(Photo credit: Miami Marlins)
This one’s such a crime that Major League Baseball should call in Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice to investigate.
For years, the Miami Marlins have been peddling the fable that if they just got a new ballpark, they’d build a winner for the fans of South Florida. So owner Jeffrey Loria conned taxpayers and politicians into building his new $515 million new Marlins Park.
Guess what? Only seven months after it opened, Loria’s trading away almost every player his fans would want to watch next season in a 12-player salary dump, er trade, with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The two-time world champion are unloading their star shortstop Jose Reyes, star pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, plus infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck. In return, they get a mix of seven minor and major leaguers from the Blue Jays, none of them stars, and $160 million in salary cap relief, according to The Miami Herald.
The Herald reports that the Marlins owe a little more than $19 million in payroll for next season after paying out $95 million in 2012.
The fire-sale really began in July when the Marlins traded infielder Hanley Ramirez and pitcher Anibel Sanchez. Last month, they fired one-and-done manager Ozzie Guillen and dealt reliever Heath Bell after the team finished 69-93, 19 games behind for the final National League playoff spot.
The Marlins conducted similar player fire sales after winning the World Series in 1997 and 2003. But they never rooked the public quite like this. About 80% of Loria’s glittering ballpark was paid for with taxpayer money forked over by the City of Miami and surrounding Dade County.
As Herald sports columnist David Neal wrote Wednesday: “The joke is on us. Jeffrey Loria has his stadium and dumps his star players.” SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg says the Marlins “cheapskate” owner has duped fans again. Baseball fans in Miami should know their owner would sell a 1-run lead in the 9th inning if somebody made him a decent offer, Rosenberg wrote Wednesday. They better hope the empty seats in Marlins Park are bolted down — or Loria will sell them too.
“What can he tell his fans, who presumably pay taxes and therefore bought him a new stadium so he could boost his payroll? What is the point of being a Marlins fan? Where is the fun in this?”
The Marlins’ last remaining star, Giancarlo Stanton, tweeted: “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.”
So here we go again. Fans pay for a millionaire sports owner’s playground — and get the equivalent of a minor-league team in return. What a fraud. What a disgrace. What about all the families and kids who bought Reyes and Marlins jerseys? Who cares about them, right?
The only good news? This swindle is so obvious, so insulting, it may finally spur municipalities held hostage by sports franchises to demand owners pay for arenas, ballparks and stadiums out of their own pockets, not with taxpayers’ money.
The next time some pro sports owner comes to you hat in hand and tells you to just have to vote for a new ballpark or he’ll leave town, remember the bait and switch Loria pulled on Miami baseball fans. I hope Marlins fans vote with their their feet and their wallets and stay home next season.