TORONTO — One World Series ring. One new taxpayer-funded ballpark. A likely payday of more than $1.5 billion (U.S.) just a few months away. And the right to host an All-Star Game. Hell, he’ll probably get some face time tonight when the Miami Marlins play host to the games best in the annual Midsummer Classic at Marlins Park.
Not a bad return for Jeffrey Loria’s $12 million (U.S.) initial investment in the Montreal Expos about 18 years ago. Not bad at all.
This isn’t to plow through an old field, nor is to trash Loria. What happened to the Expos was sad, but it was predictable and owed almost entirely to a lack of interest by local businesses and the Quebec government. The Trojan Horse doesn’t get inside unless someone let’s it in, and that’s not on Loria. If opportunism was a crime … well, never mind.
Enough of it, I know. But it needs to be mentioned because as we move toward what most in baseball are praying will be the final months of Loria’s ownership of the Marlins, it’s really the only thing anybody can say about his tenure as a Major League owner to lend some type of journalistic balance to the thing. The fire sales are one thing. Tearing down a team the season after it wins a World Series as Loria did in 2003 is, frankly, well within his or any owners’ rights. The baseball gods, media and fans might not like it, but one person’s affront to the game is another person’s business philosophy.
Which brings us to Tuesday, when baseball’s best gather at a ballpark that was 80 per cent paid for by Dade County and the City of Miami to a tune of $488 million, using a bond issue that with interest will see the two levels of government fork over $2.8 billion by 2050. Whoever buys the Marlins from Loria – reports that he was selling the team surfaced soon after rumours bubbled up that he was a candidate for the U.S. ambassador job in France, thanks to his largesse in supporting Donald Trump’s presidential bid – will face an enormous clean-up task. Dade County and Miami politics are littered with the bodies and reputations of ballpark supports and fellow-travellers, and for that reason, it’s no surprise that groups featuring characters as varied as Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, Jeb Bush and the family of Trump’s son-in-law and ersatz Middle East envoy, Jarden Kushner, have all kicked tires with a certain amount of caution and in some cases abject reluctance.
Now, there are indications that Loria and Marlins president David Samson appear poised to trigger a post all-star game fire sale. Second baseman Dee Gordon and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton are among the players reported to be available. The Toronto Blue Jays are said to have inquired about 29-year-old second baseman Gordon, a left-handed hitter who is guaranteed $45 million through 2020 which would dovetail with the years of control the Blue Jays have on core pitchers Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna. Stanton, who has four more years to go at $91.5 million before he can opt out of his 13-year, $325-million contract, has attracted the interest of big spenders like the Boston Red Sox. Wouldn’t it be in keeping with the tale of Loria if commissioner Rob Manfred had to intercede to prevent a wholesale strip down of assets in advance?
Finding the proper Hazmat suit, then, has proven difficult for prospective owners. Meanwhile, Loria awaits his final, big payday, and is suing season ticket-holders and advertisers. He also gets a chance to screw over the taxpayers one more time. Under terms of an agreement with the city and county, the two levels of government would have split 7.5 per cent of the profit had Loria sold the team in 2014, five per-cent if he sold it in 2014 … and if the team is sold after a so-far undisclosed date in March, that sum is scheduled to diminish further, according to several reports.
So what do those of us from the Expos diaspora do as we watch the all-star game? As always, give the devil his due. Again, Loria took advantage of a pre-existing situation. His Montreal partners were warned in advance. Hell, I warned them in print. If only they’d listened. In the meantime, take solace in the knowledge that on July 30 one of the patron saints of the Expos, Tim Raines, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame … at the same time as former commissioner Bud Selig, who signed off on the exit of the team and helped bankroll Loria’s franchise swap with current Boston Red Sox’s owner John Henry.
OK, small consolation, there. In which case, how about this? If Loria gets $1.5 billion for the Marlins and Marlins Park, Montreal will no longer be the place screwed over most royally by Loria. Small mercies, and all that.