PlayBook: Loria And The League

By Fraser Lockerbie

Jeff Loria is a liar and a thief, but he wouldn't be either without the help of Major League Baseball.

It takes a clinical, throat-cutting kind of candor to be as big a bastard as Marlins Owner Jeff Loria is. To so selfishly scoff at the system that made you and spit in the face of every fan who ever bought a ticket to see The Show. To burn all the bridges that brought you to Big Leagues and giddily piss on your island of ashes while the lynch mobs linger all around. It takes a special kind of asshole to pull the trigger on that kind of coup; but to do it twice inside ten years takes something else.  

Back in ’94, when Loria was chomping at the bit to buy a professional baseball team he seemed wholly harmless; just another outlandishly wealthy art owner looking for another masterpiece to hang on his mantle. Back in the 90s, buying professional sports franchises seemed fashionable for people with way more money than they knew what to do with to do and so Loria, not wanting to look out of place with the in-crowd, bought into the Expos for next to nothing (about $50 million give or take) and soon afterwards, sold the Expos back to the league for substantially more while simultaneously trading up to take control of the Marlins.

He did this with relatively little opposition from the league, who applauded his sheparding of the failing franchise to Washington (what both parties, Loria and the League, really wanted all along) and overlooked the fact that he had just made millions in MLB dollars flipping a franchise like you might a flip rickety old house with a few fresh coats of paint and some flowers.

But he didn’t stop there. Loria’s shrewd business making continued in Miami in spite of baseball, that is, with little regard for the game; after the Marlins fielded what may have been their most successful team in 2003, Loria hosted Florida’s second greatest fire sale, dispatching the World Series winners’ most valuable assets around the league in a move that saved the franchise (and Loria) millions all the while continuing to cry wolf about money management in a small market (Miami for the record is the 8th largest metropolitan area in America). For the next nine years, and pardon the pun, the Marlins would flounder.

So it came as kind of a surprise (to anybody not paying attention) that after a decade of doomed baseball in Miami, the Marlins and Loria were suddenly ready to make a splash (I’m sorry). After muscling the municipal government (using what else, strong arm scare tactics of league approved relocation) into building Miami a brand-spanking new $634 million dollar stadium, Loria set forth on promises to the fans and the city that this year he would finally field a competitive team in exchange for their undying love and support (read: cold hard cash).

But he was true to his word: the Marlins went on an Opening Day spending spree, bringing in coveted free agents like Jose Reyes, Mark Beurhle and Heath Bell to play alongside their already established (and getting expensive) superstars, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez. And fans flocked: the Marlins wrangled over 2.2 million people in attendance last year, up almost 750,000 from years past and the best mark since their inaugural season in 1993.

More fans obviously meant more money for Loria but the mean old bastard wasn’t done. With wins still hard to come by, Loria, in his new tax-payer funded monstrosity and amid record piles of revenue, held yet another fire sale midseason, shipping staples Anibal Sanchez to Detroit and Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers. Net savings: $31.5M dollars.

But the feather in Loria’s cap came this past week, just a year after all the promises and good faith stadium building and fan support when he sent the rest of team, a failed 69 win experiment but  literally the last dregs of hope Miami fans might have had that Loria was interested in anything other than money to Toronto. With Josh Johnson, Mark Beurhle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonafacio and John Buck all on their way north of the border, the Marlins are left with about eight marginal players with marginal salaries on the books for 2013; by 2014, that number drops to two. And the fans? Fuck ‘em, them and the city that just shelled out over half a billion dollars for a bunch of half-talented hacks to play in a state-of-the-art new, revenue-rich stadium.

And that’s the thinking of Jeffrey Loria. He’s making Frank McCourt money now using Frank McCourt methods. We said it takes a special kind of asshole to be able to hang this kind sham on an entire city and still sleep at night and it does: you have to be heartless with absolutely no love for the game. But to do it twice takes something else; it takes a league with little to no moral fiber and even less concern for the lifeblood of the sport they’ve supposedly sworn to protect.

This Week’s Lines:

Chicago (+5.5) over San Francisco, Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit, Washington (-3.5) over Philadelphia, Cleveland (+8) over Dallas, New York (+3.5) over St. Louis, Atlanta (-10) over Arizona, Jacksonville (+15) over Houston, Tampa Bay (-1.5) over Carolina, Cincinnati (-3.5) over Kansas City, San Diego (+7.5) over Denver, Baltimore (-3.5) over Pittsburgh, New Orleans (-5) over Oakland, New England (-9) over Indianapolis.

Last Week: 9-4

Overall: 81-51-4

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