In a Herald poll published last November, only Fidel Castro had a lower approval rating than Loria. The ensuing months brought no change: When Herald columnist Greg Cote conducted a blog poll the day after Loria's letter to fans, 98% voted in favor of his selling the team. Yet those hoping that Loria will cut and run will have to be patient. The $15 million investment he made when he bought into the Expos in 1999 has now blossomed, according to Forbes, into a franchise worth $450 million, but if Loria sells his 93% stake in the Marlins before 2015, he'll have to give the county a cut of the profit, per the terms of the stadium deal. Samson says that since completion of that deal, he's received feelers from interested buyers "once a week"—and is advising Loria to sell.
"I would've sold it opening night," Samson says of the stadium's debut a year ago. "Just walk on the field, say, 'Thank you Miami, I love you, this is your ballpark, see you later.'
"[Loria has] had a great run: won a World Series, built a ballpark, done things in this community that no one had done before in baseball. What's left? In his mind, what's left to do is win more World Series."
Indeed, Loria says he's never given the idea of selling "a moment's thought." And he dismisses as trivial the off-field controversies that most use as bookmarks for last year's meltdown. Guillen's Castro comments? Loria says, "There were 'cries and boycotts' ... what boycotts? Like, four people showed up with a banner. Those things don't bother me." Buehrle's assertion that he was lied to? "We didn't do anything we didn't bargain for," Loria says. "Buehrle's problem with his dogs—or whatever it is that he can't bring there?—is his problem, not mine."
The Last Quadrant
How did it all go so wrong? Samson, sitting in the quiet of his office one afternoon, pulls out a blank piece of paper and draws a huge cross in the middle, creating four squares. "I wrote this and gave this to our baseball people," he says of the last months of 2011, after Loria had green-lighted the team's "all-in" strategy and the Marlins blew past their $75 million budget and began spending on players like never before. He starts scribbling in each square. "Here's all the things that can happen in a season: NO WIN/DRAW [fans], NO DRAW/NO WIN, NO DRAW/WIN and WIN/DRAW."
WIN/DRAW is the jackpot, of course: The Marlins make the playoffs and the ballpark is packed every night. NO WIN/DRAW is unfortunate but nice, because it means the ballpark sells itself and will produce enough revenue to make the team better. Samson stabs his pen into what actually happened in 2012, the third quadrant on the page: NO DRAW/NO WIN. The Marlins not only "stunk," he says, but actually pulled only 1.4 million people through the turnstiles, far below the official attendance number of 2.2 million.
Says Loria, "We lost tens of millions of dollars last year."
Even for those with no skin in the game, it was a shock. The Marlins hadn't just followed baseball's fail-safe marketing blueprint (fancy new digs, big-name free agents): With a crazy-uncle manager and reality-show cameras recording every move, they'd pumped it full of steroids. Samson and his number crunchers had assigned NO DRAW/NO WIN a probability of just 5% in 2012, and then.... "A nuclear meltdown," Samson says.
That anomaly—and not, Samson says, some secret plan to strip-mine the roster after one season—led to the Toronto trade and the outrage from the likes of Buehrle. "The worst [phone] call I've made in my 14 years in baseball," Samson says. "Having nothing to do with pit bulls, having nothing to do with Toronto, having nothing to do with anything except"—and here he taps on NO DRAW/NO WIN—"that it meant that this was in action, and there was nothing we could do.