick Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami with the foreboding long-term bill that comes from ponying up $500 million in construction costs for a new place. It was Loria who promised that the Marlins would become a premium product in their new home, starting in 2012; it was Loria who hauled out Muhammad Ali as a human shield against boos on Marlins Park’s opening night; and it was Loria who oversaw a post-2012 salary dump that yielded a 62-100 team in 2013; the Marlins haven’t had a .500 season since the move. (It was Loria, just this week, who took a fan to court for non-payment on a season-ticket contract following the 2012 season, trying to seize his real estate.) And it was Loria who put the team on the market late in 2016, seeking more than $1 billion, not a penny of which the city or county will see if a sale doesn’t close by next April.
As the game has grown into the $10 billion cash machine it is today, owners in markets big and small have demonstrated reasonable, responsible models for stewardship. The Ricketts, who own the Cubs, and the Guggenheim group, which owns the Dodgers, have fashioned perennial contenders by pouring resources into all levels of the organization—every fan’s wish—while Larry Dolan and Jim Crane have built strong clubs in Cleveland and Houston, respectively, by way of shrewd, selective investments in young talent, organizational brainpower, and veterans who provide a significant marginal benefit.
And as the global super-rich have ascended as a class in the last decade-plus, and the scarce few major league franchises have become more coveted, baseball has done a fine job of recruiting new owners who intend to invest in their teams to a level past the mere purchase price.
The sport’s powers recognize that baseball is good business but a public trust as well. Its best owners know this too. Loria never did, or if he did, he didn’t care.
He did, though, seem to care about baseball. Or at least he cared about baseball enough to show up and sit with Bud Selig in box seats for a Marlins-Mets game in September of 2014. I know this because I was there, a few sections away from Loria, in some plush corporate seats I had lucked into.
It had been a lost season for both teams; the Marlins entered the game 73-76, the Mets 73–78. That night, New York beat the hell out of Nathan Eovaldi and Brad Penny; they led 7-1 by the end of the fifth. If memory serves, Selig left early, but Loria stuck most of the game out in the seats. When he finally headed for the bowels of the stadium, I shouted toward him a slightly abridged version of what appears above. I don’t know if he heard me, but I did insist he put the team up for sale. (Clearly, I got results, though it occurs to me now that I never have been offered those seats again.)
Any self-respecting fan of the Marlins or the game would be well within his or her rights to heckle Loria tonight. Nothing wordy this time. The old baseball standby will suffice: na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye.