The movie Major League is about a woman who inherits ownership of the Cleveland Indians and tries to move them to a bigger market. The movie itself is fictional, but the idea is not all that farfetched. You see, owners in sports are, with very few exceptions, huge assholes. They are greedy, egotistical, impersonal and stale. But mostly greedy. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. For as long as sports have existed, there have been owners who leave a scummy aroma wherever they go. Why, you ask? Well, that’s a great question. Your typical franchise owner thinks he is above everyone else because he either 1. Somehow fell backwards into a pile of money, or 2. Inherited a pile of money. Or in the case of Miami Marlins’ owner Jeff Loria, both.
Baseball has been around for so long that every team seems to have had a bad owner at one point, but the Miami Marlins have never had a good owner. In 1993, Wayne Huizenga became the first owner of the Marlins when he purchased the rights to the expansion franchise for $95 million. The wealthy industrialist beat out ownership groups representing Orlando, Florida (who pitched a family-friendly team to go along with their family-first economy) and Tampa Bay (who already had a stadium built) to secure the rights to the “Florida Flamingos” as Huizenga seriously wanted to call them. He won the bid solely because he had more money than the other ownership groups. Huizenga quickly found out that south Florida had been a perfect location for the franchise because it was so close to South America. He began to take advantage of the new wave of Latino baseball players by signing them for two cents on the dollar. Latino players in the 90’s were notorious for two things: Taking steroids and lying about their age. Both of which Huizenga seemed to embrace. In 1997, the Marlins were able to win a World Series under Huizenga’s greedy and cheap philosophy, and in dramatic fashion. The Series was won by a game-winning hit in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7 against the equally roided-up powerhouse Cleveland Indians.
Following the World Series, instead of capitalizing on a true underdog story and living out the fame and rewards, Huizenga followed up the championship win by immediately trading virtually every player on the roster. He falsely claimed financial loss and decided to blow up the team. The “financial loss” was so devastating, in fact, that he bought $77 million yacht after leaving Miami. Their next owner, John Henry, didn’t last long. He used the team as a stepping-stone to become the owner of the Boston Red Sox, flipping ownership to our pal Jeff Loria.
Simply put, Loria was in the right place at the right time throughout his life. He grew up in a very wealthy area of Manhattan and attended Yale where he was forced to take an art class. He chose Art History because he thought it would be easy and he eventually got a job working with his Art History professor at an art gallery. Loria took a liking to art and opened his own art dealership while authoring two books. He became successful at selling art, which added to the millions he inherited from his parents.
In 1999, after losing out on the purchase of the Baltimore Orioles, Loria bought 24% share of the Montreal Expos. Lucking out yet again, Loria made some “cash calls” that went unreturned and legally gave himself 94% ownership of the team. For more clarity, I contacted Jonah Keri through Twitter. Keri writes for ESPN’s Grantland.com and is writing a book about the Expos due out in 2014. I asked him how in the world “unreturned cash calls” led to majority ownership for Loria. He responded, “Short answer: Because the minority owners were cheap and had no vision. Long answer: Read my book!”
In bad economic times, Montreal was being forced to close hospitals due to lack of funding. But that didn’t stop Loria from whining to the local government for hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new stadium. He started planning to build a new venue at least six years years before Montreal’s stadium had even been paid off.
Expos fans despised Loria. He threw money at untalented players and fired manager and local hero Felipe Alou, the franchise’s all time wins leader. This, of course, was before Loria failed to acquire a local TV or English speaking radio deal in 2000. In other words, if you were a baseball fan in Montreal, you couldn’t actually watch Expos games on TV or even listen to them on the radio unless you spoke French.
Fan interest was shot, obviously. So bad, in fact, that MLB owners voted almost unanimously to terminate the Expos from existence. Baseball was depleted in Montreal and Loria had to find something to do with his money, so he began looking at other franchises to buy and found a match with the Marlins.
The worst part is this: Loria packed everything from Montreal and took it with him to Florida. All staff and personnel, manager Jeff Torborg, and the entire front office went with Loria. The Expos were left with NOTHING—scouts, equipment, scouting reports, and even computers went to Miami. The depleted Expos team didn’t last much longer in Montreal. Two years later, the Expos moved to Washington DC to become the Washington Nationals.
