But the future isn't the only thing keeping Loria going. He stood on the concourse, about to step into an elevator, when he started talking about his father, Walter, dead now 21 years. "It was yesterday, February 24, 1992," Jeff said. "Yesterday was sort of a sad day for me."
Walter, a lawyer and an inventor with a dozen patents to his name, was a devout Yankees fan. Talk turned to the Marlins' last great moment, Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, when they won the title in Yankee Stadium. Jeff tugged the massive championship ring off his left hand, a hunk the size of a baby's fist, encrusted with 242 diamonds and rubies. "If you look inside my ring," he said, and there, etched into the still-warm gold, were the words OH MY GOD. He nodded, as if that explained everything.
"I wear it all the time," Loria said. "I'm what I am: It's what you see."
I am no native son. I lived in Miami for a decade beginning in 1990, when the city still ached from racial clashes and the predations of cocaine cowboys, and The Miami Herald was a powerhouse of talent, balls and wit. On its best days the paper was one of the few bulwarks against corruption and greed in a place steeped in the stuff. Dopey politicians, bad roads, ignored housing codes: You could all but hear the termites gnawing away. If ever a place needed a great watchdog—eyeing the action from its downtown quarters on Biscayne Bay—this was it.
Soon after I arrived, one of the yearly rumors that Fidel Castro was dead rocketed around the newsroom. Whispers flew about the Herald's contingency plan: dozens of writers and photographers shooting across the Florida Straits, a small cruise ship serving as a floating command center. I'd never worked for a paper with a plan to invade a country, so when my boss told me, "We're going to get a big league team, and you're going to break the story," I finished the sentence with "—or else." His name was Anger, after all, and the Herald was a merciless shop. I broke the story, barely. It became official in June 1991.
The first season, 1993, was the love affair everyone expected. Some three million fans showed up to see an awful team in a boxy football stadium night after sweltering summer night. It seemed even more remarkable considering that the No. 1--ranked Hurricanes often played to a half-empty Orange Bowl. But when the novelty faded, so did attendance. Owner Wayne Huizenga, the waste disposal and video king, loaded up on talent in '97, but with a proviso to the fans: Support this team or else. People hated the man for blowing up the roster a year after winning the World Series. But no one could say he didn't warn them.
Loria, who bought the team in 2002 from current Red Sox owner John Henry in an unprecedented three-way swap, unloading the Expos in the process, was always a more confounding figure. Though the Marlins won the World Series in '03, Loria's perceived arrogance ("If you know anything about the game," he often begins replies to reporters) and Samson's lightning-rod persona grated—especially when the losses and stars' departures began to mount, and there were disasters such as the September 2011 hiring of manager Ozzie Guillen. "They're looked at as carpetbaggers," Gimenez says. "These guys aren't from here. That's not to say that you have to be from here, but they're just tone-deaf. Everything they do backfires on them."
Yet unlike Huizenga, Loria is a baseball romantic. Everyone, even those in Montreal who feel Loria conspired with Major League Baseball to shutter and move the Expos, attests to his love for the game, his late-night chats about obscure minor leaguers. As owner of the Triple A Oklahoma City 89ers in the early 1990s, Loria had a special phone line installed so he could listen to games when he was in Paris or Rome or anywhere else; otherwise he would call the press box and have the G.M. relay the action to him.
An all-city second baseman for New York City's Stuyvesant High in the 1950s, Loria might seem to have much in common with Miami billionaire Norman Braman, a former athlete who once owned the Philadelphia Eagles and boasts an art collection worth an estimated $900 million. But Braman, who has spent the last decade fighting government-sponsored financing for the Marlins'—and now the Dolphins'—stadium projects, insists there's a vital difference. "Jeffrey was always a jock-sniffer," Braman says. "After I sold the Eagles he said, 'How can you sell a sports team?' It means everything in the world for him to have arrived where he is today. He doesn't give a crap about anything else. It's him."