15 November 2012

The Long Con

A few questions for Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria

Sports on Earth

Jeffrey Loria, have you looked at your new Miami Marlins roster? Have you dropped any hard-earned money for a pair of 2013 season tickets expecting to watch Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, only to wake up and find that somebody named Justin Nicolino likely will be taking their place? Are your own, non-sheltered, out-of-pocket tax dollars going to fund a brand-new $634 million stadium built with roughly $500 million of public money, an astronomical amount that will actually balloon to $2.4 billion by the time the bonds are finally paid off some 40 years from now? Do you realize that the Pentagon buys B-2 stealth bombers for slightly less?

Do you actually live in Miami? Do you actually watch baseball?

Did panic grip your soul when reporters approached you on Wednesday at the owners’ meetings in Chicago, probably to ask similar questions? When you reportedly told them, “not today, boys, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going to figure it out for you," did you mistake media relations in 21st-century America for an outtake from “Newsies?”

When you stare into your ballpark’s 74-foot-high animatronic sculpture featuring mechanical jumping marlins and diving seagulls — a $2.5 million shot across Chuck E. Cheese’s grinning bow, designed by pop artist Red Grooms and financed by the good people of Miami-Dade County — does your mind touch the void for a minute?

Have you noticed that your previous history as a Major League Baseball owner is an uncanny predictor of how you’ve acted in the last few days? Was your leveraged pump-and-dump of the Montreal Expos a test run? When the deal to build Miami’s new ballpark triggered an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, was that foreshadowed by the 2002 lawsuit filed against you by the former owners of the Expos? Do you remember that 45-page complaint, which argues that you conspired with the league to asphyxiate baseball in Montreal while violating the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal statute originally designed to target organized crime?

What exactly about an arbitration panel’s subsequent 2004 ruling in your favor – one that declared the plaintiffs’ “sense of betrayal, even if justified, doesn’t amount to fraud” -- holds up in any meaningful, non-legalistic sense? Especially when baseball essentially allowed you to flip the Expos for the Marlins — giving you a $38.5 million interest-free loan in the process — with the venerable Canadian club then being sold to a Washington, D.C., ownership group for a tidy league profit?

Are you struck by how very similar you and Frank McCourt are? How similar you and Scrooge McDuck are? Are you directly related to Charles Ponzi? Have you deliberately spent the last decade-plus of your life paying homage to self-sabotage-for-profit team owner Rachel Phelps in “Major League” and cinematic vulture capitalist Gordon Gekko? Or is that just a happy coincidence of life imitating art, given that you are, technically speaking, an art dealer?

Why is it that one of the few things about your franchise that can be enjoyed without loathing or regret — the delightful play of Giancarlo Stanton — is now potentially ruined, given that Stanton reacted to your roster fire sale by tweeting, “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple” and changed his Twitter photo from one of him in a Marlins uniform to one of him in a black shirt? Has anyone ever told you that black is the color of mourning?

When you have a second, Mr. Loria, would you see what happened to all those financial losses you were supposedly suffering when you insisted the public had to build you a new stadium? Did you misplace them under a pile of revenue-sharing cash skimmed from teams that actually give a damn about winning? Was the $48.9 million in profit the Marlins made in 2008-09 according to leaked financial documents all just a dream? Did Keanu Reeves take the red pill and wake up to find all those greenbacks taking a shower with Bobby Ewing?

Hey, did you do anything but nod approvingly when your son-in-law, Marlins president David Samson, bragged to a group of wealthy Miami residents that the same local politicians the two of you pressured and bamboozled into building your stadium aren’t exactly “the intellectual cream of the crop?” Did you notice that after the city signed off on the stadium, Mayor Carlos Alvarez lost in the largest recall of a local politician in United States history? Any idea if those two things are related?

During the time you supposedly were considering moving the Marlins to Las Vegas — and is it OK with you if I call that municipal hostage-taking? — did you care when you were told that casinos would buy all the tickets and that the stands would be empty? Or were you like Samson, who said “we don’t care if nobody comes. We’ll play in front of nobody, and we’ll have all the money?”

