Jeffrey Loria should consider himself put on notice. The Miami Marlins owner needs to be arrested, prosecuted and placed behind bars so he can no longer feed upon the good will, tax dollars and public infrastructure of South Florida. Loria is the Ebola virus of sports owners, settling in different locations and leaving nothing behind except legions of cynical former fans. His latest sin, described as a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment” by the most mainstream of baseball writers, was yesterday’s shocking trade of star shortstop Jose Reyes, all-star pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, and others to the Toronto Blue Jays for basically a Lloyd Moseby rookie card and Dave Steib’s mustache trimmer. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Marlins payroll in one off-season could drop by over 80 percent.
Bad trades happen of course, and salary dumps have become as much a part of baseball as tobacco stains on the dugout steps. But there is a much more nefarious machination at work. Reyes and Buehrle were brought in during the 2011 off-season as a way to sell tickets for the Marlins brand-new $600 million eyesore of a stadium, described by the Miami New Times as “a festering, silver-plated pustule, a grotesquely huge can opener, or just an obscene ode to wasted cash.”
If this were Loria’s own ugly baby of a stadium, that would be between him and his architect. The problem is that it was built with taxpayer money: $2.4 billion over the next forty years to be exact. The elected officials of cash-strapped Miami-Dade County took Loria’s word the team was going bankrupt and would cease to exist without a new ballpark. These claims of bankruptcy we now know were lies after the website Deadspin posted leaked financial documents that told a very different story. The deal was so shady, the lack of oversight so egregious that the Security and Exchange Commission has an ongoing investigation into how taxpayer money could be so blithely squandered. Last December, Neil DeMause quoted a Yahoo! Sports story that said, “While the subpoenas issued by the SEC do not explicitly detail the purpose of the investigation, the feds’ motives are evident: They want to understand how, exactly, a group of county commissioners agreed to fund 80 percent of the Marlins new stadium, which cost more than $600 million, without ever seeing the team’s financial records—and whether bribes had anything to do with it.”
Now, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, this $80 million salary dump is being seen as prelude to “baseball’s worst nightmare”: the immediate selling of the team along with its expensive new stadium, and all the public money magically morphing into Jeffrey Loria’s private profit. The fight for the new stadium, the promises of urban renewal, the shiny free agent contracts given out during the last off-season, now look like little more than a classic long con, with Loria the master grifter in the owner’s box. This is only a baseball story insofar as setting. The particulars have far more in common with the work of David Mamet than Peter Gammons.