Today in baseball history: In 2002, the sale of the Florida Marlins to a group headed by Jeffrey Loria became official.
Seems innocuous enough, right? Actually, it was a pretty dark day in baseball history and emblematic of a stretch of time where exploitation soared to new heights.
A little background:
The owner of the Marlins at the time, John Henry, who at one point was a minority owner of the Yankees, didn’t want to be the Bud Selig type of owner. That’s to say he didn’t want to cry small market poverty and scheme ways to take crumbs of the Steinbrenners’ money – he wanted a premier franchise so he could win championships and earn billions.
Jeffrey Loria owned the Expos and was pissed the Montreal government wasn’t gullible enough to build him a new stadium with tax payer money.
So Messrs. Henry, Selig (who was “acting commissioner” for about a decade – only a slight exaggeration) and Loria hatched a plan:
Step one: Henry will sell the Marlins to Loria at a below market rate ($158 million). Henry explains to Loria that he can get Dade county taxpayers to build him a new stadium and Loria can keep all the profits. Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it…
Step two: MLB buys the Expos from Loria under the public pretense that “we’ll contract your team if you don’t sell it to us.” (Remember, the Expos were the best team in baseball when Bud canceled the World Series because the Yankees weren’t sharing their money with him…whoops…sorry…because small market teams couldn’t compete. Bud was also publicly selling the “contraction” theory to push his own agenda about needing the Yankees’ money.) MLB gives Loria $120 million for the Expos.
Step three: As commissioner, Bud assigns Omar Minaya and Frank Robinson to run the Expos. This helps Bud with his little I don’t like minorities image that he was cultivating.
Step four: When the Red Sox go up for sale, Bud will approve the sale to John Henry despite there being multiple larger offers than Henry’s for the Sox. This will eventually have the tax payers of Boston asking questions, but they go away when $30 million goes to local charities in Boston from the new Sox owner.
Step Five: MLB will sell the Expos to Ted Lerner (who’ll move the team to D.C.) for $450 million, netting MLB owners a $330 million profit. This also accomplishes two things: ANOTHER tax payer funded stadium will be built, this one in D.C., and Bud can stick it to his nemesis in Baltimore, Peter Angelos. You see, unlike George Steinbrenner, Angelos never wanted to share his money with Bud, which rubbed Bud the wrong way. Putting a franchise so close to Angelos was payback.
Step Six: After conning tax payers into building him a new stadium in Miami, a few years later – after taking his revenue sharing checks from MLB and putting them in his pocket instead of into the team – Loria will sell the Marlins for $1.2 billion. That’s a profit of over 1 billion, for those of you scoring at home. He then will tell Dade County residents that he can’t pay them back for the stadium construction costs they fronted for him because he took a loss in the sale. If we all could only have accountants like his…
John Henry hired Bill James and Theo Epstein and won three World Series over ten seasons. Not bad considering there wasn’t electricity the last time the Sox won. His net worth is currently $2.5 billion.
Bud Selig retired after years of collecting a salary as a commissioner that exceeded all but a few players, and decades of swindling money from other owners for no other reason than they were better at running a team than he was. His current net worth is $400 million. Not bad when all you ever demonstrated was an ability to suck at your job(s).
Ted Lerner now has a net worth of $4.9 billion, a good chunk of which is in thanks to being the Washington Nationals owner.
Jeffrey Loria took a profit of around 1 billion from Dade county residents and stuck them with the bill for the stadium.
Meanwhile, players’ salaries went from 58% of league revenue to 38% in just over a decade. I’m pretty sure the children of Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw will never suffer, but I’m much more comfortable with them getting my money than baseball owners.
Which leads me to…
I know what I paid for tickets, parking, food, beer, and merchandise in the 80’s, 90’s, aughts and this decade. And I know it wasn’t an incremental rise to match inflation and costs of living. It was an upward spike on a straight line up, not a gradual slope. A spike that started in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, when the John Henry plan was hatched.
Again, these are matters we all need to consider when the next labor stoppage comes and the media is giving us information so we can choose sides. Or when our favorite team is close to being a contender, but tells us they don’t have the money to pay a player that would be a key contributor.
Or far more importantly, these are matters we need to consider the next time our local oligarch wants to build a stadium in our backyard. Our answer should be “no”. And when the predictable retort of “But we’ll take our team somewhere else!” comes, good riddance, I have cable TV should be our answer.
*Technically, it was two days ago in 2002. My apologies, I still have a “real job” that takes me away from my baseball rants occasionally.
**References: The Game, Lord of the Realms, Field of Schemes, Baseball Reference.