IN MY OPINION

Greg Cote: Marlins brass singing different tune but are they a broken record?

 

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

As the strangest season we have seen in South Florida sports bore in close, I asked Marlins president David Samson this week if he understood how most people in Miami, the team’s would-be fans, feel about franchise owner Jeffrey Loria. “Hated” was a word I happened to use, although something stronger to better convey the venom might have been more fitting.

He knew. He also knew that arguing the basic fact or trying to apply makeup would be hopeless.

I volunteered how many fans I have heard from who say they want to support the Marlins but won’t again as long as Loria is the owner. As if Samson hasn’t heard the same? That is the angry echo in season-ticket sales that have plunged from 12,000 one year ago to 5,000 today.

“That is the No. 1 thing that makes me the sorriest and the saddest,” Samson said. “That means someone is not going to make a memory with their parent or child or client just because of me or Jeffrey. I think about it every day and it ruins my day every day. Try to look past that. Jeffrey cares. He really cares. He’s misunderstood. What he cares about is winning.”

A big disconnect

He really cares, but has one hell of a way of showing it, apparently.

He cares about winning, supposedly, but sells off his best players (again) and presents a team young and (most importantly) cheap.

Samson is what you’d expect: A loyal lieutenant to his boss and former stepfather. He also personifies the disconnect continuing. The tone-deafness.

Marlins ownership moves forward as if fans should be so enamored of the new ballpark that the players inside the uniforms hardly matter. And that the owner’s commitment to spending and fielding competitive teams — his broken promise to do that — is incidental as well.

Samson plows forward, unable to hear how he sounds, unable to hear that his conciliatory words are incongruous, and drowned out by the scoffs of distrusting fans who feel betrayed.

“I and we are amazingly and incredibly and heartfelt-sorry for how it all went down,” he said. “I just want people to come to games and enjoy baseball again. People are upset and angry and rightfully so, but I hope they will try to look past that and just enjoy a baseball game.”

It’s as if it is a pure coincidence that people are upset and angry directly related to what Loria has done. Samson and Loria advising fans to look past their anger and “enjoy baseball again” is something like the man who robbed your house telling you to enjoy your safety and peace of mind again.

This is the Marlins’ 21st season about to start. That’s a coming of age number, but it feels more like a coming apart on this franchise’s timeline.

Including the Dolphins, Heat and Panthers, this Marlins season will be the 112th combined in our professional sports history, and I cannot recall a stranger one.

The team has its 1-year-old stadium in Little Havana, the new-car smell still in it, but zero momentum from the new park, zero sense of goodwill. The honeymoon is over. Was there ever a honeymoon at all?

The Marlins’ April 8 home opener might not even be a sellout. The club is scrambling to save face by at least filling all 37,000 seats for that one night, so the Marlins have aligned with Groupon, the discount coupon company, to offer reduced-price tickets. The team also is offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal, with a ticket to Opening Night getting you a “complimentary bonus ticket” to any home game in April or May.

Don’t be a trader?

That is desperate. That is sad.

FoxSports Florida asked six University of Florida advertising students to concoct a marketing campaign for the network’s Marlins coverage this season. One of the slogans bandied about was “Don’t Be a Trader,” but the very double entendre is part of the Marlins’ problem.

It alludes to the major offseason trades and asks fans to not be a traitor to the team because of them … even though the team’s allegiance to fans is what is in doubt.

“A big problem with the Marlins was the current brand image,” understated Matt Delisle, one of the UF students on the project.

One year ago Loria seemed to have largely rehabilitated his image with Marlins fans. Now? A blog poll of mine in late February found 97.6 percent of Marlins fans — would-be customers — wished Loria would sell the team.

That broken image is the natural residue of an unending parade of missteps by the club since the season opened with such promise one year ago then soured almost immediately.

A year ago on Opening Night Muhammad Ali was wheeled out to the stunned silence of the crowd, showgirls on each player’s arms proved an embarrassment, and a loss followed.

It was downhill from there.

