Jeffrey Loria should consider himself put on notice. The Miami Marlins owner needs to be arrested, prosecuted, and placed behind bars so he can no longer feed upon the good will, tax dollars, and public infrastructure of South Florida. Loria is the Ebola Virus of sports owners, settling in different locations and leaving nothing behind except legions of cynical former fans. His latest sin, described as a“disgrace” and an “embarrassment” by the most mainstream of baseball writers, was yesterday’s shocking trade of star shortstop Jose Reyes, All-Star pitchers Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, and others to the Toronto Blue Jays for basically a Lloyd Moseby rookie card and Dave Steib's mustache trimmer. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Marlins payroll in one off-season could drop by over 80%.
Bad trades happen of course 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, described by the Miami New Times as “a festering, silver-plated pustule, a grotesquely huge can opener, or just an obscene ode to wasted cash.”
If this was Loria’s own ugly-baby of a stadium, that would be between he and his architect. The problem is that it was built with taxpayer money: $2.4 billion over the next 40 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. Last December, Neil DeMause quoted a Yahoo Sports story that said, “While the subpoenas issued by the SEC do not explicitly detail the purpose of the investigation, the feds' motives are evident: They want to understand how, exactly, a group of county commissioners agreed to fund 80 percent of the Marlins new stadium, which cost more than $600 million, without ever seeing the team's financial records — and whether bribes had anything to do with it.”
Now, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, this $80 million salary dump is being seen as prelude to “baseball’s worst nightmare”: the immediate selling of the team along with its expensive new stadium, and all the public money magically morphing into Jeffrey Loria’s private profit. The fight for the new stadium, the promises of urban renewal, the shiny free agent contracts given out during the last off-season, now look like little more than a classic long-con, with Loria the master grifter in the owner's box. This is only a baseball story insofar as setting. The particulars have far more in common with the work of David Mamet than Peter Gammons.
This story of con artistry and corporate crime is evil enough. The problem with Loria is that he’s a repeat offender. Before South Florida knew his name, Loria bought and then destroyed the Montreal Expos. People forget today that Montreal was once a jewel of a baseball town, where Jackie Robinson first broke the color line as a minor leaguer. It was also the team of Hall of Fame caliber players like Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, and Gary Carter. Loria bought the team in 1999 and his first act was to say that he would rebuild the franchise and bring a championship to Montreal. His second act was to say that the city needed to build a new stadium or "we cannot stay here." After enraging the locals, Loria proceeded to gut the team of talent until fans bitterly turned away from the dispirited, cellar dwelling franchise. Then in one of the most bizarre ownership shell-games in history, Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball (a trust of the other 29 owners), 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.
There was one problem with this delightfully incestuous ownership romp: the Expos had other owners who were left out in the cold. They proceeded to sue Loria on RICO act charges. They lost their case, the Expos of course became the Washington Nationals and now, Montreal is a baseball ghost town where framed photos of Ellis Valentine, Tim Wallach, and Warren Cromartie hang in dusty corners of the neighborhood sports bar.
As for the Marlins, Loria was owner in 2003 when they won the World Series and he then proceeded to sell off the team piece by piece. He’s already destroyed the baseball love in this town once. Now he’s like a sadist going back for seconds. The SEC couldn’t bring down Loria. The RICO statute couldn’t bring down Loria. Now, like the man selling the Monorail in Springfield, he’s going to destroy another baseball town, take the money and run. He’s Rollo Tomassi, the guy who's going to get away with it. Bud Selig isn’t going to do a thing about it. The compromised and possibly criminally negligent city officials of Miami aren’t going to do anything about it. All that’s left is us. It’s citizen’s arrest time. Jeffrey Loria: for the crime of destroying Montreal as a baseball town, for destroying Miami as a baseball town, for stealing money from taxpayers to build a monument to your own excess, you are hereby notified of your impending arrest. Please report to the nearest federal prison. You will be granted visitation rights and ample time in the yard but no conjugal visits. You’ve screwed over enough people for one lifetime.
Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to email@example.com.
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