This is how far standards have fallen, folks. Merely by not being Fred Wilpon, one of the biggest creeps in professional sports is being proclaimed some sort of civic hero. “Jeffrey Loria has been criticized, even vilified, a lot over the years,” writes Forbes’ Patrick Rishe, briefly explaining the art dealer-turned Marlins owner’s role in the destruction of the Montreal Expos, his habit of undermining field managers (though weirdly, not mentioning the serial attempts to suck up to Hanley Ramirez). And through all of that — on a day Loria is rumored to have seduced Jose Reyes away from the Mets, Rishe declares, “Loria’s ownership of the newly renamed Miami Marlins has officially become a success.” Yes, as long as nothing’s been measured in ticket sales or recent contention, he’s the greatest owner of all time!
Loria stands in stark contrast to the biggest problem baseball faces today, irresponsible owners who are sinking important franchises with their own reckless behavior. Loria is building something in south Florida, an important market where the game has a good shot to expand. His Marlins have put down $155 million for their new stadium and now appear poised to invest more money at precisely the right time—when its new stadium opens. He has already secured the services of Ozzie Guillen, a showman who can attract attention like no other manager or coach in professional sports. Contrast Loria’s behavior to the disaster in Queens, where the Mets’ embattled owners are cutting payroll in the key earlier years of Citi Field. The point of revenue sharing shouldn’t be to have small-market teams pointlessly spend a little extra money each year, but to give them the financial resources to strategically build a strong franchise so they can spend some money when it counts. The Marlins spent about $50 million on payroll in 2011 and are expected to have a payroll of some $80 million in 2012. The team is reportedly paying Guillen $10 million over four years.
Baseball in Miami might still not work. It may or may not make sense for taxpayers in Florida to finance a baseball park. Loria will have made a small fortune off of baseball one way or the other. But the man deserves credit for his persistence and shrewdness in making the best of a tough situation.