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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
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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

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That most of the public funding for the retractable-roof stadium is paid out of a tourist tax provides little solace: Miami has far more pressing needs than a baseball stadium, critics say, and any shortfall in tourist-tax revenue could force the city to dip into the already-stressed general fund used to pay for police, education and public-works projects. Meanwhile, storefronts flanking the blindingly white edifice, built upon the Orange Bowl site, sit empty; more than three years since breaking ground, Marlins Park has yet to provide the promised economic boost to the surrounding neighborhood.

"I don't blame Jeffrey Loria or David Samson," Braman says. "I blame the ignorant, stupid politicians, the ignorant, stupid chamber of commerce and business groups that supported this and made this happen."

As ever, the South Florida journalists covered it all—and well—and many of those same writers who'd held Huizenga and Henry to account did superb jobs tormenting Loria. But like every newspaper, the Herald, sitting a little more than a mile east of the ballpark, has suffered drastic cuts in staff, circulation and resources over the last 20 years; as Braman spoke, a mass invite was circulating for a farewell party for the iconic old Herald building, now owned by a Malaysian resort conglomerate.

Neither deposed Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez, then city of Miami mayor Manny Diaz or county manager George Burgess nor the county commission required that the Marlins open their books, an oversight that became a civic embarrassment when Deadspin obtained financial documents in 2010 revealing that—in contrast to team claims that it couldn't survive financially in old Sun Life Stadium—the franchise received a league-high $92 million in revenue-sharing income during the 2008 and '09 seasons and turned a $33 million profit.

With that, antique terms like con job and shell game enjoyed a local resurgence. When Samson, Loria's top executive since 2000, told The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development group, in a speech just before the '12 season that politicians aren't "the cream of the intellectual crop" and implied that Miamians in general were even dumber, he came off as arrogance unbound. "They insulted the taxpayers, and then they insulted the fans," Regalado says of Loria and Samson. "It was: We did it to you—and screw you."

It's rare that the people atop a sports team are described as flat-out dishonest, but the dissolution of last year's underperforming lineup, however defensible in pure baseball terms, only cemented the impression. As a rule, the Marlins have not allowed no-trade clauses on multiyear deals. But in the aftermath of the Toronto trade, both Buehrle and Reyes said Samson and Loria "lied" last season when they repeatedly assured the two players that they would not be dealt. This spring Reyes said that at a charity dinner in New York days before the trade, Loria had urged him to buy a South Florida home, a claim Loria has strenuously denied. "I never encouraged Jose to buy a home," he says, and adds that he even called Reyes's agent, Peter Greenberg, when the deal was completed to make sure the shortstop did not purchase a house.

Greenberg confirms that last exchange but says that Loria encouraged Reyes "several times" to buy during the '12 season. Greenberg and Loria discussed this in a subsequent phone conversation, on March 1. "I told him, 'I remember you telling me to tell Jose to buy a house,'" Greenberg says. "Jeffrey said, 'I never told you that. I always asked, 'Is Jose considering buying a house?'"

Such hairsplitting is one reason Buehrle blasted the Marlins in a posttrade statement in November. ("Just like the fans in South Florida," he said, "I was lied to on multiple occasions.") He didn't let up when he arrived at spring training. He says Samson repeatedly promised him and his wife, Jamie, that the Marlins were committed for the long term. Buehrle was tossing a ball to his rescue dogs at his house in St. Louis when Samson called to say he'd been traded. One of the family's adopted pets is a pit bull, a breed Ontario bans, so Jamie, a strong advocate for canine welfare, and their two kids will stay in the U.S. this season.

Like the Buehrles (who bought a house in South Florida), people in Miami "are angry because they feel betrayed," Regalado says. Reporters attending Loria-palooza repeatedly asked Samson and Loria, "Why should we believe you?" It never came off as a question.

"This is the most despised ownership I've ever seen in this town," Gimenez says. "They took the county for a ride to get a stadium. They've taken the people for a ride with the product they've put out. They develop players, and as soon as they become good and somewhat expensive: Boop! Off they go. There's no continuity here."

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