Please Stop Hitting The Hot Buttonby John Brattain
April 28, 2006
Oh the pain. It burns, it burns.
I hardly know where to begin.
If your wife said she’d been happily married two years—that’s a good thing.
If she says that on your 13th anniversary—not so good.
Suppose you went to your local paper and said that you’d been to a pizza parlor 13 times and had two terrific pizzas, two decent pizzas, and nine that tasted like they got the toppings out of a litter box, a dumpster outside a proctologist’s office, and the coroner’s office at the local leper colony. You then declared that the local municipality should build the pizza joint the biggest, most opulent restaurant with a state of the art kitchen, solid gold utensils, vintage wine cellar, and best china because of those two terrific pizzas.
For that matter suppose you went to your local paper and said that you knew a man whose wife claimed two happy years of marriage over the course of a 13 year abusive relationship and for that he deserves a huge mansion on a large spread with a swimming pool, tennis court, bowling alley, and guest house built at public expense.
Would you expect the paper to not only print your suggestion but also to be supportive of it?
Of course not. The very idea is so retarded even a lobotomized Irish Setter wouldn’t sniff it yet alone support it.
Believe it or not, somebody did.
I double checked the date of the column praying that it was April 1.
Nope. This was a serious column.
OK, let’s analyze what’s being said here:
"Don't blame owner Jeffrey Loria. He's kept that 2003 juggernaut together for the most part the last two seasons. The New York art dealer who's lost millions and millions finally decided that without a baseball stadium he couldn't continue. Yes, the Lorias of the world can go bankrupt, too."
As you know the Marlins were purchased by Jeffrey Loria for about $150 million in 2002. Over the first five years after purchase an owner can amortize 50% of that. In other words, the Marlins can make a book entry in the loss column in years 1-5 of ownership for $15 million.
They've owned the Marlins for four full seasons—ergo $60 million of their purported "loss" are from that. Furthermore, the value of the franchise has increased over that same span almost $70 million.
Loria and David Samson’s salary is also included as an expense—hence in the “loss” column. So while they're paying themselves money they can also claim they lost that very same money. In other words he could pay himself a $1 million salary and say the Marlins (that he owns) lost $1 million.
“I think the baseball fans and politicians of South Florida should be ashamed. They've been treated to two World Series champions, and, frankly, they probably don't deserve them.”
Let’s review (again):
- 1997: Invested in their product and won the World Series after a thrilling seventh game in extra innings against the Cleveland Indians.
- 1997-98: You win a World Series and you’ve got momentum in the marketplace. Fans are excited and people are jumping on the bandwagon. There is a buzz: Can the team repeat? You’ve got a whole offseason full of goodwill and anticipation and the warm glow that comes from knowing your team was the best. You’ve got the best marketing for season tickets and advanced sales. What did the Marlins do? They claimed that the club lost over $30 million (they actually enjoyed an almost $14 million profit) and held a fire sale for most of their top talent. So despite having a profitable enterprise the lack of corporate welfare caused them to jettison all that to make a point—no free money, no repeat.
- 1999: John Henry purchased the Marlins and initially promised that he would build a park for the team himself. He then did a complete 180 and asked for $300 million in public subsidies for a new stadium. MLB then jumped on the bashwagon and 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 crumbling ancient ruin was 11 years old at the time (since 1990 the All-Star Game has been held in parks 11 years old and older five times, including Fenway Park and Wrigley Field).
- 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:
“[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.”
- 2001: Owners voted 28-2 to contract two major league franchises. The Florida Marlins made the short list of contraction candidates. That April, Bud Selig told the Florida state legislature that the stadium plan under consideration represented the “final opportunity for the Marlins to remain in South Florida.” Unbelievably Florida State Senator Alex Villalobos (the prime sponsor of a bill to help publicly finance a new $385 million stadium), 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." Wanting to finish the year with a bang, Henry claimed that the Marlins lost $9 million in 2001—$4 million of that from lobbying expenses for a new stadium.
- 2002: The Marlins were sold to Jeffrey Loria and co-assassin David Samson, fresh off their successful hit of the Montreal Expos.
- 2003: The Marlins won their second World Series, and not wishing to break with tradition, claimed to have lost $20 million. When asked to open their books to prove public subsidies were justified, 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.” Of course, had the losses been legitimate opening the books would’ve been a no-brainer.
- April 2004: The Las Vegas threat was first unveiled. Samson set multiple final deadlines for a stadium deal. They came, they went, and the Marlins didn’t. No matter, Opening Day was nigh, a time for optimism. Birds were singing, everybody was in first, hope abounded. Loria’s mouth commemorated this joyous day by insulting the entire city:
“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.”
