The popularity ever so elusive to Jeffrey Loria is at his fingertips now, so close. In his power is one decision that would cause raucous applause to erupt across South Florida. Applause? Heck, spontaneous parades might break out — a giant conga line snaking merrily through downtown Miami to a syncopation of bleating car horns and banging pots and pans.
You thought the death of Fidel Castro was celebrated down here?
The departure of Loria might run a close second.
The Miami Marlins owner will never be more popular than when he grants fans’ collective wish and finally agrees to sell the team, his departure robustly cheered. It won’t be, “Thanks for the memories.” It’ll be, “Thanks for becoming a memory and disappearing.”
Now, at last, that seems a strong likelihood. Marlins’ fans for the first time have that actual hope as the franchise’s 25th season unfurls with players reporting this week for spring training.
Forbes.com reported Thursday that Loria has a “handshake agreement” to sell the franchise to an unnamed New York real estate developer for $1.6 billion, which would 10 times greater than the $158 million he paid for the club in 2002.
Dislike and mistrust Loria all you like, but give the devil his due: The man who made his money dealing art knows the art of the deal. As a one-man, for-profit organization, Loria may be close to brilliant.
He somehow got away with years of penurious underspending on player payrolls, so egregiously as to bring an eventual public rebuke from Major League Baseball and its players association.
He somehow convinced Miami-Dade County to sell bonds and burden taxpayers to pay the lion’s share for a new $640 million stadium and parking garages.
Now he is poised to make 10 times the amount he spent for this team or close to it.
The lease with Miami-Dade County assures the Marlins would remain and that a new owner could not move the team. The lease also would require Loria, because he sold prior to 2020, to pay the county a small percentage of any sale profits. But do not doubt that Loria’s net profit still will be enormous.
Many fans might find the man despicable, but Loria as he exits will be grinning all the way to the proverbial bank, money falling from his overstuffed pockets.
The Miami Herald’s Marlins writer, Clark Spencer, quoted a source confirming, “He’s going to sell, no doubt about it.” Speculation is Loria will remain as owner through the summer to bask in Marlins Park hosting the MLB All-Star Game and related festivities July 9-11.
It is Marlins Park, which opened in 2012 and is pretty spectacular, that spikes the franchise’s value. The final sale price could end up less than $1.6 billion, but anything close would be stunning considering what he paid for it. It will be more than what Stephen Ross paid for the Dolphins in 2008.
The New York Times reported the Kushner family, New York real estate moguls, are pursuing the Marlins, although it is not certain if that is the potential buyer that has the supposed “handshake agreement.” There might be multiple groups bidding.
The Kushner interest is notable because, of course, Jared Kushner is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and serves as a chief White House advisor. He is the husband of “first daughter” Ivanka Trump.
It is Jared’s younger brother Joshua Kushner and his brother-in-law, Joseph, who reportedly front the prospective ownership group. Supposedly, neither Jared nor father Charles Kushner is involved, though ESPN has reported the father is involved. That could be a huge problem for MLB in approving any sale, considering Charles has served time for tax evasion, improper campaign donations and witness tampering.
(I imagine a thousand Marlins fans nodding right now, saying to themselves a convicted felon might still be preferable to Loria).
Loria is a New York guy who contributed $125,000 to the Trump campaign last year, so the Kushner connection adds up.
Kushner might not be the eventual winning bidder, but imagine if he were? If the family of Trump’s son-in-law and chief advisor suddenly owned the Marlins? The mind reels.
Would Trump helicopter to games from his Southern White House in Palm Beach? Would he suggest Marlins pitching changes in Twitter rants?
The unknown aspect of any new owner — how do we know he will be a good owner? — can make the transition an anxious time. And the prospect of an ownership group associated even peripherally with Trump could have its own pitfalls. Might Democrat-leaning Marlins advertisers pull out?
For fans, though, most any unknown would be a willing risk to be rid of Loria.
For the record, I have criticized and mocked Loria over the years for many things including his cheapskate spending, but I do not loathe him with a broad brush as many do. For example, if there was a villain in the stadium deal, to me it was a not Loria, a businessman naturally looking out for his best interests. It was local politicians, who are paid to look out for the public interest and yet agreed to an unfavorable deal.
Loria needs to go, though. It is time.
The years of underspending. The roster fire sales. The stadium deal that angered so many. There are too many reasons that too many would-be fans have boycotted the Marlins on account of Loria. His toxic unpopularity is beyond repair and befouls the entire franchise and Marlins brand.
Winning might have been Loria’s one path to popularity, or at least to lukewarm acceptance. But it hasn’t happened.
He lucked to win a World Series in 2003 with inherited talent, a roster essentially constructed by former general manager Dave Dombrowski.
The Marlins have not made the playoffs since, or had a winning record since 2009. Amid the long, deep rut of losing the new ballpark has failed to be the panacea hoped for. The Marlins were last in the National League in average attendance last year at 21,405 per game.
The blame, unmistakably, starts with Loria.
He has been an erratic, short-fused owner without a sense of what makes a winning blueprint and without the patience to see one through if he stumbled upon it.
He has had 10 different managers in his 15 seasons here. He has lurched from a build-from-the-ground-up philosophy rooted in the farm system to big-splash forays into free agency. And back again. His payrolls have spiked to $100 million and then free-falled to $17 million. He has never found a winning formula.
Lately the Marlins have been trading away top prospects (the minor-league cupboard is bare) in an apparent win-now mind-set made ever-tougher by the tragic September death of pitching ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident.
Trading away top prospects is an indication Loria is making a final effort to go out a winner before he sells. Another indication: Giancarlo Stanton’s back-loaded contract launches into stratospheric cost in 2018.
The name of the next Marlins owner will be a mystery until it isn’t.
For now, for this franchise, Anybody But Loria will do.