Originally Published: November 20, 2012 9:57 p.m.
A year ago I wrote that Miami Marlins' owner Jeffrey Loria was insulting what few fans the team had by making low-ball offers to a number of free agents the team had no intention of signing. While former Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols passed up the chance to be a Marlin, five other players - including shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle - succumbed to the temptation of more years and more dollars than other suitors were offering, even though the contracts were heavily back loaded. Thus, I admit I was wrong.
I also accused Loria of being "cheap, untrustworthy and duplicitous" while engaging in the biggest fraud since Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme for his dual rip-off of South Florida taxpayers and Major League owners. Those comments were made after taxpayers financed 75 percent of the team's glitzy new stadium in the Little Havana section of Miami, a commitment that will total $2.4 billion before the bonds are paid in full. At the same time that he was crying poverty to the politicians, Loria's team was one of the most profitable in MLB thanks to another handout, revenue sharing.
Despite last year's flurry of free agent signings, Loria proved me right. He has successfully unloaded every single player he signed last year after his team underperformed on the field, going 69-93 this season, and at the gate, drawing 2.2 million fans, the lowest total for a team in a new stadium (of which there have been 14) since 2000. The moves have incensed the team's fans, the politicians who approved the stadium financing deal, and the media.
You can add MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who lobbied Florida politicians long and hard on Loria's behalf, and MLB owners to the list of those who feel betrayed by Loria's about face. But no one should be surprised. Loria made every effort to kill baseball in Montreal when he owned the Expos prior to selling the team to MLB and purchasing the Marlins from John Henry when no one else wanted them (Henry purchased the Red Sox to complete the three-team deal). As further evidence that Loria is only interested in money, he engaged in a previous fire sale after the Marlins won the 2003 World Series. Leopards don't change their spots.
What can be done about the fraud in Florida and embarrassment to the sport? Not much. Selig, who must be seething over the Marlins' recent trade with Toronto that sent almost $200 million in contracts north of the border, said he is reviewing the trade. While he has the authority to do that, in reality Selig is powerless to nix the trade because it was players-for-players rather than a swap of players for cash. Toronto shipped the Marlins a number of promising prospects that should become everyday major leaguers. What Selig can do is make life uncomfortable for Loria in the future. One way he can do that is to refuse to award an All-Star Game to the Marlins, something that is de rigueur for a city that builds a new stadium, while Loria owns the franchise.
Nor are MLB owners in a position to do much that will hurt Loria, at least financially. Revenue sharing is part of the CBA with the players' union and can't be adjusted unilaterally. But owners must be livid. In addition to profiting from their success, Loria's sell-off may have signaled the death knell of public financing for new stadiums.
Despite the suggestion that Loria's actions may have jeopardized baseball in South Florida, nothing could be further from the truth. Even if fans boycott the Marlins, revenue sharing and a bare-bones payroll guarantee the team will be financially successful. And the Marlins are an integral part of a southern hemisphere strategy that is a key component of MLB expansion.
You can bet the union isn't exactly thrilled with the Marlins, either. The team made oral no-trade commitments - unenforceable though they may be - to players who were included in the Miami-Toronto trade. And pity Buehrle. His money is safe, but he may have to leave his pit bull at the border - the province of Ontario bans such dogs.
In the end, Loria proved me right. He was just duplicitous enough that it took a bit longer for the evidence to surface.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org