The faith fracture is so profound that the Marlins find themselves in an unfathomable predicament today and going forward. It is bad enough when your customers don’t trust you to be competent; it is another thing entirely when they don’t trust you to be moral. But both? You’d have more luck drawing fans to your new ballpark by combining Food Poisoning Night with kick-you-in-the-groin coupons.
The Marlins needed a front-office fumigator and brought in a public-relations firm instead. But newspaper ads don’t placate angry mobs. And spin is rendered useless when everyone in the environment is coughing on poisoned air. It was an understandable effort, trying to get the facts out last week, but this organization has created an atmosphere so contaminated that even truth has somehow ceased to matter. There isn’t a corporate entity in the world that wants to ask for your money in that climate, but especially not one that does its trust trafficking in the emotion business. South Florida feels like it is in bed with the baseball equivalent of a Ponzi schemer, and it doesn’t much matter if that’s true or not. The customer is always right about feeling wronged.
So the hostile noise engulfed the start of spring training, a time for hope, and the team’s owner was immersed in whatever the exact opposite is of what he was trying to buy with those newspaper ads. Any words from this management team — even contrite words, never mind condescending and combative ones — would have felt like firemen rushing to put out a raging blaze with hoses spewing lighter fluid. Those arrogant, tone-deaf newspaper ads were the result of bad advice? Sure. But only because there is no such thing as good advice given the smoldering rubble in the rearview mirror, the charred remains of what little faith was left. Meeting with the media was like demanding calm and reason while being lowered into a pool of piranha.
There is nothing these people who work in the fun-and-game business can say or do now that won’t result in shaking torches and pitchforks. Stay in hiding, and you are an immoral, greedy coward. Come out in the open to explain yourself, conveniently at the exact time that you need your wallets/fools/customers again, and you become a piñata with every syllable, no matter the validity in some of what you say (these people did save baseball here, and they were handcuffed by dismal attendance, and the ballpark tax money did come from tourists). But a new ballpark somehow bought the Marlins only a few months of goodwill, a mismanagement so immense it usually gets a lot more than just the players sent away. And they burned through that hundreds of millions worth of goodwill faster than Floyd Mayweather goes through money at the casino, things somehow getting worse after the loudmouth manager proclaimed an affinity for Fidel Castro.
Every move since then has been choosing between bad options, which makes every single thing you do seem wrong, even in the rare instances when you happen to be right (the trades of Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante and Hanley Ramirez were right). Confirmation bias is an unholy bitch that way. Once your customers fear incompetence and/or immorality, they will see it in everything you do, even if it doesn’t exist. They’ll go looking for it as if it were something at concessions. And even the truth — We’re trying to sign Stanton! — gets dismissed as a lie. In the history of South Florida sports, there has never been an organization with this deep of a credibility problem. Awful attendance? Yes. But the business that blames the customer does not stay in business.