“I am not a quitter…and I believe in this city.”
– Jeffery H. Loria, March 2012.
Naturally, Loria threw up the white flag less than a year later after his Florida Marlins (sorry, I can’t call them the Miami Marlins because it turns out that was all a joke anyway) failed miserably in their first season in their new ballpark. The one that was going to house a championship contender. The one that was supposed to sell out due to the increasing excitement produced on the field. The one that was the home field to a team managed by an ex-World Series winning skipper, a guy who was going to cater to the large Cuban population in the stadium’s vicinity. The one that fielded a virtual all-star team in 2012 with the seventh highest payroll in all of Major League Baseball, coming at just a hair under $120 million.
Doesn’t sound familiar? Well, maybe you’ll recognize it more if I refer to it as the ballpark that Loria fleeced the old people in Miami into paying for. There, that’s more like it.
All jokes aside, Loria did what most businesses that fail do and began to sell off his remaining assets, and he kept selling until his team looked like a beer league softball team. However, that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that people were shocked when this all happened. I hate to break it to all the drop-jawed pundits out there, but the joke most certainly is on you. You got taken for a ride by a man that has perhaps more history than anyone else in taking entire cities and fanbases for wild rides.
Let me refresh your memory if I may. Jeffery H. Loria is the man who took ownership of the Montreal Expos, begged the city for a new stadium, and then ran the team into the ground and sold it to the MLB after the fine people of Montreal had the gall to deny his stadium request. Jeffery H. Loria is the same man who bought the Marlins as soon as the ink was dry on his check from the Expos’ sale and immediately won a World Series, only to tear the entire team to pieces as quickly as he could. Jeffery H. Loria is the same man who had to be forced by MLB higher ups to spend the money he was collecting from revenue sharing on players and not to line his pockets.
And yet, after his latest stunt we should be surprised? Folks, this is the Scrooge McDuck of the baseball world.
The truth is, we shouldn’t be shocked any more than we should be shocked when our neighbor gets laid off from his job, when we have to pay more taxes, or when the gas station down the street raises the price of a gallon by ten cents overnight. Capitalism will always be capitalism and profitability is the ultimate trump card. I wrote recently that baseball will always be a business first and foremost, and Jeffery H. Loria is a man who seems to have that phrase cross stitched into a heart hanging from his office wall.
When I was in my early twenties, I did what everyone else in their early twenties does and moved into the hip part of the city. The particular neighborhood I chose epitomized anything and everything indie. The restaurants were of the non-chain variety, the music proudly lacked any major label affiliation, and the coffee shops were as independent and abundant as anything. Not long after I’d moved there a mega-chain coffee retailer decided to open its doors in that very same indie-worshiping neighborhood (I won’t mention names, but this chain also is known for its green aprons and its siren-depicting logo). The locals were outraged in a way only twenty-something hipsters can be outraged about coffee and began to protest very vocally. I remember dudes who didn’t (couldn’t) hold real jobs standing on the street corner holding up signs telling whomever would listen why they shouldn’t get their caffeine fix there. More than a handful of times I’d pass by to find that the storefront window had been smashed to pieces by some skinny-jeaned fanatic. People who did decide to get their cup of joe from the retailer were immediately branded as uncool, the ultimate insult to these Pixies-loving kids.
But then something happened. The corporate bullies locked their doors for good and conceded defeat. The good guys (as they’d have me believe) had won! The boycotts, name-calling, window-smashing, and everything else had been effective enough to ensure that the indie credo would remain alive and well in the purest sense.
That’s the thing about the customer. They have a choice and they are more responsible for a business’ successes or failures than almost anyone else. Which leads me back to Loria.
He’s a businessman (an art dealer, in fact), not a fan. We shouldn’t expect him or any other sports franchise owner to act like anything else. Is it morally right? Probably not, but businesses are not tied to morals. They’re tied to profits and legalities. He’s the mega-chain coffee shop that opens up wherever the hell he feels like it. He’s going to make his money. If you enjoy his product, good; if you don’t like it, just as good- he’s still going to get paid.
Unless you don’t want him to.
Just like the v-neck and ironic facial hair crowd that plotted and schemed against the corporate coffee giant that was opening up shop in their backyard, the city of Miami can plot and scheme against Loria. They too can win, and it won’t require a very intricate plot to do so. It’s simple. Stop going to the games. Stop watching them on TV, listening to them on the radio, and following them on Facebook. Stop wearing (the god-awful) Marlins hats and jerseys.
There’s a myth that is perpetuated throughout sports that says teams need to have their fans’ best interests in mind. This is a lie. Perhaps they should have their fans’ best interests in mind, but there are certainly no obligations. Likewise, fans aren’t obligated to their teams either. They aren’t obligated to continue to fork over their money to owners who treat their fandom the same way Taylor Swift treats her exes. It’s a two-sided relationship and should always be handled as such. It doesn’t make you a bad fan to boycott your favorite team until its ownership steps up to the plate. It makes you a real fan, one who cares enough that you’re willing to do something to change the status quo.
That being said, if you’re a fan of a small-market franchise like the Rays who have proven themselves time and time again to be committed to putting a quality (and winning!) product on the field, you should be committed enough to actually showing up to a game or two each year. Reward good business! It’ll give them incentive to continue putting out a quality product year in and year out. It’s a win-win situation. Rays fans can and should have a whole lot more to say about their contending team than their neighbors down south can say about their wretched Marlins and Jeffery H. Loria.
If your team continues to plod along and not spend to win, then do as the hipsters did. Marlins fans, it’s time to occupy Miami.