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Opinion: Linda Roberstone


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IN MY OPINION

 

 

Bad marriage brings fire sale, suitors

 

By LINDA ROBERTSON

 

gcote@herald.com

 

The courting by salivating suitors of the Marlins has begun. Is a divorce from South Florida inevitable?

 

It's been a rocky marriage from the start. You could even call it an arranged marriage.

 

Now, with Fire Sale II nearly complete, loyal baseball fans are demanding their money back. The Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Cubs on Wednesday for a couple more prospects and a no-name pitcher. Six starters have been traded in 14 days. Miguel Cabrera is the only Marlin left from the 2005 opening-day lineup.

 

Season-ticket holders have a right to get their money back. They paid with the expectation of seeing a major-league team, not a Triple A team. The Marlins bare-bones payroll is now roughly equivalent to that of your neighborhood McDonald's.

 

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would never dump Picasso paintings or Henry Moore sculptures. But victory is a fleeting thing. All he's got left of the 2003 World Series masterpiece is a framed team photo and the memory of his run around the Yankee Stadium bases.

 

While Pierre was packing his bags, Marlins president David Samson was in San Antonio, being wooed during a five-hour meeting with the mayor, who said a new stadium could be built with hotel and rental-car taxes.

 

Other places expected to send chocolates, flowers and stadium blueprints to Samson include Las Vegas, Portland, Charlotte, San Juan, northern New Jersey and Monterrey, Mexico.

 

Samson insists the Marlins are not ''parading ourselves around -- this is not like a free agent pitcher going on a tour.'' Yet that's exactly what they are doing, and why not?

 

As guilt, remorse, desperation and greed set in here, the predictable scrambling to save the marriage has begun.

 

Wayne Huizenga, realizing he could lose an 81-days-per-year tenant at Dolphins Stadium, has finally emerged with an offer of 15 acres and cash to help build an adjacent ballpark. He hankers to make the area around the stadium into a destination -- hotel, shops, restaurants, bars -- rather than a wasteland.

 

The city of Miami has bowed out of the stadium derby, but Miami-Dade County will discuss it again today, as County Manager George Burgess meets with Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy.

 

HUMILIATING

 

The leaders of our megalopolis, so eager to be known as ''world class'' -- whatever that means -- would hate to be trumped by northern New Jersey or Monterrey. How humiliating. And how ironic that South Florida has a hockey team -- that's ice hockey -- playing in a publicly financed arena but can't get a baseball stadium done.

 

So Loria -- who didn't become rich in the high-stakes art world by making bad deals -- has our politicians right where he wants them.

 

In the meantime, he's got a crummy team, but that might be a small price to pay for a $425 million retractable-roof stadium.

 

There is the matter of the financing gap -- some $100 million. Money has a way of materializing when the moving vans are circling.

 

The intrigue of these negotiations will be more interesting to watch than the 2006 Marlins.

 

Rick Horrow has seen it all before. Horrow was the founding director of the first Sports Authority in Miami in 1980. He has since done 100 deals worth $13 billion around the country. He was here when Miami had one pro team and was begging to sell the area to the NBA, NHL and MLB.

 

''We went through 11 baseball stadium plan failures,'' Horrow recalled. ``One involved using Saudi Arabian dollars to build next to Joe's Stone Crab restaurant.''

 

NOT OVER YET

 

For those who think the Marlins are as good as gone, think again.

 

''The White Sox were halfway to St. Petersburg when Chicago's civic leaders moved back the clock to 11:55 p.m. so they could pass a special bill to meet the deadline,'' Morrow said. ``It ain't over til it's over.''

 

Who will blink first? You can count on our civic leaders to cave.

 

They want to be ''world class,'' but they just caved on the Urban Development Boundary issue even though their constituents clearly don't want more sprawl, more traffic, more pollution and the ruination of Everglades National Park.

 

They probably will cave on the stadium issue as well and offer more taxpayer money to subsidize a private sports enterprise in an area struggling with a multitude of problems hurting the quality of life.

 

FAN INDIFFERENCE

 

The Marlins are playing the courtship game, and who can blame them? Yet it is time to recognize that the market has spoken in South Florida. Despite all the hand-wringing and lambasting of indifference, people here just don't care enough to go to baseball games in large enough numbers to make it profitable. And this is a franchise that has won two titles.

 

You can cite the miserably steamy climate, the lack of baseball tradition or the host of diversions (although New York and Los Angeles have many more).

 

Whatever the reason, baseball hasn't worked for three owners.

 

Why would a sparkling stadium be the magic solution? It's unfortunate, but perhaps this marriage simply isn't worth saving.

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