SI Vault
 
Art of the Deal Gone Wrong
S.L. PRICE
March 25, 2013
Less than eight months after he opened a stadium built in his own image and at a taxpayer expense that will eventually exceed $2 billion, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria green-lighted yet another stripping down of the franchise. He insists it's all in the name of winning
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 25, 2013

Art Of The Deal Gone Wrong

Less than eight months after he opened a stadium built in his own image and at a taxpayer expense that will eventually exceed $2 billion, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria green-lighted yet another stripping down of the franchise. He insists it's all in the name of winning

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Actually, he cares about at least one other thing. When Jeff Conine, an original Marlin and a member of the '97 World Series team, rejoined the club late in the 2003 season, Loria's first words to him were, "You're here to help us win." In the six organizations he played for, Conine says, no owner wanted that more.

"That's all he talks about," says Hall of Famer (and Miami native) Andre Dawson, who, like Conine, now works in the Marlins' front office. "Winning another World Series."

Loria's quick trigger with managers—Mike Redmond is the seventh in the last seven years—recalls George Steinbrenner's two-decade-long blue period, complete with public sniping. When Fredi Gonzalez, the last Marlins skipper with a winning season (2009), quipped to the Herald last spring that "there's not a manager, dead or alive, that Jeffrey thinks is good enough—not Connie Mack, not anyone," Loria responded by calling him "classless" and "a colossal failure." The two men later spoke by phone, and Gonzalez says he never took Loria's comments personally. Loria gave him his first shot to manage, after all, and essentially put his kids through college. "He really cares," Gonzalez says. "He's an easy target—the easiest target. But he's got a big heart. I've seen him do stuff for strangers, to people on the street—take care of them. He's good that way. People don't see that."

And for the one manager who won it all for him, Jack McKeon, Loria can't do enough. When the Marlins made the '03 playoffs, Loria walked McKeon outside the stadium and handed him the keys to a new Mercedes convertible. After they won, Loria went to Rome and brought back a blessing from the Vatican for McKeon, a devout Catholic. In '05, after McKeon won his 1,000th game as a manager, Loria gave him and his wife a week in the Bahamas. "The best owner I ever worked for," says McKeon, who worked for some doozies: Charley Finley, Ray Kroc, Marge Schott. "[He] gave you everything he could, tried to make some trades to help you win a pennant and never interfered one bit."

That last claim may seem stunning, but it's all in how you define interfere. Loria doesn't make calls to the dugout during games. Says Gonzalez, "He never meddled. He asked a lot of questions—win, lose or draw."

"We have a direct line to him with anything we want to bounce off him or would like to do," says Larry Beinfest, the Marlins' president of baseball operations. "It's his money, his team, and if he wants to know what's going on, I think he should. That's something he demands from us: communication."

But to say Loria doesn't overstep is to ignore a lifelong trait. "Jeff, stay out of things that aren't your field," wrote one of his superiors at Sears in 1965. Examples abound of Loria's otherwise heavy hand: firing, rehiring and refiring manager Joe Girardi in 2006, adding a third year to reliever Heath Bell's $27 million contract in '11, micromanaging the demotions of pitcher Chris Volstad in '10 and catcher Brett Hayes last August.

"So relievers, especially, are peeking over their shoulders when they have one or two bad outings, just waiting for Loria to be, like, 'You're out of here,'" says one former Marlin. "There's no sense of stability from the front office. Nobody really knows what's going on. When Mike Dunn got sent down for the first time last year, [Guillen] didn't even know it."

Indeed, few if any owners involve themselves as intimately as Loria in their team's baseball operations. It has an upside. Loria was the force behind the 2003 signing of veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, the Marlins' linchpin during that championship season. (He moved on to the Tigers the following year.) When leftfielder Logan Morrison's father died in 2010, Loria quietly sent a plane to fly the family from Louisiana to Kansas City for the burial. There was also that flourish, in the minutes just after the '11 free-agent market opened, when Loria dazzled shortstop Jose Reyes by wearing a Marlins jersey with REYES stitched on the back.

"Meddlesome is not what I would say he is," Samson said of Loria. "I'd say that he's passionate in a way that can sometimes be misguided."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9