September 18, 2021

Lonely at the Top–Jeffrey Loria’s Vision for Baseball in South Florida

March 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Jeffrey Loria’s lawsuit against the only two remaining season ticket holders in the Miami-Dade area has sparked a debate about the worst owners of professional baseball teams over the years. Charlie Comiskey was an early favorite in the race based on his penurious handling of payroll that some have argued was the reason for the Black Sox scandal. There were millions in the borough of Brooklyn who would have argued that Walter O’Malley was worse still, but many of them have died in the last five decades and their tragedy has been re-written into a blockbuster musical comedy.

Truth be told, Comiskey grew up in the game and though he may have loved the money more, he was still a great baseball man at the end of the day. O’Malley had a similar record of devotion to the game and would have stayed in Brooklyn but for Robert Moses.  The problem is not so much the men who mine the ugly vein that lies beneath the game, but how deep it runs, how it is always the fans who are uprooted to lay bare the gold.

The competition for worst owner is not for the faint of heart. There have been many nefarious owners of sports teams whose mercenary motives had nothing to do with love of the game, but were about nothing more than making a quick dollar. Bob Short’s purchase of the Minneapolis Lakers and Washington Senators were both low points in the historical continuum of sports in this country. The collective ownership of first the NBA and then the American League allowed a man of questionable repute to buy a team purely for the short term financial gain of removing a historic franchise from the fans who had grown up with it and paid with decades of devotion.

For comparison purposes, consider the best ownership in any sport, the citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin and their beloved Packers. The city boasts a population of just over 100,000 if Lyndon Johnson were in charge of the tally. The team began as a founding member of the earliest National Football League in 1921 and has operated without cessation, posting winning seasons consistently and boasting some of the most heralded teams in the history of professional football.  All of that historical acclaim without the input of tycoons and oilmen, hard to believe but true.

The Packers football team is a non-profit, publicly-owned corporation whose charter stipulates that if it is sold all proceeds must be used to build a soldiers memorial. Cue the slide of Stalin’s Memorial to the Defenders of Leningrad, because the sale or removal of the Packers from its historical home in northern Wisconsin would start a war.  The owners of the team are the denizens of Brown County Wisconsin who love football more than Tiny Tim loved Miss Vicki.

Stand that concept–a century of cheesehead football–up against the likes of Jeffrey Loria and you have to ask yourself just what we have been thinking. Loria was allowed to buy the Montreal Expos franchise by Bud Selig who had to have known that Loria had no interest in Montreal or in developing that franchise. Bud is, after all, a car salesman and could have played the lead in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” When the allotted time on the clock had run out, Loria was allowed to exit Montreal for Miami because Selig knew that Loria so loved the game of baseball that he should continue to be part of it in  the hometown of Meyer Lansky, another fine salesman.

True to his class, Loria’s ownership trust is suing the Leon’s, a couple who have been Marlins season ticket holders since 1998. The Leon’s allege that their seats in the new stadium have an obstructed view of some kind and they wish to move to a new location. The tickets stipulated that if after the first year they were not satisfied, they could request different seats. They have tried to do so, but rather than comply with that request, the Marlins have taken them to court and are suing them for nonpayment of the the $25,000 that was required by the Marlins for “premium seats.”

The legalities escape me, but since the Marlins play in the NL East, I got a chance to see quite a few Miami games on television last season. By the end of 2012, there were so few fans in attendance that finding some kind of acceptable place for the Leon’s in that cavernous emptiness would seem to be a “premium” concern for Loria’s ownership consortium. It is one of the great marketing coups of all time, that the Marlins are trying to force fans to pay the damages for what is one of the great sports disasters in recent memory.

Signing the most expensive free agent talent in the game after getting the taxpayers of Miami-Dade to pay for a new stadium seemed like a sure-fire way to the top, but it failed as miserably as Lehman Brothers in 2008. Well, not quite. Lehman Brothers was actually allowed to fail, yet somehow Loria is pushing those costs he could not dump on the taxpayers onto season ticket holders like the Leon’s. It is after all the fans that always get the bill. So whether it is Bob Short presenting the consequences to Washington fans at the end of 1971, or O’Malley to the Dodger fans in 1958, the owners play, the fans pay.

I wish the Leons the best of luck with the Marlins. In the coming years Jeffrey Loria will likely be hailed as the same kind of visionary as Walter O’Malley. Much the way the Dodger mogul is credited with the expansion of baseball to California, Loria will be credited with expanding the game to the shores of the Caribbean and beyond. The fans–like the Leons–are just the people who are presented the bill at the end of the evening. It’s just a paper moon. Bon Appetite!!

 

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