By Jorge Arangure Jr.
The biggest mistake one can make in assessing the dismantling of the Marlins is that Miami fans have been duped. To imply they have been betrayed implies they were respected in the first place, and there’s little evidence that owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson, Loria’s son-in-law, ever had much regard for their constituents. Not when they’ve lied to them time and time again, first about how little revenue the team generated, and then about how the stadium would be funded and then finally about what the long-term plan would be.
The fans were simply the conduit for Loria and Samson’s $107 million payroll vanity project. They believed they could cheat the system, make boatloads of money, and win a championship in one disgraceful swoop. They wanted to buy Miami’s respect and admiration without having done one noble thing. Goodness no, this was never about the fans.
How much acumen does it take to look at a free-agent list and pick out the best names at which to throw money? Any fan with a passing knowledge of the game could do that. The spending spree last season was hardly about a plan. There was no talk about using some of that new stadium money to fund a larger scouting budget, to spend more in Latin America or to boost minor-league development.
The spending was about reaching for personal glory, about getting Samson on cable television jogging in slow motion and making silly speeches to a clubhouse full of players who didn’t care about one word he said. This was about Loria sending out a weakened Muhammad Ali, who has no connection to the franchise and only a marginal affiliation with the city, to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day to make the spectacle, the self-celebration, even greater, to prove that Loria could throw the best parties.
So when the news broke on Tuesday night that the project had been abandoned, an admittance that the bloated payroll had produced a failure on and off the field, it was a good day for baseball and, really, great news for the city of Miami.
Think of the alternative. Imagine the arrogance of Loria hoisting a championship trophy in a champagne-soaked clubhouse this postseason. How insufferable would that have been? Such a celebration would have validated every single one of Loria’s deplorable actions (Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan has a good breakdown) and empowered him to make others. It would have set a precedent for other rich owners in other cities to follow. Quite simply, it would have made a true mockery of the sport.
Instead, what we’ve learned is that you can’t buy yourself a championship from scratch -- which is a boost to every baseball man who strongly believes that scouting and development is the genuine approach to building a franchise -- and you can’t buy yourself love from the people who you’ve disregarded.
Loria could have continued to throw cash at free agents, but it wouldn’t necessarily make the franchise any better, and really, how does that do any good for fans? After all, the one point people tend to forget in this whole argument is that the Marlins were horrible. They were last-place horrible. Miami didn’t exactly break up the ’27 Yankees.
The Marlins averaged 25,490 fans in September, about 11,000 less than the capacity at Marlins Park. Even with the novelty of a new stadium and the star-studded roster, Miami never came close to matching the 36,601 attendance they had on Opening Day. They never reached 35,000 on any date. Fans weren’t exactly captivated with this team. It’s difficult to justify keeping this core of players intact for the fan’s benefit.
The dismantling may have seemed sudden, but it doesn’t make it wrong.
In trading for prospects, the Marlins are handing the future of the franchise to the men in the organization who have spent countless hours scouting players. Do Marlins fans really believe that having Loria and Samson make player personnel decisions is better? It may be painful for fans to accept that the franchise must start from scratch, but it’s the best and only way for the franchise to ever have a chance at long-term success.
One must take the news of the trade and separate it from the lies that built Marlins Park. The manner in which that stadium was built would never be justified, not even with a championship. It was and always will be an abuse of political power and questionable accounting by Loria’s underlings that landed that park in Little Havana.
But baseball does not have to die in South Florida because of this trade. Remember, not so long ago, George Steinbrenner was as despised a figure as Loria is now. He had been banned from baseball, he had overstepped his bounds by making player decisions, and worse yet, his teams were losers -- the biggest sin in New York.
Yet from the moment he stepped away -- forcibly because of the suspension -- and allowed baseball men like Gene Michael to make decisions, the Yankees flourished and became the biggest powerhouse in sports. It spawned several championships and its own television network. Steinbrenner eventually became a beloved figure by fans.
There may soon come a point where we could be saying this mega-trade was the pivotal positive moment in Marlins history. The prospects the team received in Tuesday’s trade may prove to be the foundation for championship teams. More importantly, it might be the point when Loria stops making personnel decisions and stops being the face of the franchise. The backlash has been so great that the best public relations move the owner can make would be to go into hiding.
Loria may still get his trophy-hoisting moment anyway. Yes, he had one in 2003, but that team was comprised of players acquired in the John Henry era. The best part about the Marlins possibly winning a championship with a stripped-down budget -- with players scouted and signed and traded for by true baseball men -- would be that Loria wouldn’t get any credit for that one, either.
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Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.