Barry Jackson

A shocking Loria behavior revealed — and how Marlins will replace the home run sculpture

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria gives pendant to Dee Gordon

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria presented Dee Gordon with a neck pendant for winning the 2015 batting and stolen base titles.
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Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria presented Dee Gordon with a neck pendant for winning the 2015 batting and stolen base titles.

On a day the Marlins announced how they will replace former owner Jeffrey Loria’s prized home run sculpture that new management wanted no part of, the difference in approach between Loria and new owner Derek Jeter was reinforced in another way, too.

While Jeter has indicated he will defer to his baseball people, the extent of Loria’s intervention gained some clarity Tuesday.

During his weekly segment on the local hour of Dan Le Batard’s ESPN show on 790 The Ticket, former Marlins president David Samson confirmed what the Miami Herald and others previously reported, that Loria meddled to extremes in personnel decisions. But for the first time, Samson went further, citing specific examples.

Samson said agents Sam and Seth Levinson convinced Loria to give catcher John Buck a three-year, $18 million deal before the 2011 season and Loria agreed to the deal without getting any input from the Marlins’ front office. The deal proved regrettable, with Buck hitting .213 in two seasons before being traded to Toronto.

“The Levinson brothers found a way to explain to Jeffrey that John Buck was the answer to all of his dreams,” Samson said. “He had a good season for Toronto and [the agents] called up Jeffrey and said you need to sign John Buck and here’s how to do it. ‘You don’t even have to speak to him, he will sign the deal right now.’”

Loria’s baseball people disagreed with that approach and told him so.

“Our view was we’ve got to meet the guy,” Samson said. “We touched the merchandise in a way that was not real because we weren’t allowed to meet him. We said one year, maybe two years and no way we could go three. It turned out three years had already been agreed to [between Loria and the Levinsons] and there’s nothing we can do.”

Asked how many times Loria intervened like that, Samson cracked “Even Alfonseca would not suffice.”

Antonio Alfonseca, the former Marlins reliever, had 24 appendages — 12 fingers and 12 toes.

Asked by Le Batard for another example of Loria intervening, he said Loria agreed to a deal with reliever Dustin McGowan when the Marlins had no roster space at the time.

“We found out on a random Tuesday that we had signed Dustin McGowan to a major-league contract when we didn’t have [one],” Samson told Le Batard.

“God bless, Jeffrey, he’s trying. He’s not the only owner who does this. Agents have this way of making owners feel good. Scott Boras is best at it, the Levinsons are the second best.”

Samson texted me later that he was “kidding” about any suggestion that Loria intervened all the time. “He used ownership prerogative about as often as any other owner; 18 years about once per year,” Samson said. “Not bad, actually.”

Loria owned the team from 2002 through the end of the 2017 season, before his sale to a group led by Bruce Sherman and Jeter was finalized in October 2017.

Samson was dismissed but was paid until Oct. 31 of this year.

Jeter is apparently not operating the team that way. He has said that Mike Hill is in charge of baseball operations and brings any decisions to Jeter and ownership to review.

Meanwhile, the Marlins unveiled what they will do in the center field area vacated by the moving of the seven-story home run sculpture, which will sit idly in 2019 and be moved outside the stadium in 2020.

In its place will be a Center Field Zone, which will seat 400 and allow fans to watch the game and catch home run balls.

The zone will have three tiers: 1) A top level accessible to all fans from the Promenade Level, and featuring a craft cocktail bar. 2) A middle level serving as an exclusive standing view platform with a drink rail for standing room only Social Pass holders. 3) A lower level used as exclusive group hospitality space.

Also, the Marlins unveiled an exclusive area for Social Pass holders down the right-field line, in foul territory, with a capacity of more than 200.

The Marlins are adding green ivy to cover the wall in left field. Previously, the left-field facade was painted orange.

“As we continue our commitment to elevate the fan experience at Marlins Park, we are focused on creating a sense of community through spaces which encourage social engagement among fans,” Marlins president of business operations Chip Bowers said in a statement. “The new Center Field Zone and SRO Social Section will provide unique field sight lines and access for fans, with passes starting as low as $10 per game.”

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