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David Hyde: Don't blame Loria for Marlins' payroll woes


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Don't blame Loria for Marlins' payroll woes

Published November 21, 2005

 

 

Seasons have changed. Players have changed. Even the Marlins owners have changed, three times, from business-savvy H. Wayne Huizenga to baseball-silly John Henry to Jeffrey Loria, who has been the best mix of sports and business.

 

But the Marlins' storyline stays the same: Some great teams. Some star players. But no stadium. Not enough fans. Never any financial cavalry coming over the horizon.

 

And so now it's Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell possibly being salary-dumped to Texas. Carlos Delgado and the $48 million owed him in the next three years are in play in trade talks, too. At least Delgado went public fearing so.

 

If it all happens, could anyone blame Loria the way everyone once did Huizenga and Henry? By now, it's obvious the first problem baseball has in South Florida isn't an owner, the stadium, afternoon thunderstorms, the dismantling of 1997, the lack of a dome, the angle of the seats, marketing plans for the team, Mike Lowell's slump, any proposed new stadium site or the fact concession stands just don't take credit cards, darn it.

 

There simply aren't enough paying fans.

 

That's it. That's the problem in a definitive sentence. And a distinction must be made between "paying fans" and "baseball fans," because the Marlins' TV ratings are strong. TV officials brag about them. Just last spring, a one-of-162 Marlins game outdrew a Heat playoff game. Go figure.

 

If the Marlins were the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates during the last decade, this constant lack of support would be more understandable. But they've been South Florida's most successful franchise in the past decade. They've won two World Series. That would muster the maximum support possible.

 

South Florida won't put public money toward a baseball stadium. That's clear, and it's reasonable. But the mystery forever will be why two publicly funded basketball arenas and a hockey arena were built while baseball gets nothing despite providing double the events at the lowest ticket price.

 

Loria has done more than asked since his arrival in 2002. He answered whether he would dismantle the Marlins by winning the World Series in 2003, and if he'd spend money by first signing Pudge Rodriguez, then Carlos Delgado, and having a middle-of-the-pack payroll of $66 million this year.

 

Has any franchise been smarter with its money the last few seasons? Any team had more exciting players?

 

Even this frustrating season, they contended until late September. There wasn't a better ticket in sports than Dontrelle Willis, who finished second in the National League Cy Young voting. Delgado and Miguel Cabrera finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in Most Valuable Player voting.

 

And they ranked 28th in attendance.

 

So who can blame Loria for whatever he does? Who says Huizenga's conclusion wasn't right, if his methods heavy-handed? No doubt General Manager Admin Beinfest will trot out the term "payroll flexibility" in discussing any trades of Beckett or Delgado. All smaller-payroll teams do. But Beinfest invented the phrase back in 2002, when starting pitcher Matt Clement and then-closer Antonio Alfonseca were dealt to the Cubs just before the season in a statement of where the Marlins' payroll stood.

 

Maybe that's the lifeline of hope today. Maybe, like that Cubs deal that brought Willis, any big-salary moves will be part of a greater plan the Marlins have to somehow salvage the future by getting quality youth.

 

Hank Blalock would fit into that idea. He's a former All-Star third baseman coming off a bad year. Sound familiar? But unlike Lowell, who is 32 and owed $18 million the next two years, Blalock is 25 with a contract totaling $13 million for the next three years.

 

If Cabrera is blocked once more from returning to his natural position of third base, well, this doesn't look to be an offseason of soft landings for anyone.

 

For four years, Loria has bumped up against what Huizenga and Henry did. For the past three, he smartly worked around it. And he explained the low attendance this season as, "purely a factor of weather."

 

Told he was optimistic, he said: "If you don't have a degree of optimism in this business, you couldn't do it."

 

In this awful baseball market, it's not clear he still can.

 

Dave Hyde can be reached at dhyde@sun-sentinel.com.

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It couldnt have been said any better. I think we owe it to Loria to stick by him on this one, even if immidiate gratification may not seem visible. I for one vow support throuh thick and thin. I think there are enough "good" baseball fans in south fl. to turn our image around and show the baseball world that there are true fans in SoFl.

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Blame the 28th ranked attendance on Huizenga. It's his fault.

 

 

You're kidding, right?

 

I thought Hyde's article was dead-on correct. Sports fans suck in South Florida, but the support for the Marlins (or lack thereof) has been shameful.

 

Move the Marlins.

I said it 100% tongue-in-cheek.

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Blame the 28th ranked attendance on Huizenga. It's his fault.

 

 

You're kidding, right?

 

I thought Hyde's article was dead-on correct. Sports fans suck in South Florida, but the support for the Marlins (or lack thereof) has been shameful.

 

Move the Marlins.

I said it 100% tongue-in-cheek.

 

Whew! :D

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First time posting in a while as I?m not much of a hot stove person (I?m a football watcher at this time of year).

 

Very disturbing trends as the constant news reports (whether posters like the reporters or not is irrelevant) on a daily basis about the potential dismantling of the team. I know changes will and have to be made, but hopefully not the franchise crushing ones which will further drive the miniscule fanbase away.

 

It?s kind of interesting that MB.com was loaded with attendance apologists who took to task anyone such as myself and others who dared speak the truth, and now that changes are coming, in part because of pathetic attendance, all of a sudden everyone has come to the realization that drawing 1.8 million is nothing to be happy about especially after a WS Championship and 3 straight winning seasons. The Marlins should have drawn 2.0-2.5 million in both 2004 + 2005, no matter how low it had been before 2003. Sorry, the 1998 firesale was 7 years ago, get over it.

 

As I mentioned during the season, even though the team waddled during the season and then faded down the stretch, teams like Pittsburgh who were eliminated from pennant contention on Opening Day still outdrew us. And save the ?they have a new stadium? excuse, the novelty of that wore off a long time ago in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, etc.

 

Being able to watch a baseball season and not have every conversation have a attendance/stadium discussion in it would be enjoyable, but as long as the Marlins are the in the low rent welfare attendance neighborhood that they reside, that will always be the case. To the casual South Florida sports fan, not the hardcore Marlins fan, all they ever hear or read about the Marlins is gloom and doom, no $$$, team wants to move, etc. With that enviromenment, they'll never commit their heart or $$$ to the team. Don't take the east way out blame the media for that, the team takes some responsibility too - see John Henry. Yes, my other team, the Mets (or Mutts, Mess, whatever you want to call them) have the NY market behind them, but even in the early 1990's when they stunk and the attendance was around the 1.5 million mark, the talk was always about the action on the field, not the number of people showing up.

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I think it's a bit unfair to blame the fans who learned of and fell in love with the game bonding with their fathers over Yankees, Cubs or whatever team from the region they came here.

The children of 1993 are coming to the ballpark. You've seen them. I've seen them. I've seen them travel in my travels up and down the coast attending Marlins' road games. There's just not many of them. But the Marlins have been successful in attracting this generation. However it will take time before the Marlins garner a sizable majority in the interest of the South Florida baseball fan. Even then the fans need something secure to latch on if they are going to develop a loyality to the Marlins brand, and when every year means another year of operating losses or worse for the owners of the Marlins, that may never happen.

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