When we go through a horrendous, tragic moment the only bright side lies at the end when we finally get over the trauma and can come out stronger on the other side. No one wants to rehash old wounds, but when we witness the tragedy going down in Miami, we can’t help but view the Marlins as just an old scar that reminds us of how the Montreal Expos were calculatedly ripped to shreds.
It is nothing new in Miami. We have seen fire sales in that city before. After winning the World Series in 1997, the low budget Florida Marlins took their shining gems and traded them for magic beans. Shortly after their world championship they cast off their high-salary stars like Moises Alou and Al Leiter for a historic return: the worst ever record by a defending World Series champion (54-108).
All was gravy in fish nation, though. They had a championship banner to hang, albeit no real stars to draw the crowds. That fire sale was seemingly acceptable. The team didn’t draw big crowds and cutting salary was necessary to soften the blow. Everyone takes the first pitch anyways, right? Strike one.
Already down in the count, the Florida team that was making less than a single annual A-Rod paycheck managed to shock the world again. In 2003, a team that lured veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez pulled a second rabbit out of their discount hat and won another World Series. Led by World Series MVP Josh Beckett, the roster included bright stars such as Derek Lee, Dontrelle Willis, A.J. Burnett and Miguel Cabrera. Yes that Miguel Cabrera. Another banner, another reason why they could pack it in. Bye bye Beckett, Burnett, Willis and Cabrera among others. Reports of games being attended by “crowds” measuring barely a thousand fans brought back the scary notion that we had an Expos 2.0 situation on our hands. The stink of another Major League screwjob was getting a little too sour to politely ignore. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice… strike two.
So finally there was some hope. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria pulled out all the stops and decided to be a caring baseball owner. Having convinced the gullible public that he was indeed a kind, concerned hierarch of the fledgling team, he managed to squeeze out a fresh new ballpark to the tune of hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars. Does Loria foot the bill? Hardly. Miami’s public had to sacrifice a new white blazer and gold chain so they can show their faith that Loria was going to make the Marlins legit.
We almost bought it too. As a nice first touch, the Marlins changed their logo and got specific. They went from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. It was kind of like a thank you to the fans for their support, but in a tone similar to how you’d say thanks to your grandmother for the Justin Bieber album she got you for Christmas, because y’know, she heard he’s all the rage. Lucky for all those not living in Miami, they can spare themselves the shameful association. To go along with the dedication, the Marlins opened their wallets and started to dangle the bait, trying to lure the big fish. Talks of Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder were buzzing through the minds of the few true Marlins fans that remained. This was the year; a new ballpark, tested stars signed to long term, lucrative contracts and a winning mindset. It was hard not to get on board. A friend of mine with only a passive interest in the sport began calling himself a Marlins fan. They even hired Ozzie Guillen as manager. At worst, they were guaranteed some great profanity-laced interviews to hype up publicity. Hope was alive. That is, of course, until Mr. Loria’s true agenda started to make a little more cents. No that wasn’t a typo. Yes that was a terrible pun. Strike three was on its way.
Next week, with the table set for success, Bull Penned delves into Jeffrey Loria’s experience in Montreal, how he learned to pocket millions and his sinister plan to swindle the Miami public.
To be continued.