How is this for a gut punch: After dismantling baseball in Montreal, Loria announced construction of a new stadium in downtown Miami for his new franchise…on Remembrance Day-- the Canadian equivalent to Memorial Day. Canadian baseball writer Richard Griffin had this to say: “It’s ironic that Loria and the Marlins held their celebration in Miami on Remembrance Day because there’s a generation of fans north of the border that will never forget [about the how Loria's actions led to the Expos leaving town].”
Loria never got that new ballpark in Montreal, but under ownership of a new franchise, he saw Miami as another destination for his greed. In his initial years as owner, he refused to budge over an incredibly low player payroll, keeping the Marlins out of contention, in order to save money for construction yet another new stadium. This is ironic because when the Marlins finally did get a new stadium, Loria didn’t spend a penny on it.
How could he possibly screw over the city of Miami and ruin another professional baseball team, you ask? That’s another great question of which can be answered in three easy steps:
First, he forced the city to pay the ballpark he’d long been clamoring for.
Loria had the local government of Miami pay $376 million and the taxpayers of Miami to pay $132.5 million for construction of the new ballpark in Miami. This doesn’t include the $2.25 million in extra taxes per year for stadium maintenance. Loria himself didn’t pay a single penny. Meanwhile, Marlins financial reports, which were leaked on Deadspin.com, showed that Loria made a $90 million profit in the three years leading up to the construction. Yet, Loria claimed the team was in debt. The city backlashed at Loria and blamed Mayor Manny Diaz for agreeing to terms, costing him re-election. Loria’s response to the city: “Naysayers... and people who just can't stop shooting their mouths off.”
Second, Loria used his art dealership experience to design the Marlins’ horrendous new logo and stadium.
"The colors did not just come arbitrarily," Loria explained to us little people, "The red-orange is for those incredible sunsets. The yellow is the sunlight that you see during the day. The blue is the water that surrounds the community."
Loria, the visionary that he is, also self-designed the new stadium he had been clamoring for since his years in Montreal. He drew it on a napkin. He gave the napkin to some architects and told them to come back with some “real drawings.”
His arts and crafts didn’t stop there—using more of Miami tax-payers’ money, he built a $2.5 million piece of shit in center field. The piece of shit is a contemporary art structure that lights up when a Marlins player hits a homerun. The structure itself is hideous and utterly pointless to everyone in the world not named Jeff Loria.
"You're going to walk into that ballpark and see it, you're going to say, 'Oh, my goodness'... There are two marlins that spin around. One dives into the water while the other's exiting the water—a great splash of water. Another marlin goes straight up to the top of the sculpture and spins. There are flamingos that flap their wings. There's an L.E.D. light show. There's music. There's a pair of doves that fly in opposite directions. There's—what's the word?—a cacophony of things going on."
Jeff, you are—what’s the word—a jackass?
Third, and worst of all, Loria told Miami fans that a new stadium would bring a championship to the city, but their first season was a colossal, monumental failure.
Loria, frankly, knows virtually nothing about baseball. He makes very few public appearances. He was last seen on an episode of The Franchise, where he was awkwardly speaking to the team before the first game of the season. “I want to wish you good luck,” Loria explained as he looked around the locker room probably for the first time. “The real reason I’m here tonight is not to wish you good luck, it’s to talk to you about what it takes to win a championship and to be a champion.” This must have been about the time Loria realized he’s never actually won a championship in his life because he began to stumble over his words. “And… you guys have got the talent that was given to you and… it means that you have to apply it.” If the blank stares of the players didn’t show how motivational Loria’s speech was, their 2-7 record to start the season certainly did.
Opening Day at the Marlins new ballpark was nationally televised by ESPN. Throwing out the first pitch was Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight champion of boxing. Ali, who has Parkinson’s Disease and was visibly shaking and trembling, was driven on a golf cart with Loria from centerfield to the pitchers mound in the most awkward two minutes of thirty seconds of in live television history. In that time span, the fans booed Loria, cheered Ali, stopped cheering for Ali, then started cheering again, some the Marlins players were shown looking around with their hands in the air obviously confused about what they were supposed to do…twice, and the PA announcer tried to save the awkwardness by forcing an “ALI…ALI…ALI…” chant only creating more awkwardness. The stunt received awful publicity with papers calling it “shameless” and “sad.”
