I’m sure you’ve heard of The Darwin Awards. According to their website: “The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally kill themselves in really stupid ways. Of necessity, this honor is generally bestowed posthumously.”
I can’t help but wonder how MLB could be improved in this way.
Or for that matter the Florida Marlins.
If we could get rid of the really stupid people involved with the Marlins, this could really be an awesome franchise. Don’t forget; they share a stadium—and therefore the marketplace—with the hugely popular Miami Dolphins. Unlike the Dolphins, the Marlins have won a couple of championships in recent years. The Dolphins haven’t been to the big game since 1984 and haven’t won it all since the days of Bob Griese and Larry Csonka. Despite this, and a hugely successful and exciting team (which we‘ll get into in a few moments) this year (they‘ve got the second best record in the NL), all you hear about the Marlins is stadium blackmail and relocation threats.
Let’s take a quick look at how the Marlins have marketed their product:
- 1997: Won the World Series after splurging in the free agent market. Won a thrilling seventh game in extra innings against the Cleveland Indians.
- 1997-98: Used any accrued goodwill from the World Series title to claim that the club lost over $30 million and held a fire sale for most of their top talent. In the October 18 New York Times Magazine, noted sports economist Andrew Zimbalist took a closer look at the numbers for the team. He discovered that then-owner Wayne Huizenga excluded the revenue from Pro Player Stadium’s 195 luxury boxes and 10,000 club seats, all of which were diverted to his separate stadium management company. The club also undervalued its cable contract with Huizenga’s Sportschannel Florida and paid Huizenga $5 million in rent on Pro Player Stadium. Zimbalist’s estimate of the Marlins’ actual bottom line: a $13.8 million profit.
- 1999: John Henry purchased the Marlins. Henry initially promised that he would build a park for the team himself, yet shortly thereafter he asked for $300 million in public subsidies for a new stadium. MLB also announced that it was taking the 2000 All-Star Game away from Florida in favor of Turner Field in Atlanta. MLB spokesman Rich Levin said: “We think these events should be in new stadiums…the Marlins have been told they will get an All-Star Game if they get a new stadium.” Pro Player, that ancient relic, was 11 years old at the time.
- In 2000, rumors leaked out about another “fire sale” of the team’s high-priced players following the end of the season if no new stadium deal was approved. Henry addressed questions about a coming fire sale, telling reporters:
“Light is a particle and a wave, but logic would tell you it can’t be both. The fact is, it is both. In our situation, it’s a dilemma. It’s a difficult choice; none works. It’s not quite as esoteric as it sounds. It’s not talking out of both sides of my mouth.”
On June 7, Henry went on the record as saying:
“[The Marlins are in] a very dark situation. The community has basically given up on the Marlins. The franchise is in jeopardy….it certainly is an option to sell to someone out of state, but I love this organization. If I start thinking in terms of giving up, it’s very hard to do what needs to be done.”
- In 2001 owners voted 28-2 to contract two Major League franchises. The Florida Marlins made the short list of contraction candidates. On April 25, Selig told the Florida state legislature that the stadium plan under consideration represented the “final opportunity for the Marlins to remain in South Florida.” Adding to the hilarity was Florida State Senator Alex Villalobos (the prime sponsor of a bill to help publicly finance a new $385 million stadium), who said he’d asked Selig to blackmail the legislature. “A lot of people have said it’s a threat. I wanted it in writing. I didn’t want it to be subject to interpretation,” Villalobos said.
Capping off the year was Henry’s claim that the Marlins lost $9 million in 2001, $4 million of that from lobbying expenses for a new stadium.
- In 2002 the Marlins were sold to Jeffrey Loria, who was fresh off successfully killing the Montreal Expos.
- In 2003 the Marlins won their second World Series in seven years and claimed to have lost $20 million. When asked to open their books to provide proof thereby justifying public subsidies, Marlins President David Samson replied: “Many private companies ask for public help—in tax abatements, incentives to move firms to new areas and other kinds of government help. And you don’t see those companies releasing their figures.”
