The Miami Marlins should be baseball’s darlings. They have a new, eye-popping stadium, a promising young pitcher and a slugger who’s the envy of the league.
But it’s hard to find another team in Major League Baseball with such a damaged relationship with its fan base. That could all begin to change Wednesday when the Marlins are supposed to make national news and franchise history.
They will officially announce the signing of slugger Giancarlo Stanton, 25, to a whopping $325-million, 13-year deal — making Stanton the highest-paid athlete in American sports. Stanton also gets a no-trade clause and can opt out in six years.
The amount team owner Jeffrey Loria will pay Stanton is more than twice what the owner paid for the entire roster in 2002. Odd for a team that has been trading away talent rather than paying for it.
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This could be a new day for the Marlins, and a way to repair its fractured relationship with fans.
The most enduring bad blood between team brass and fans, also known as Miami-Dade taxpayers, comes from its successful efforts in 2009 to get the County Commission to finance the construction of Marlins Park in Little Havana. Who came out on the losing end? Those same taxpayers, who took out their anger on the former county mayor by ousting him from office.
Why? Mr. Loria was less than forthcoming about his team’s finances. After crying poor, and winning the support of elected officials — and the Miami Herald Editorial Board — he received millions in public money and loans, which represent $2.4 billion that the county must pay to bondholders during the next four decades for the $642 million stadium. Who can blame residents for thinking they were bamboozled?
Turns out the Marlins were one of the most profitable MLB teams and hardly in need of a handout, just as businessman Norman Braman had warned in his lawsuit to stop the team’s money grab.
To this day, the deal is regarded by some as one of the worst giveaways in sports, and elected officials’ eagerness at the time to hand over big bucks has poisoned the well for other sports franchises looking for help.
Fans weren’t through, punishing Mr. Loria by turning their backs on his team. An average of about 21,400 attend each home game, anemic numbers in the snazzy stadium with a retractable roof and almost 37,000 seats to fill.
Some speculate that the Stanton deal is part of Mr. Loria’s exit strategy, that he’s increasing the value of the franchise, only to sell it, walking away from a fan base that doesn’t trust him anyway. Some fans say that they would welcome a new owner.
“The Marlins don’t think just because they sign this big contract with Stanton we’re supposed to get all excited?” said 790 The Ticket’s Leroy Hoard on the air. Others wonder if there is money left to pay for a decent lineup to support Stanton.
But give the team owner credit: Mr. Loria, known for offloading costly talent, has ponied up an amount that takes some of the sting out of what taxpayers are forking over. It says “commitment,” something that’s been missing from Mr. Loria’s part of the equation.
There is one sure way for the Marlins to slowly regain its fan base next season: Win — again and again. If the Marlins become contenders, much of the bad blood could begin to wash away. But folks will never completely forget that curveball to taxpayers’ noggin.