As the old saying goes, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Just ask Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.
From an on-field perspective, the Toronto Blue Jays - Miami Marlins trade, which was approved earlier this week by Commissioner Bud Selig, makes it look like the AL East just got a lot tougher. The Orioles made the playoffs this past season, almost winning the division from the Yankees, the Rays are now consistently tough, the Yankees are still the Yankees, the Red Sox hope to be the Red Sox again, and the (formerly beleaugured?) Blue Jays just added multiple All-Star level talent to their squad.
But don't worry about the Marlins, especially their owner Jeffrey Loria. He knows what he's doing. He's making money. Lots of it. Wins and losses be damned.
"In dealing Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, and $4 million to the Jays for Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Jeff Mathis," Jonah Keri writes for Grantland, "the Marlins shed nearly $160 million in payroll.”
And in the process, angered a usually agreeable sports nation.
“This deal," Fox Sports columnist Ken Rosenthal states, "even if it works out for the Marlins, is a violation of the public trust.”
"Bad trades happen of course," adds Dave Zirin, over at The Nation, "and salary dumps have become as much a part of baseball as tobacco stains on the dugout steps. But there is a much more nefarious machination at work. Reyes and Buehrle were brought in during the 2011 off-season as a way to sell tickets for the Marlins brand-new $600 million eyesore of a stadium."
That is, brand-new $600 million stadium that was largley paid for by tax payer dollars. (See "Actually, RNC, We (Taxpayers) Built This!" 9/13, Valley Advocate.)
“If this were Loria’s own ugly baby of a stadium, that would be between him and his architect," Zirin continues. "The problem is that it was built with taxpayer money: $2.4 billion over the next forty years to be exact. The elected officials of cash-strapped Miami-Dade County took Loria’s word the team was going bankrupt and would cease to exist without a new ballpark. These claims of bankruptcy we now know were lies after the website Deadspin posted leaked financial documents that told a very different story. The deal was so shady, the lack of oversight so egregious that the Security and Exchange Commission has an ongoing investigation into how taxpayer money could be so blithely squandered.”
The Deadspin post shows that winning at the bank, and winning on the field, often have little to nothing in common in today's professional sports industry.
"If there is a thread running through all of these financial statements," the Deadspin post reads, "it is the incredible ability of baseball teams—whether they're winners or losers, big market or small, 'rich' or 'poor'—to make their owners a fat pile of money."
And few owners know this better than Loria, the former owner and franchise deconstructor of the Montreal Expos.
Before he was handed the keys to the Marlins franchise, Loria occupied the owner’s box in Montreal. There, he demanded a new stadium from the taxpayers, who refused. Loria proceeded to gut the team of talent, running the Expos into the ground. Fast forward several years, and they are now the Washington Nationals, who moved into a new, publicly financed stadium in D.C.
"Then in one of the most bizarre ownership shell games in history," Zirin recounts, "Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball (a trust of the other twenty-nine owners); he was also given a $38.5 million interest-free loan by the league, and in return bought the Florida Marlins. This cleared a path for Marlins owner John Henry to then purchase the Boston Red Sox.”
Nice non-work, if you can afford it.
“As thanks for the noble sacrifice he'd made in stewarding the dying Expos for a couple of years, Loria was allowed to purchase the Marlins for $158.5 million in 2002," adds Keri. "The same rigged system that put Loria in power and summoned the extortive powers of the commissioner's office to his side had also succeeded in cajoling a sweetheart stadium deal out of feckless elected officials, with yet another baseball club passing costs to taxpayers and reaping a disproportionate share of the profits."
The fact that big-time professional sports teams are big-time businesses is not news, as I noted this past summer (see "What Sports Media Don't Talk About," 6/28, Valley Advocate). But if owners are capable of turning a profit regardless of how successful their team is, there seems to be an inherent conflict of interest at play. What does the future hold for an institution built on the timeless tenets of competition that is run according to the financial dictates of the next quarter's get-rich(er)-quick(er) scheme?
It seems like we just found out.
“I want to know how Loria can face the people of South Florida, the taxpayers who subsidized 70 percent of his $515 million ballpark in Miami," writes Rosenthal. “I want to know how he will market his team to free agents after trading three that he signed for a combined $191 million only a year ago."
So, no doubt, do the people of South Florida. Not to mention sports fans and concerned citizens nationwide.