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And Loria wasn't done. Baseball's most besieged owner, almost a hero only a year ago, had paid his money. He was intent on reclaiming the narrative. Never mind the crucial task of solving the eternal puzzle of sports in South Florida. Never mind that some people inside his shaken franchise are wondering whether Miami was ever a baseball town. The Three Days of Jeffrey Loria had begun.
What's It All About, Charlie Brown?
Pity an owner? Impossible, of course. We're talking about men with dream lives—multiple homes, private jets, never a need to stand in line—who swan into luxury boxes, threaten constantly to take away our toys, and get richer by the day. But with all that, the role of team owner is essentially pathetic, if only because of the resentment that attends his every step. Reporters think they're smarter. Fans want him to sign checks and shut up. Players know he has won the eternal struggle between jocks and nerds, but only on paper. Because the owner is only tolerated. The owner looks silly in a locker room. The owner, for all his riches, can't make the play. He can't win.
The day after the letter, Loria sat on a broad couch in his spacious office at Marlins Park. He reached into a FedEx envelope and pulled out a creased napkin from a London hotel, evidence of an idea that should've made him different from, or at least more interesting than, any other owner alive. "The Hall of Fame asked for this drawing," he said, "and I want to make a copy of it and keep one here." He handed it over. "Does it look similar?"
The hasty cluster of black lines is Loria's 2008 sketch for the Marlins' park, and yes, it's pretty close to the $634 million cruise ship now beached in Little Havana. But instead of being hailed as a pop-modernist blend of his two lifelong passions, art and baseball, the stadium has become a source of venom. Even if Loria doesn't see it that way. He ignores any context around last year's 69--93 meltdown—including the subsequent shock of a payroll slashed, overnight, from more than $100 million to around $40 million—and frames it as a baseball failure alone. The ballpark, to his mind, remains a delight.
Indeed, to see Loria lead yet another tour past all the great, goofy touches—Joan Miró's ceramic palette, the bobblehead museum, an enlargement of Roy Lichtenstein's painting The Manager, Red Grooms's glorious monstrosity in centerfield—is to wonder how the 72-year-old New York City art dealer made it to this point at all. If the stadium, with its garish color scheme and sun-bleached views, could be nowhere but Miami, it mostly reflects Loria's whimsy, taste and ego. Come for the baseball, but you'll end up thinking a lot about Jeffrey. It's fun, at first.
His career began like some high-low clash dreamed up by Andy Warhol. When Sears teamed up with schlock-horror actor Vincent Price in a startlingly ambitious bid to sell fine art to the masses in 1962, Loria served as Price's primary "ghost," hustling around the U.S. and Europe commissioning works from the likes of Andrew Wyeth and Marc Chagall. Loria had been in the first few rows when JFK spoke at his Yale graduation in '62; the morning Kennedy was killed, surrealist painter Salvador Dalí called to talk about a work Loria, just 23, had commissioned. "Cher Maestro," Loria wrote to Picasso the next spring, "Je suis associé avec le départment des Beaux-Arts à Sears, Roebuck and Company...."
Such was the basis of everything to come: the prime contacts needed to make a fortune as an art broker; the loopy 1968 book Loria wrote with Charles Schulz's approval, What's It All About, Charlie Brown?, on the life lessons in Peanuts cartoons ("Personal contacts—whom you know at the top—will conceal your failings and slip you over the rougher business hurdles"); the mid-'70s marriage to Sivia Samson, his third wife and the mother of Marlins president David Samson; "the hornet's nest," as Loria describes it, that exploded after he bought a controlling stake in the Montreal Expos in 1999 and sold them three years later; and, not least, Loria's reputation as a shark who left every room with his pockets bulging. He's given plenty of money away: There's a building with his name on it at Yale. But perhaps most telling is the fact that Loria's 2005 split with Sivia was so civil that the mouthy Samson never felt threatened.
As ever, Samson would be by Loria's side when he appeared later that day in the Diamond Club, on the ballpark's ground floor, to defend himself to a group of local columnists. Yet for an hour now, Loria had been airing out his talking points, none of which admitted what the columnists want him to admit: that he understands why citizens feel betrayed, or why his ownership is swamped by a tropical depression that may never lift.
"It was not the 1927 Yankees I broke up," he said. "It was a disaster, two straight years. And although I had fulfilled my obligations and done what I wanted to do in terms of payroll and bringing some additional players in here, the core wasn't going to help us for the future. If we didn't do what we did—I tried to explain to the fans—we wouldn't have had a very good future."