It was almost six years ago to the day when Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria gathered his top baseball executives inside the visitor’s dugout at old Shea Stadium in New York, lauded the group of men as “spectacular” and rewarded each with an eight-year contract, rare job security in a sport in which turnover is notoriously high.
A wrecking ball eventually toppled Shea.
On Friday, Loria took a sledgehammer to his baseball staff as well, firing president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest in a move that followed more than a year of speculation.
“I have relieved Larry Beinfest of his duties so he may pursue other opportunities,” Loria said in a statement that was released soon after meeting with Beinfest at Marlins Park and informing him of his decision.
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“Larry has worked with me for 13 years, making huge contributions to our efforts and serving as a partner to me in the process.”
Even though Beinfest had two years remaining on his contract, the move was not unexpected.
Loria contemplated firing Beinfest a year ago, and Friday’s announcement came amid widespread reports that Loria had seized control of nearly all baseball decisions, “marginalizing” the front office in the process, sources have said.
Second-in-command Michael Hill remains as general manager, at least for now.
But there is a strong belief that assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel Dan Jennings could assume greater responsibilities, perhaps without leapfrogging Hill on the organizational chart.
“I will soon be making further announcements in terms of our new structure in baseball operations,” Loria said in his statement.
Said Beinfest in a text message mailed to reporters: “I want to thank the Marlins for the opportunity. I look back positively at tackling numerous challenges, opening a new ballpark and enjoying a World Series championship.”
Loria also dismissed Jim Fleming, who was Beinfest’s special assistant and also had two years remaining on his contract.
The Marlins have struggled through a horrendous season in which they eclipsed 100 losses for only the second time in franchise history and will finish last for the third consecutive year.
It has been 10 years since the Marlins won the World Series, which is also the last time they reached the postseason. Only the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays have had longer playoff droughts.
Beinfest had worked under Loria since 2001 when both were in Montreal.
When Loria bought the Marlins before the 2002 season, he brought Beinfest with him as general manager.
Beinfest’s first trade: dealing Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement to the Chicago Cubs for Julian Tavarez and a minor-league throw-in who blossomed into one of the biggest stars in Marlins history, Dontrelle Willis.
But the team’s small payroll often dictated Beinfest’s moves, leaving him almost no margin for error, and he will be forever remembered for one salary-driven trade that turned out horribly for the Marlins: the Dec. 4, 2007, trade with Detroit in which the Marlins dealt Miguel Cabrera and Willis to the Tigers for six players, none of whom panned out for them.
As it turned out, Cabrera and the Tigers opened a season-closing weekend series against the Marlins on the day Beinfest was fired. It was the first time since the ’07 trade that Cabrera — arguably the best hitter in baseball — played in South Florida as a Tiger.
The Tigers’ top baseball executive, Dave Dombrowski, described Beinfest as a “knowledgeable baseball person.”
“It’s part of our industry,” said Dombrowski, who is the only other person to head baseball operations for the Marlins. “You pretty much get used to seeing this happen. You don’t like to see it happen.”
Beinfest has a strong reputation throughout the industry and will likely be considered for any general manager openings that occur.
“I worked with some tremendous players and staff in Miami and appreciate their friendship and professional respect,” he said. “I look forward to continuing my 24-year MLB career in the near future.”
Said Loria: “I wish him nothing but the best and know he will make a great addition wherever he lands.”