By Steph Rogers
SPECIAL TO SPORTSNET.CA
MIAMI, FLA – The blockbuster trade between the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins at its core is a tale of two cities, not unlike the Charles Dickens classic.
It’s the best of times in Toronto and the worst of times in Miami.
How quickly things have changed from a year ago, when both teams donned new uniforms at roughly the same time.
The Marlins also had a new name, a new stadium, and a wide open chequebook. They embarked on a free agent spending spree, inviting fans to join a party that was to continue straight through to the post-season.
North of the border, the team was back in blue, but fans were impatient. Ownership took a pass on Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder, opting to stick with pieces it already had.
But now, while fans in Toronto rejoice over acquiring the big name players they have so desperately wanted and the $100 million-plus payroll they were convinced ownership would never provide, Miami is in shock and feeling betrayed.
Here, this trade represents more than a salary dump, a rebuilding, or lop-sided thinking. The very way that the Miami Marlins of today came into existence is being questioned.
But looking back, the city of Miami and Marlins fans should have seen this coming, beginning with the decade-long battle that led to the construction of Marlins Park.
After the Marlins won the 2003 World Series, owner Jeffrey Loria began threatening to move the team to another city if he didn’t get a new stadium. He even went as far as to invite the mayor of San Antonio to attend Opening Day in 2004 to make a point.
Another red flag should have been the team’s uncharacteristic binge singings last winter of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to lengthy, back-loaded contracts.
Yet, when the ribbon was cut at the new Marlins stadium last April, all seemed right in Little Havana.
In a strange departure from the menacing rumbles of a team history full of trouble, Opening Day 2012 went off without a hitch.
Back in 1993, the then-Florida Marlin, began their baseball life as an expansion franchise, and in much of the same way the Blue Jays did back in 1977; sharing their home with a football team.
After winning the 1997 World Series, then-owner Wayne Huizenga traded away most of the team’s highest-paid talent before selling the team to John Henry in 1998. Henry proposed a new stadium for the Marlins as early as 2000, but his idea was squashed, despite some initial interest from Miami-Dade county.
By 2005 – with Loria now at the helm — Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz embarked on a public campaign to build the Marlins a new home in Miami-Dade County.
For the good of the community, they said, but the community didn’t agree.
Even with a sudden loss of state funding in 2008, and an unsuccessful lawsuit by billionaire/civic activist Norman Braman demanding a public vote on the proposed $515 million stadium project that same year, the Orange Bowl in Little Havana was torn down to make space for what would be the new Fish tank.
In 2009, the deal was done and construction began with taxpayers on the hook for $2.4 billion over the next 40 years.
Throughout the stadium campaign, the Marlins refused to open their books to the public. In 2010, when Deadspin.com acquired the financial statements for six MLB teams, it revealed that the Marlins enjoyed an operating income (profits) in 2008 and 2009 of roughly $52 million.
When this news surfaced, mayor Alvarez, a staunch stadium supporter, was voted out of office on a recall vote.
The new stadium was barely taking shape and Marlins fans were already frustrated with ownership. Nothing had changed. The glow of a new team in its new uniforms playing in its new stadium was already marred by a decade-worth of controversy.
And now that those big-name signings are out of the picture, there’s nothing left to see but holes in an organization that has never earned the trust of its fans.
Adding to the public’s cynicism is a profit-sharing plan that was negotiated as a part of the stadium deal between the team, the city and the county in 2009.
According to the deal, any profit resulting from the sale of the Marlins is to be shared by a decreasing percentage. What began at 18 per cent in 2009, drops to 7.5 per cent in 2013, and should Loria sell the team in 2015 or after, the city and the county would get nothing.
So don’t expect Loria to sell the team — yet.
A new stadium promised to revitalize the community, drawing new businesses and restaurants to initiate economic development. Instead, the area remains quietly residential, scattered with vacant lots and storefronts, with the stadium sparkling in the background.
Season-ticket holders don’t want to renew. It’s hard to find a building block in 93 losses. In a team store full of brightly coloured merchandise and smiling associates, few recognizable names remain on the backs of t-shirts and jerseys for fans to be excited about.
The owners of those names aren’t happy either.
The trade wasn’t a backstabbing. It was a shot straight to the heart from three feet away.
And really, Miami should have seen it coming.