- In April 2004, the Las Vegas threat was first unveiled. Samson set multiple final deadlines for a stadium deal. Deadlines came, deadlines went, and the Marlins stayed. Then came Opening Day, a time for rejoicing. The birds were singing, everybody was in first place, fresh hopes abounded. Loria announced the start of this joyous time with:
“We need a new stadium. Everyone has to get this damn thing done in the next 30 days. Miami is a major city. They got it done in Seattle and San Diego and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Colorado and Philadelphia and Milwaukee. They all have new stadiums, and we’re not going to consider ourselves a major-league city until we get it done.”
Nothing like insulting an entire city to get the baseball season off to a good start. Samson continued to bluster like a member of the Lollipop Guild with PMS. The Marlins finished the year with the laughable notion that Wayne Huizenga doesn’t like money and will evict the Marlins so that he can host cricket matches and God knows what else.
On top of all of this, especially between 1998-2002, all we heard is that the Marlins couldn’t compete in the current environment and that Pro Player was a place where you’d get damp and miserable while you watched your team get saddled with the inevitable loss. Then the idiot ungrateful fans would be blasted for not showing up to watch a lousy team in a cesspool of a ballpark.
It’s like you buy a pizza restaurant, tell everybody your food is awful and unlikely to improve, that the beer is lukewarm, the service is snarky, the ambience reeks and that there are all kinds of other eateries far superior to yours. Then you say that any customers who patronize your place are idiots, yet you tell them they’re ingrates who don’t deserve pizza if they don’t eat yours.
On top of that, when the cook serves up an awesome pizza, you call it an aberration and say it is unlikely to happen again.
Now if your profits suffer, whose bloody fault is it?
But that’s how MLB/Loria/Samson have promoted their product. They’ve been so desperate to suck at the public teat—contenting themselves with just sucking for the time being—that they’ve neglected to sell and promote a terrific product. They’ve got three exciting young starters at the front of their rotation in Dontrelle Willis (8-1, 1.55 ERA 64 IP/50 K), AJ Burnett (3-4, 3.19 ERA 62 IP/62 K) and Josh Beckett (6-3, 2.63 ERA 61.7 IP/63 K). They signed Carlos Delgado, who is a monster hitter who might make his Hall of Fame case in Miami, and on top of that, they’ve got a 22-year-old left fielder who is an absolute stud (.368/.413/.613 with 9 HR and 31 RBI) in Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera may well be baseball’s best-kept secret. His OBP and SLG have gone up each year he’s been in the bigs. How good is he? I (meaning this is a personally held opinion) feel he’ll be a better hitter than A-Rod. Cabrera is scary good. By the time 2005 is over Cabrera and Delgado may be the most potent 1-2 punch in MLB.
This is a good team—heck I picked them to win the NL.
The Marlins are strong up the middle with Juan Pierre in center field, Alex Gonzalez (good Alex) and Luis Castillo (18 BB/4 K!) manning the keystone and the solid Paul Lo Duca (.306/.370/.410) behind the dish. At third base they’ve got the solid, though currently slumping, Mike Lowell, and they’ve got a fun outfield of Cabrera/Pierre/and the currently hot (for him) Juan Encarnacion. The bullpen has been getting solid work from Matt Perisho, Nate Bump and Todd Jones, who has been filling in admirably as closer for the injured Guillermo Mota. The Marlins are also getting solid swing work from veteran Brian Moehler (2-1, 2.13 ERA and a 2.10 ERA in his six starts), who has been filling in as the fifth starter since Ismael Valdez was injured during Spring Training.
Loria, Samson and Co., however, are too busy whining about a lack of corporate welfare to appreciate what they’ve got. Taking the All-Star Game away from the fans to pressure South Florida politicians into paying for a stadium was unforgiveable, as is constantly threatening the fans with contraction/relocation because they took MLB’s advice and stayed away from a lousy facility (translation: we’re not getting club seat/luxury box revenues) that contained a team that had no “hope and faith.” Throw in fire sales and threatened fire sales, and is it any wonder that the Marlins have so little goodwill in South Florida?
The Florida Marlins have everything in place for a wildly successful ball club both on and off the field. The only thing holding them back is buffoonery at the top. Baseball and the Marlins would be far better off if they could remove the defective baseball DNA. Perhaps they could read The Darwin Awards for inspiration.