Maybe Jeffrey Loria really, really wants us to like him.
Maybe the Marlins owner is simply trying to fill the embarrassingly empty seats at the white elephant of a stadium built with taxpayer moolah — a monument to all the reasons why we don’t like Loria. His people faked a move to San Antonio and the political fools bought it. Once he had his subsidized stadium, he decimated the team of players whom fans had come to love.
But Loria’s latest ploy to get attention on account of the late Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez — especially in the middle of all the speculation about the team being for sale — is too much. He told ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick that he’s having “a big sculpture of Jose made for the plaza or maybe in front of the stadium.”
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As if there weren’t enough tributes to the beloved player whose name and No. 16 adorn orange walls and whose locker and baseball gear are being preserved as he left it, Loria has commissioned artist William Behrends, known for his sculptures of sports legends.
The bronze statue will be 9 to 10 feet tall, Loria said, and Fernandez will be holding a red-orange glove like he used to pitch for the Marlins.
Loria, personally, is doing the job of choosing the expression Fernandez will be sporting.
“I went through hundreds and hundreds of photographs with the sculptor and gestures of Jose's face to try and make it perfect,” he said.
But the real picture of Fernandez’s life is now far from perfect.
That Miami loves Fernandez — no matter what terrible decisions he made the night of his death to cause his demise and that of the two friends with him — is not in question. We love him; he was our story. Even to the end, one could argue, he was a part of the culture. Drugs are the scourge of our time and have marked this city. He wasn’t immune to the temptation. The fun-loving spirit everyone admired got the best of him.
Yes, despite the toxicology reports that show he was high on cocaine and alcohol — and almost certainly at the wheel of his boat and speeding when it crashed into the jetty at Government Cut — we can still feel admiration for the player and the person he was. Not only for his ability to throw a ball, but for the joy he brought to the game and the generous way he engaged with his fans. For being the kind of person who jumps in the sea to rescue a human being. Although he didn’t know it when he jumped, it was his mother who had fallen from the boat on which they were fleeing Cuba.
The obstacles the always smiling star pitcher and his family overcame so that Fernandez could make it to the United States and play pro ball moved us. So did the longed-for reunion with the grandmother who listened to his games on a radio from her humble rooftop in Cuba. That he died without meeting his daughter, Penelope, born last February — that she will never know him — makes everything about his story all the more tragic.
But it’s time to let Jose Fernandez rest in peace.
A more worthy endeavor than a monument would be for Loria to fund a public awareness campaign about the perils of drinking and boating, one that engages young men like Fernandez and his two friends. After all, if Fernandez had survived, he would’ve been charged with serious crimes resulting from the accident. His family and estate are being challenged by a wrongful death lawsuit now.
A statue of a young man with a gifted arm doesn’t wipe away the tragic end, doesn’t erase the bad turn to his story, only pounds on it.
But Loria wants to keep cashing in on his multimillion-dollar investment in Fernandez. He’s obsessed with the young man and it’s not fair to the rest of the players. Who can rise to the larger-than-life status Loria is claiming for Fernandez? It’s not fair to the fans either to be constantly reminded of the tragedy.
As for liking Loria, that ship has sailed. He’s fooled Marlins fans one time too many.
The grief is real, but Loria’s outsized idolization of Fernandez no longer rings true. It smacks of the type of publicity-seeking circus atmosphere Loria mounted when he brought from Cuba Fernandez’s beloved grandmother at a time when Loria was in trouble with fans for replacing stars with rookies.
Now, he fuels speculation about the potential sale of the Marlins.
Somebody — Derek Jeter, Jeb Bush are fine by me — buy the team so that we can move on from Loria.
And let Jose Fernandez rest in peace.