If a customer shows up to buy a ticket at one of your Marlins games next season, and the opposing team sports an entire roster of actual major-league players, will you charge full price or a Triple-A baseball rate? Will you split the difference?

What is going on at this professional sports franchise of yours, really?

Has anyone ever told you that your unalloyed passion for your own bottom line makes you baseball’s answer to the public owners of the Green Bay Packers, if those owners moved the team to Los Angeles, cried poor until the city built them a new stadium, immediately swapped rosters and payrolls with a United Football League team and then paid themselves huge stock dividends? When you told a reporter on Wednesday that the Marlins have shed $242 million in player salaries since July because “we have to get better,” did you really mean it?

Or is it all an act? Is that why your declaration that “we can’t finish in last place … that’s unacceptable” rings painfully hollow given that the bulk of your probable 2013 roster makes the Pittsburgh Pirates look like the 1927 New York Yankees?

How, for example, do you expect to replace the dozen big leaguers — Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell among them — you’ve traded in the last five months? Would you recognize Jake Marisnick on the street? Would you recognize Anthony DeScalfani in a Marlins uniform? If Henderson Alvarez showed up at your door with a game-time pizza delivery, would you even wonder why he wasn’t at the ballpark?

How did you fire manager Ozzie Guillen partially for the bad vibes generated by his controversial comments about Fidel Castro, and yet sign off on acquiring Yunel Escobar, a player who was fined and suspended for wearing a homophobic slur on his eye black? Did you consider adding John Rocker to your front office? Does your dictionary contain the term cognitive dissonance?

Speaking of definitions, does your conception of payroll floor include a basement? A nuclear-hardened underground bunker? Does Dick Cheney have a room there?

When you also told CBSSports.com on Wednesday that “we have to get better” — on the same day you acquired the immortal Adeiny Hechavarria — were you just messing with our heads?

Does this make it sound as if everything about the Miami Marlins is not only a travishamockery, but also the greatest example of pure, unabashed, parasitic grifting in professional sports history? I didn’t say that, did I?

Tell me, though, when your payroll costs are 80 percent lower than last season, will you literally laugh your way to the bank? Do you even bother with bricks-and-mortar banks? Do you simply wire money to offshore accounts so you can spend more time at art shows?

As you continue to pocket almost every conceivable revenue stream from the new ballpark — from naming rights to concessions and ticket sales, including non-baseball events like concerts and soccer matches — while the Miami area deals with slashed government services and higher property taxes, will you sit in a black chair and pet a white cat? When out-of-towners fatten your wallet by paying stadium-induced, tourist-soaking hotel bed taxes and parking fees, will you at least have the common courtesy to point at your shiny bauble of a ballpark and tell the unwitting, sunscreen-slathered citizens of America that, hey, you built that?

Upon hearing area radio talk-show host Jeff DeForrest say that your next move “obviously is to have Fidel Castro throw out the first pitch” of the upcoming season because that’s the only way you could alienate Marlins fans more than you already have, did you feel remorse? When your club produces more empty seats than Clint Eastwood could scold in 1,000 lifetimes, will you feel regret?

Somewhere within the pea-sized bit of coal that passes for your beating sports fan’s heart, do you feel a constricting sensation, a tightness that coincides with flushed cheeks and a sweaty brow?

Are you aware that the above set of physical symptoms coincides with what regular humans call “shame?”

Mr. Loria, is your entire major-league operation a very expensive piece of conceptual art, like your outfield sculpture? Did you design both with the intention of giving fans seizures? Or are you simply cutting payroll to facilitate a sale of the team and the stadium, given that the Los Angeles Dodgers just went for $2 billion and a similar big score seems like the inevitable coup de grace of your public-risk, private-profit Wall Street-shaming long con?

Have you considered a second career at Goldman Sachs?

Was Bernie Madoff a rank amateur?

Is Guy Fieri more adept at fronting Times Square restaurants than you are at owning a baseball team that serves as something greater than your personal ATM machine?

Do you even like baseball?

Oh, and will you please let Stanton know that you’ll trade him, too, just as soon as another team offers the right bag of magic beans signed to a minimum contract? He really does seem upset.

Thanks.

Read the original article at Sports on Earth