After a spending spree in the previous offseason on big name free agents Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle, Loria told the mass on June 29th of this year “We're going to play our significant games in August and September, and by that time people will be so in love with us they won't want to go anywhere else!” Less than a month later, Loria traded franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers and effectively gave up on the season.
Loria then lashed out to the media about the Marlins’ former manager, Fredi Gonzalez. “He was with us for four or five years and he was a colossal failure,” claimed Loria. Nevermind that Gonzalez was only with the team for three years, I guess art dealers aren’t supposed to know math. But how does Loria define “failure”? Gonzalez started his managing career with the Marlins when they were in last place. Under Gonzalez, the Marlins improved every year from 5th place in this first year to 3rd place in the second year and then to 2nd by his third year. In the midst of his fourth season as Marlins manager, Gonzalez rightfully benched one of the Marlins’ apathetic players for booting a ground ball into left field and then jogging over to it, allowing runners to score. Loria saw the benching as a lapse in judgment and fired Gonzalez. Since being fired, Gonzalez has been managing the Atlanta Braves and made the playoffs in his second season with them.
Loria hired the charismatic Ozzie Guillen to replace Gonzalez. Guillen didn’t last more than a year, with the only noteworthy thing he did was telling the media that he “respects Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator.” Let me elaborate that at this time, Guillen was managing a team based in Miami which has a huge population of Cubans who have suffered under Castro’s reign and fled the Cuba because of him.
The Marlins finished the season 69-93, good for last place. They even had a worse record than the New York Mets, whose front office had just been virtually depleted after it was found out that their owner had ties to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme.
After the failure of a season, Loria shocked the world by making a blockbuster trade. He sent all of the big name players he had signed a year earlier to the Toronto Blue Jays for essentially a bag of balls. The Marlins payroll went from $100 million to $16 million overnight.
The fallout was incredible. Other owners were pissed about the trade. Teams who play in the same division as the Blue Jays now have to face a much tougher opponent while Miami’s division rivals get to pick on the scrap heap that is the Marlins. Many owners called the MLB commissioner Bud Selig and asked that the trade be nullified. The Blue Jays suddenly became a powerhouse while the Marlins became a laughing stock. Amateur players who are drafted are not going to want to sign with the Marlins and free agents certainly aren’t either for fear of being traded. For the second time in the Marlins’ very short existence, an owner has traded away the core of its team. A few years from now, we might say that this was the trade that killed baseball in Miami, much like Loria already killed baseball in Montreal.
The fans in Miami were screwed the most. Marlins fans couldn’t have been more livid about the trade. After being taxed hundreds of millions of dollars for construction of a new stadium that no one liked, Loria basically said ‘oh, its okay because we’re committed to bringing a championship to the city’ and then traded away literally every good player on their roster a few months later.
Major League ended with the Indians making the playoffs and keeping the team in Cleveland. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work like that. The Miami Marlins 2012 season was a monumental failure. In a rare baseball-related interview with Loria after the season, he seemed to struggle with basic baseball knowledge and gave bland, unspecific answers. When asked how he will improve the team, he responded “We’re always looking for pitching…We need…I want this bullpen to be a tough one.” As he wiped stressful sweat off his face in between questions, he started to talk about the “strength” of the lineup. In doing so, he began to name the starting players on the Marlins. “We have Infante… Coghlan… Ramirez… Stanton... Morrison… the catcher, whoever that might be… the third baseman…”
For Marlins fans, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But there is a $2.5 million L.E.D. flamingo in centerfield.
 They were notorious for taking steroids because in Central American leagues, players weren’t tested for steroids like they were and still are in the MLB. Not only this, but their people weren’t educated about steroids. Trainers would approach players and tell them that if they take steroids, they could make a lot of money playing in the MLB. Obviously a lot of poor Latino players would jump on that opportunity. As far as lying about their age goes, Latino players could easily make fake birth certificates to make themselves look younger. For instance, if a player was 25 years old and in the prime of his physical life, he could say that he was only 20, leading teams to believe he was only going to get better. This still happens so often that any player that comes out of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, etc. is usually assumed to be a few years older than they claim.