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But even after last season's debacle, Guillen's firing and the November trade of Reyes, starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck for six raw but intriguing prospects and a major league journeyman, Loria remains cocky. He said, "With the players we have now? In another year or two people are going to look back and say, 'Jeffrey, you were a genius.' I have faith in our people, I have faith in myself, and I have faith in Miami."
Still, the strain of last year's extravagant failure—documented on Showtime's all-access series The Franchise—has only exacerbated the team's dysfunctions. Beinfest, who has run the Marlins' baseball operations since 2002, is the obvious head on the chopping block these days. And when asked what team he followed as a kid, it's clear Beinfest isn't feeling all that safe. "The Dodgers," he says. "I grew up in L.A., in the Valley, and my whole childhood I listened to Vin Scully on the radio every night, and it was Garvey, Cey, Lopes and Russell. So I came from about the most stable thing growing up to...." Then he stops himself and jumps up from his chair, sort of laughing. The interview is over.
If You Build It, He Will Come
At 5:35 p.m. that Monday, Day 2 of what one Herald wag had begun calling Loria-palooza, the owner and his former stepson stood within 10 yards of each other in the Diamond Club, trying to make the Marlins' case. It was odd, because crisis managers don't usually go in for overlapping spin, and because if you closed your eyes, you'd have sworn that there had been some identity switch. Loria, he of the flamboyant career amid lunatic artists and billionaires, was chewing up pointed questions in a lawyerly monotone, eyeglasses perched on his forehead, every bit of emotion masked. And Samson, with his New York law degree and Morgan Stanley bona fides, was going on in detail about his daily underwear choice and yanking up a pant leg to display a vivid pink sock.
Such flipness is hardly a baseball norm. Samson is obviously smart, and the fact that he squeezed a new stadium out of Miami when most observers thought it impossible speaks to a formidable toughness. But he's made bitter enemies among agents and fellow executives, summed up by Seattle G.M. Bill Bavasi's 2007 quote, "My mother always taught me that if the only thing you have to say is 'Screw Dave Samson,' then don't say anything at all." Had it been known that the Marlins president had been smacked in the face by an errant baseball while playing catch at a food and wine event two days earlier, there would've been pockets of applause nationwide.
Still, Loria has never wavered in his support of Samson. The two go back to 1976, when Loria married eight-year-old David's mother, a fellow art dealer. They'd all go to Knicks games together, where David would taunt visiting team execs, and on school nights Loria would scribble up notes from the game and leave them on the boy's bedside table. "I think David still has most of them," Sivia says. "They've always had an extremely close relationship. They admire each other, they trust each other. Jeffrey has always regarded David as his son—not his stepson."
If, as it's said, every baseball story is at heart about fathers and sons, why should the Marlins be different? That Walter Loria had a slim tie to Yankees greatness—he surrendered two home runs to Lou Gehrig in high school—only heightened Jeffrey's devotion as he grew up in the 1940s. The Yankees' players were "superhuman" to him, he says; when Eddie Lopat stopped to chat with him outside the clubhouse, it was as if God were smiling down. A dozen times a season the two Lorias would take the subway four express stops to Yankee Stadium and sit 20 rows up behind third base. "Dad was a righty," Loria says. "Had a pretty good curveball too—until he ruined his back trying to throw it to me."
The family was small: Jeff's mom, Ruth; Walter; Jeff and his kid sister, Harriet. They went to all of Jeff's games at Stuyvesant, cheered his unassisted triple play as a junior, dreamed his dream of playing for the Yankees. Harriet grew to love baseball nearly as much as the Loria males did. When a knee injury killed Jeff's chances of playing at Yale, the family adjusted: Walter wrote a letter out of the blue to Vincent Price on Jeff's behalf. The actor called back about a job in the summer of 1962; Jeff thought it was his dad joking and hung up. The family laughed about that forever.
Then, one by one, they fell away. Ruth died in 1980, cancer. Walter suffered a stroke a decade later, spent the next 13 months in a hospital in Suffern, N.Y., barely conscious. In March '94, seven months after Jeff lost out to Peter Angelos in a bid for the Baltimore Orioles, the phone rang in his Manhattan apartment. Sivia answered. It was the sheriff of Bay Minette, Ala., calling about the crash of a single-engine plane. Harriet and her husband, an orthopedic surgeon, were gone too, leaving behind three children. "I was devastated," says Jeff.
That's one reason Loria was so overwhelmed the night of Game 6, 2003: Here was the dream, realized, and he had no one left who knew him when he dreamed it. As the last few outs flew into the Bronx sky, Loria glanced at the stands on the third base side, 20 rows up. "I remember when my dad took me here," he muttered to his security man, John Anderson. "I wish he were here to see this." Then Beckett gathered in the final ground ball. As the players leaped and hugged, Loria began drifting away from his seat, repeating, "Oh, my God...."