I tell you who ought to sue: the actual marlins. The lower-case kind. That magnificent marine animal whose name has been so besmirched by team owner Jeffrey Loria that the word can hardly be uttered hereabouts without a foul taste. In Miami, Loria has turned baseball in basebile.
Oh, it’s not just this latest news, delivered by Tim Elfrink in the New Times this week, that this ignominious franchise was not only suing season ticket holders who, for good reason, have reneged on their four-year contracts, but were intending to seize an actual building owned by one obdurate fan-turned-defendant.
According to the New Times report, the Marlins successfully sued Kenneth Sack for the $97,200 he still owes for tickets he promised to buy back in 2012. So now the team has taken legal action to seize a commercial building Sack owns in Oakland Park.
Normally, folks wouldn’t waste much sympathy for some rich guy with a home in Colorado and another in Palm Beach. Most of us couldn’t contemplate four $16,200 season tickets — times four years. Except the building the team wants to grab in return for that $97,200 judgment has been appraised, according to the New Times, at $725,000.
That’s sooooo Miami Marlins (with further apologies to the fish).
This is probably an ordinary legal maneuver in civil court, but the notion that the Marlins are seeking property worth 7.5 times more than the purported cost of a diminished product — that’s just a bit too reminiscent of the deal Loria pulled over on Miami and Miami-Dade County.
Loria employed the familiar major league sports extortion tactic — build me a new sports palace or I’m taking my team to Vegas (until last year, when Oakland told the Raiders, “See ya.”). But it convinced the county to float bonds to cover most of the construction costs for a $634 million very fancy ballpark in Little Havana. (Add up the interest and Marlins Park will cost taxpayers more than $2 billion.)
Loria had claimed that the team was a chronic money loser, in dire need of that public-financed stadium to climb out of poverty. Except that in 2010, Deadspin published internal documents revealing that the Marlins, with a big boost from Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing plan, had been making a profit all along.
The other big lie was the promise that a new stadium would revitalize one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods. That two blocks of store-fronts built beneath the parking garages would soon be filled with restaurants and retail shops and new jobs for locals.
Didn’t happen. A Subway sandwich shop is the lone tenant under one parking garage. The other has a kidney dialysis center and a wellness clinic. I peeked into the wellness clinic Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the All-Star Game, and counted three elderly patients in the waiting room — not exactly harbingers of neighborhood gentrification.
OK, OK. I realize my rant sounds like a bitter spouse on the cusp of divorce, when any slight committed by that so-and-so has been magnified into a crime against humanity. Loria, indeed, is leaving us. He has been dangling the team before various consortiums asking a reported $1.2 billion. Which is extraordinary, considering he paid just $158 million for the team back in 2002. But the stadium we built him has done wonders for the Marlins’ worth, even though the team is dead last in attendance in the National League, attracting only 21,000 fans a game. (And that may be inflated. In May, on a night when the announced attendance was 15,000, Steve Wine of The Associated Press counted 1,590 fans in the seats.)
The New York Times doubts that Loria will actually sell before next March. That way he can avoid the 5 percent tax he’d otherwise owe local taxpayers for any profit he makes on the sale.
He’s making out so well, you’d think that Loria would take his billion bucks and make a graceful exit. But no. He’s going out with a bevy of lawsuits against season ticket holders, at least at least nine of them, who claimed the chintzy amenities that came with their tickets were far less than promised.
Of course, other teams have sued season ticket holders who failed to meet their contractual obligations. In 2009, the Washington Redskins went after a 72-year-old woman who couldn’t afford her two seats after her real estate business was wiped out in the recession.
After the Washington Post wrote about the poor woman’s plight, the Redskins were shamed into dropping their claim. The difference here: The Marlins have no shame.