They vented on sports talk radio, threatened to cancel their season tickets, and wrote angry letters to the editor. But they’re not over it yet. Marlins fans are still furious at team owner Jeffrey Loria more than a week after he traded five players and purged his payroll of $160 million in a controversial trade with the Toronto Blue Jays.
And the backlash isn’t coming from just a few loud diehards.
A survey of 400 South Florida Major League Baseball fans, 90 percent of them self-described Marlins fans, found that the Marlins organization — Loria, in particular — antagonized and may have permanently alienated a majority of the fan base.
Only 23 of the respondents (6 percent) had a “favorable’’ opinion of Loria, and a third of those were people who said they personally know him. The only public figure who might lose a popularity contest to Loria in South Florida right now is Fidel Castro (who has a favorability rating of rating of about 1 percent, says pollster Fernand Amandi).
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A majority of the season-ticket holders surveyed said they would favor a boycott if it led to Loria selling the team.
The poll, conducted Nov. 18-20 by Bendixen and Amandi International for The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald, found:
• 87 percent of Marlins fans feel “furious and betrayed’’ by the team ownership.
83 percent of Marlins fans have an “unfavorable’’ opinion of Loria.
• 61 percent of respondents identifying themselves as season ticket holders would support a boycott next season if that would force Loria to sell the team.
• 85 percent of Marlins fans feel the trade will benefit the Toronto Blue Jays more than the Marlins
• 95 percent think the trade was a “fire sale,’’ while only 4 percent think the trade intended to make the team better.
• 89 percent feel Loria has a moral obligation to field a good team because the new $515 million stadium was built largely with public funds.
The fans unload
“I don’t trust him,’’ one poll participant said of Loria. “Basically I think he is here to make money. He and his little Napoleon (an apparent reference to team President David Samson) are just here to make a buck.”
Another fan surveyed said: “He got us to build him a stadium with taxpayer money. He lied to us and is not living up to his promises and he should sell the Marlins. He is a lousy owner. He traded the players worth watching.’’
“I don’t think he has the best interests of the community or the team as a priority,’’ said a poll participant. “I don’t think he understands the responsibility that comes with the public trust and the ownership of a professional sports team. It’s a different type of business, not only one you can make a profit but with the public trust.”
Other fans were more blunt:
“He’s a leech and is sucking the money from Miami and baseball.”
“I hate him. All he cares about is lining his pockets. He just cares about money and not his team or fans. I wouldn’t spend a dime on him!”
“He is a greedy crook, got what he wanted and now is not giving back to us. He should repay the city for the entire cost of the stadium plus interest.”
The poll participants, selected at random, were 55 percent Hispanic, 38 percent white Anglo, 5 percent black and 2 percent “other.’’ Eighty-five percent were from Miami-Dade and 15 percent were from Broward.
The Marlins gave up All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and outfielder Emilio Bonifacio. Reyes and Buehrle were acquired last off-season with much fanfare. In return, the team will receive shortstops Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, catcher Jeff Mathis, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, and three prospects.
By moving into a state-of-the-art stadium last spring, nearly doubling their payroll to $118 million, and hiring colorful manager Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins created buzz and high expectations. They traded three-time All-Star Hanley Ramirez during the season and continued to struggle. The team wound up 69-93, last-place in the NL East.
Guillen was fired. And then came the mega-trade. It wasn’t the first time the Marlins had a fire sale. They made similar deals after the 1997 and 2003 World Series championship seasons. Loria was the owner in 2003.
The Marlins declined to comment on the Herald poll, but Loria said in a news release after the trade:
“We’ve finished in last place the past two years, and that is unacceptable to our fans, to us as an organization, and to me. We want to get back to our winning ways, and we want a winning baseball team for our fans. It’s incumbent on us to make the changes necessary to make us a winner again.’’
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig reviewed the trade, and accepted it. But he vowed to “continue to monitor this situation with the expectation that the Marlins will take into account the sentiments of their fans, who deserve the best efforts and considered judgment of their club.’’
Selig went on: “Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and I fully understand that the Miami community has done its part to put the Marlins into a position to succeed with beautiful new Marlins Park.’’
Palmetto Bay resident Emily Demar and her family are diehard baseball fans. Her cousin is major leaguer Kevin Youkilis, the Gold Glove winner and longtime Boston Red Sox star who was traded to the Chicago White Sox last season. Her son, Scott, played baseball at Palmetto High and walked onto the team for a season at Indiana University.
The Demars have been loyal Marlins fans since the team’s inception. They share a season-ticket package with a few friends and sit in the third row behind the visitors’ dugout.
Despite her love for baseball, Demar, one of the poll participants, is very unhappy with the Marlins.
“We were never fans of the new ballpark, the use of public money or the location,’’ she said by phone. “So, we went into last season slanted, with doubts. And now, this trade, it’s deflating to everybody. It stinks. We know Loria doesn’t want to lose a lot of money, but to get rid of Ozzie and all these players in the same year is too much. Why not see if the new manager can turn things around before getting rid of all those players?’’
Would Demar’s view of the team change if the lower-budget Marlins went on a win streak next season? Does she think even fans who are very bitter now will sweeten to the home team if the W’s start piling up?
“Winning would certainly help,’’ she said, “but if they lose, the place will be empty.’’