Samson continued to be short with darned near everyone. The Marlins finished the year with the laughable notion that Huizenga doesn’t like money and will evict the Marlins so that he can host cricket matches.
- 2005-06: Another day, another fire sale, more insults for the fan base. David Samson out whoring himself to San Antonio, Las Vegas (which MLB nixed), and Portland, spreading lies about how everybody’s reacting like Paris Hilton just waiting to be screwed out of house and home. By a shocking coincidence Samson declared that the Marlins lost the exact same amount of money that they did in 2003 ($20 million—doubtless this could be explained by understanding that the number came from the exact same source ... the same place yesterday's breakfast most likely emerged). On top of all of this all we heard is that the Marlins couldn’t compete in the current environment and that their stadium was three steps below a cesspool and now they’ve cut their payroll to almost half of what they’ll receive in revenue sharing. To cap it all off Loria and Samson are getting guys like Bodley to state that the fans are the problem.
South Florida fans have nothing to be ashamed of—unless of course refusing to be used as MLB's personal urinals is a bad thing. They're acting like any consumer would when a business treats them like that smelly stuff stuck under your shoe (not to be confused with David Samson).
Now politicians may have a lot to be ashamed of but this isn’t one of those things.
Economist Robert Baade commented that a modern stadium can't pay its own way. He was of the opinion that when you factor in cost, debt service, taxes, maintenance, utilities, and amortization that a new stadium doesn't generate sufficient revenues to cover that and a competitive major league payroll.
Of course what Loria and Samson are asking for is a new stadium plus the revenues the stadium generates leaving the cost of the building, plus the amortization, debt service, taxes, maintenance and utilities to the region—in short leaving South Florida without the revenues that would help offset these costs.
What Bodley is saying here is that South Florida politicians should be ashamed that they refuse to take money—to the tune of several hundred million dollars—that could be applied to schools, health care, libraries, infrastructure etc. and give it to Jeffrey Loria and David Samson as a reward for winning a sporting event three years ago. He’s saying that all the sleaze that has surrounded the Marlins which includes two fire sales, threats of relocation, the taking away of the All-Star Game, pocketing revenue sharing money that should be spent on the team, the outright lies, and the insults to the city deserves a reward of what would be close to a half a billion dollars.
I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone of how major league baseball views its host cities. This was a brief presented to the Minnesota Supreme Court during the contraction fiasco on behalf of Selig and Major League Baseball:
“The Minnesota Twins are a private business; they are not owned by the people of Minnesota ... they are not a `community asset' but a business ...”
MLB teams are, in the opinion of MLB, a "private business," and that the people in team's host cities have no claim to it—in fact, they’re not even a community asset!
Why should a private business that is not a "community asset" be allowed to have several hundred million dollars of the community's money?
What makes the whole situation laughable is that Selig thinks that all South Florida needs to revive the market is a publicly financed baseball stadium. In other words he feels a successful extortion of the taxpayers of South Florida will bring the fans back in droves after all the bad faith when a World Series champion failed to do so.
That kind of reasoning makes me think that the bar in the commissioner's office includes a well used bong.
The reason the fans were leery after 2003 is the direct result of what happened after 1997. Kick somebody in the teeth once and you can bet when you come around again your victim will be somewhat reticent to welcome you with open arms.
South Florida simply doesn't trust MLB or the Marlins . Trust is earned, and the fans have been treated to one bad faith betrayal after another. "Build it and they will come" with regards to trust will go a lot further to building enthusiasm for the Marlins as a blackmailed corporate wel-park.
Of course one requires effort and why expend effort when you can hold your breath, stamp your feet until you turn blue?
Even if Bodley's worst-case scenario were to come true and Jeffrey Loria did go bankrupt, well it's like this: when you factor in the money you get from revenue sharing, merchandising, MLB.com, national television, local television, radio, even before you sell a single ticket or hot dog and you've got a friggin' monopoly on your product plus the mega tax breaks that come with owning a major league sports team and you still go belly-up—then chances are you're too bloody stupid to be in business anyway.
Consider it a form of natural selection.
It's not South Florida's job to subsidize idiot businessmen who can't make a go of it under the sweetest circumstances available—especially not to the tune of close to a half billion dollars.
Bodley is right about this much: South Florida doesn’t deserve Loria and Samson. They deserve a baseball team—not America’s biggest corporate welfare queens.
References and Resources
Update: The Wall Street Journal reports that the Florida Marlins will receive $31 million in revenue sharing this year making their payroll less than half of their subsidy. Any guesses what they'll do with a government subsidy?
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.