Manager Ozzie Guillen professed his respect for Fidel Castro, the losses mounted, and the scent of the fire sale to come was in the air as the club traded star shortstop Hanley Ramirez and his big salary.

“We picked a very bad year to have a very bad year,” as Samson puts it.

And it was STILL going downhill.

After the 93-loss season and requisite managerial change the team jettisoned popular Jose Reyes and longtime ace Josh Johnson in a massive trade with Toronto that made the Blue Jays World Series favorites and made Marlins fans irate, plundering the roster and slashing the player payroll from $100 million to $40 million.

Back to business as usual, in other words. Back to the bare-bones payrolls that were supposed to have been a thing of the past thanks to the new stadium.

Loria’s combative full-page newspaper ads explaining himself in February did his image no good. Nor did the club threatening to sue two long-time season-ticket holders who complained about their view being obstructed by advertising.

The last star

More disconnect. More tone-deafness.

Now Giancarlo Stanton — Last Star Standing — will, of course, be the next to go, traded prior to hitting the free-agent market in three years.

Might Stanton even be traded this season?

“I don’t know,” Samson said. The pause grew, and grew awkward. “I would say very unlikely,” he filled it in.

The constant recycling is what frustrates. Stars traded just when they get too pricey, replaced by the next wave of cheap prospects.

For the record, I do not blame Loria for the Marlins paying only $160 million toward the $635 million ballpark. His job was to strike the best deal for himself and the club. And oh did he. Miami mayor Tomas Regalado recently told Sports Illustrated that “the residents of Miami were raped” in the deal. But it was the politicians’ job to represent the residents and protect them.

What I DO blame Loria for is thinking his role in getting the new ballpark is enough. The public is paying for about three-quarters of it. His job is to put teams in it that people will pay to support.

What I DO blame Loria for is crying about losing money when baseball’s revenue sharing and TV contracts provide such massive income streams even apart from the new ballpark.

What I DO blame Loria for is retreating from the implied promise that the new ballpark would mean bigger payrolls and competitive teams.

The Marlins have neither in 2013, and so their fans — the loyalists and the estranged alike — have a decision to make.

Some will decide that the Marlins and their long-term future here are bigger than the current owner, and that they are cheering for the players and the uniform, not for the men in the suits.

Others will decide on what they see as a moral stand to not pay their money in support of an owner they see as an uncaring liar.

I’m not sure which is right, but I know this.

It isn’t as simple as Samson saying fans should “look past it” and “just enjoy a baseball game again.”

Not when the people in charge of this team make that so much harder and more complicated than it ought to be.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
LeBron James cheers as he holds both trophies after the Heat won Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

    In My Opinion

    Greg Cote: Element of doubt makes this Miami Heat quest intriguing

    This time it feels different, doesn’t it? The Heat in the Big3 Era always has found a way to keep things fresh and keep us fascinated, and now that means trying on a role unlike any the team has played in the previous three seasons. This time, for the first time since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade, Miami enters a postseason seeming a bit vulnerable — something close to the unlikeliest of underdogs.

  • In My Opinion

    Greg Cote: Now we find out if waiting for Dwyane Wade was worth it

    Dwyane Wade had earned a new nickname. It wasn’t all that flattering. Heat fans hoped it was temporary, like a press-on tattoo. But, until Saturday night, it fit:

  •  
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade sits the game out as the Heat hosts the Indiana Pacers in a pivotal matchup at the AmericanAirlines Arena for the number one playoff seed in the Eastern Conference on April 11, 2014.

    In My Opinion | Greg Cote

    Greg Cote: For Miami Heat, it’s a numbers game — No. 1 and No. 3

    The Heat’s game against the Pacers here Friday night understandably was billed as the battle for No. 1 — for the top conference playoff seeding as the NBA postseason fast approaches. It was supposed to be crucial because it would determine who would have home-court advantage in a deciding Game 7 in these teams’ inevitable Eastern finals rematch. Nice, neat little story line.

Get your Miami Heat Fan Gear!

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category