Other than a rousing game of limbo…by John Brattain
August 24, 2007
It could’ve been the ultimate free agent signing, the one that potentially turns around a franchise.
Ideally, a premium free agent acquisition does two things: One, improves the product on the field and two, as George Steinbrenner once opined: “Puts asses in the seats.” If it raises other players' games, so much the better.
Suppose a team had targeted such a free agent. The club insisted long, loud and repeatedly that this player was the difference maker. This free agent potentially could do more for the franchise than Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Johan Santana and Roy Halladay.
It turns out this free agent’s asking price was $60 million. In fact, this free agent was willing to sign a lifetime contract that the players union could not overturn.
The club said: “No deal.”
Would you have any sympathy for the club if it later complained about how its business was struggling? Or would you send the front office an I.Q. test and send a similar one to a random bag of rocks to confirm in your own mind that the bag of rocks was indeed more intelligent?
Believe it or not, a franchise did just that. (Complain, not send out random IQ tests.)
Here were some comments made about this free agent:
"Naming rights, suite deals, season-ticket sales, corporate support—without all of that there is no franchise"
"This is about the Marlins trying to save their franchise. We really have no wiggle room left. We're going to start working with places that want to do deals."
"It's like the great Billy Crystal line from 'Princess Bride.' It's mostly dead. And by mostly dead, that means it's somewhat alive. So there are some situations that are still percolating. But you need a stethoscope to hear the heartbeat, because it's so faint." To which the ever quotable Neil deMause quipped: “Samson smartly omitted the next part of the quote: ‘With all dead there's usually only one thing you can do: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.’”
Well, once again my favorite person in the whole wide world (give or take six billion folks) has decided to prove that when it comes to evading natural selection he is without peer (or its eyes are going), letting everyone within earshot and without gastrointestinal distress know that the Marlins need a new stadium or else.
The amusing thing in the article is this tidbit:
But in June, the Florida State Senate denied approval of $60 million in public funds that would've closed the deal. The city of Miami, Dade County and the Marlins had already agreed on their contributions to what would have been a 60-40 percent public-private partnership.
Think about this for a moment: $60 million is all that separated the Marlins from their ABM mallpark. In 2006, the Texas Rangers inked Kevin Millwood to a five-year, $60 million contract. That same year Paul Konerko signed a likewise contract with the Chicago White Sox.
That’s 60 million bucks, folks. It gets you a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a 1B/DH type capable of slugging 35-40 HR. For the price of either Kevin Millwood or Paul Konerko, the Marlins could’ve closed the gap themselves and gotten their ballpark. That’s two years of revenue sharing subsidies. Heck, that may well be one year of revenue sharing and MLBAM revenue.
Everything they claimed they needed to make their stadium dreams come true was the equivalent of signing either Kevin Millwood or Paul Konerko and they didn’t want to do it.
Speaking not wanting to do it, mull on this for a moment: Every year we can count on certain things: Christmas will fall on Dec. 25, somebody will write a nasty column about Barry Bonds, it will snow in Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs will not play in the Stanley Cup final and Marlins president David Samson will tell anybody with a tape recorder and note pad that the Marlins are losing money ($20 million being the most popular sphincter-extracted figure, used in 2003 and 2006).
The thing is, there is one thing the Florida Marlins can do to convince the naysayer, to prove to politician and fan alike, that yes, the Florida Marlins are losing huge amounts of cash and desperately need a new stadium to be viable. Guess what?
“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.”
That’s not a reason, that’s an excuse. They could end all controversy by opening their books to independent scrutiny. They could have a no-questions-asked case for public subsidies and they didn’t want to do it. It’s like having a lottery ticket placed in front of them, with an iron-clad guarantee that it’s a winning ticket and refusing buying it because they feel they shouldn‘t have to buy a lottery ticket to win the jackpot. After all, there are a lot of wealthy people who are getting wealthier and they’re not asked to buy lottery tickets, so why should we?
The man simply cannot see the forest for the underbrush.
The reason they don’t want to open their books is simple: They’re too embarrassed by the profits they make to be asking for public subsidies.
The thing is, they could’ve had their stadium. All they had to do was find a way to put together enough money to buy a Kevin Millwood/Paul Konerko. Do you know the really pathetic part? Those players will leave at the end of five years; the Marlins could’ve "signed their free agent" for the next 50 years. Think about that—a new stadium, theirs for the taking. All they had to do was sign it to a contract that would average $1.2 million a year for the next 50 years.
So when you hear David Samson whine:
"My nose is crushed (against the glass) because we're so up against it"
…just remember who put the nose there in the first place.
And a final message to the great enabler of mediocrity:
"We need to make progress there …This team needs a new stadium. I've said many times that I like South Florida. I like it as a major league market, but I like it as a major league market as long as they get a new ballpark."
That being the case, tell Jeffrey Loria and David Samson to take the next deal that comes their way. Better still, next time you’re $60 million away from your South Florida "Field of Dreams" step in, broker the deal yourself and find a way of making up the difference. You can buy a lot of mediocre talent for $60 million nowadays. So if $60 million is all it takes to get a state-of-the-art ballpark for your Sunshine State’s Mutt & Jeff, gag them, shoot their tongues full of Novocaine, lock ’em in a closet, build a minefield around the closet, give a map only to people not in the media and get it done.
Remember: Your poor, stadium-less souls in South Florida have seen their original investment double in five years. Plus they’ve written off 50% of that purchase price. In short, they’re at the very least almost $200 million better off than they were in 2002.
Bud, your machinations have siphoned upwards of $6 billion for stadium construction since Camden Yards was built. Toss in the various tax breaks such as:
- Amortizing 50% of the purchase price of a team over the first five years.
- Being able to charge more for luxury suites/club seating since businesses can write off part of the expense on their taxes.
- Charging owner salaries as an expense/loss on the books.
- Owners "lending" their teams money from their other ventures and writing off the "interest payments" (at as high an interest rate as possible, naturally—one that they'd never agree to if the money came from a third party) as a loss on the books.
- Using these book losses to lower their tax brackets.
And that adds up to a lot of un-built/un-repaired/closed schools, closed libraries, under-funded healthcare, social programs (women’s shelters/ crisis centers/ programs for abused-abandoned children) and so on. You’ve got all that largesse, a monopoly on your product, more than $5 billion in revenues and growing at an incredible rate, some franchises valued at close to/over $1 billion. Best of all, while you have no limit or restrictions on the revenue you rake in, you’ve managed to get your primary asset, your very product to accept restrictions on the money they make and you’ll doubtlessly continue to look for more.
Mr. Selig, when it comes to nursing at the public teat of corporate welfare, nobody has sucked more, sucked longer, or sucked more vigorously than you. In this department, you are the undisputed king of sucking. A lot of people are doing with a lot less because you wanted a lot more. Ticket prices and in-game expenditures make your product fairly unaffordable for the very people you’ve taken money from.
A lot more people in South Florida will suffer than will benefit from a publicly financed stadium. I think the male-bovine fecal matter from David Samson and Jeffrey Loria is something nobody should ever have to hear again. Time to end that suffering as well.
It’s time to put your hands in your pockets and take something out. If you want a new stadium and want to develop the market in South Florida, try something new, novel, cutting edge, and shocking: Invest a little money. Pretend Barry Bonds just hit home run 755, and when you’re done, take some money out of baseball’s staggering revenues and get it done and stop looking to people who can‘t afford it, or your product to do it for you.
Even by baseball owner and commissioner standards, this entire episode is sleazy beyond belief.
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.
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