It almost seems like the actions of an addict: first denial, then an attempt at reconciliation – followed by defiance and finger pointing. Whenever dealing with situations like these, people tend to play the victim and point the blame at everyone else.
Funny because the best thing Jeffrey Loria could have done, to silence his critics, was to point the finger at himself.
Sure, it is unfair to give Loria all the credit for ruining a franchise here. It takes a city, too. People have to not go to games, not turn over their fistfuls of cash to take in a ball game. And Loria is right – it wasn’t like they didn’t try. They did go out and sign the reigning NL batting champion from a rival in their own division nonetheless. They also added a lefty pitcher with an ability to win. They added a big-named closer. They had a brand new, shiny ballpark in downtown Miami – on the very spot where the OB stood. They also had a brash new manager who seemed at home in Miami, and they even got the sizzle of a reality show on Showtime. The future was bright yet according to Loria, the ticket sales didn’t reflect that. He claimed even though they sold over 2 million in tickets, only about 1.4M actually showed up – averaging about 17K per contest in the new residency.
Maybe the fans just got lost as they squeezed down the turnpike heading into Dade county over the Broward county line? Maybe it was the parking congestion that chased fans away? Maybe it actually was the fact that even though the Marlins spent all of this money (about $100M in payroll by Loria’s estimation for last season’s team), no one believed this team would really contend?
We can go on and on about this team having only 69 wins. Loria will spin it and say the team had gone no where for 2 straight seasons. He’d be right, but then again, so is Greg Cote in saying that Loria is out of touch. Because the 2011 team added players like Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Heath Bell. It wasn’t like they maintained the same team but instead added payroll and hoped that the team would get it right. It didn’t, not at any level.
Pretty much every player on the roster underperformed from where they were projected to go. That is a recipe for disaster and certainly not winning baseball. But you can’t trade away your recent acquisitions – players you marketed as the new direction of the franchise – and expect people to buy in that you are improving your team.
And on the other side, fans shouldn’t act like this team was going anywhere. Major problems lingered – Hanley’s production was in decline and not just an anomaly but a trend. Heath Bell was a disaster and couldn’t get a ball to sneak past a blind man. The defense was porous. John Buck – simply a pejorative in itself. The Marlins messed up handling Logan Morrison – and even Chris Coghlan a bit before that still served as a reminder of what happens when young players rush back from injury. Ozzie Guillen’s praise of Castro. The list goes on and on but a 69 win team should not generate this much loyalty.
So Loria, like the Roman emperors of old, listened to the crowd and did what he thought they wanted – thumbs down. And down came payroll. He admits the 2012 season was a disaster. Then he turns and with a cynical tone, adds, ”We didn’t break up the 1927 Yankees. We broke up a losing ballclub that was going nowhere.”
That is where the communication needs to set in. Clearly the Marlins are a disjointed bunch and despite what they may say is in the best interest of the team, they don’t seem to be clear on what that looks like. One minute they are committed to the team, trading away top 3B prospect Matt Dominguez to grab Carlos Lee from the Astros. Then they turn around and deal Hanley Ramirez and leave a gaping hole at 3B for the foreseeable future. They became alarmed that there was a problem when the Boston Red Sox series didn’t sell out - what, they were expecting a sea of Boston fans and not Marlin fans at the park?
Jeffrey Loria indeed doesn’t get it – he has an inability to admit he was wrong or that he blew it. Like an addict, he clings to his ego and opinion as if he has no other choice. Old habits die hard. He claimed he didn’t witness any negativity in his presence – perhaps the glasses he had posed on his forehead were not being correctly applied when walking the streets of Miami?
If only he had come out and commiserated with the fans he dejected, saying he, like them, wants to win so badly but that he realizes that this latest purge was tough to take and a damaging strain on public trust – then the repair would be sped up. Not healed, no, certainly not. No one expects that. Then again, he did share this with the selected media:
“I have a sense of [the public anger],” Loria said. “I’m sorry we built this amazing ballpark and fans are feeling the way they do. But we did this for a reason. We weren’t going anywhere … we had to do something swiftly, quickly and bold.”
Yet Loria is perhaps divided off from the rest of his environment. He only has a “sense” of the anger, yet claims to not be a witness to any displays of it.
Miami is a crappy sports town. Let’s be honest. We can cite the economics as a serious obstacle as Miami’s cost of living is way beyond what its quality of life can offer. People like to gawk at it from afar, but living in Miami is different than visiting. Those that do live here don’t sever their ties to their old places – almost like some weird nostalgia after realizing you can’t live in paradise. But you can’t keep jerking people around all of the time and expect them to be loyal.
“We had to turn back the clock for the moment and push the restart button,” Loria said, “and get these young players in here and get them together and look where we are in another year or so.” Reasonable. Rational. The Marlins realized that they don’t want to become the Mets. They had a personality crisis, being the nouveau-riche kid on the block with a big new toy, they tried to spend their way to legitimacy. It didn’t work. Now, the fans, Loria, and everyone involved need to fess up and let it all go.
Not saying that we should trust his words, but instead judge the Marlins and Loria by their deeds. Giancarlo Stanton will be the best illustration of their true intentions. The Marlins needs to wrap him up, long term, and do it with a pretty bow for all to see – a no-trade clause. Not since Miguel Cabrera have the Marlins been able to find a hitter with this much potential. This franchise screwed up with Cabrera – and can’t possibly risk losing out on a second generational hitter with Stanton, can they? “I would love to see him be the young centerpiece on this ballclub. He’d be the young giant on the ballclub,” Loria said. “But you can’t make promises in this game because strange things happen all the time. I don’t think this is the year to go to Giancarlo with an offer. We have to let him play it out, let him feel comfortable.”
And so the Marlins will approach the 2013 season much the same way. They will let the chips fall where they may and let it all play out. Let everyone get back into the routine and hope that the familiarity sets in and everyone gets comfortable. Maybe this team can start winning again, but that is beside the point. Loria has to own up to the fact that he burned a lot of bridges and broke a lot of hearts in Miami and in the wake of scandals like Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o and even this Oscar Pistorius – when will we all learn that you can’t judge people by their words, but by their actions? Loria has a lot to answer for, but the Marlins fans have to also gain proper perspective.