Jeffrey Loria

The Marlins are not a baseball team. They’re a kleptocracy


Perhaps it’s possible to defend last night’s mega Blue Jays-Marlins trade on purely baseball merits. To say that the Marlins weren’t going to contend with Reyes, Buehrle, Johnson and the rest and that they needed to blow things up. To say that the return they’re realizing from Toronto was actually pretty good and can form the basis of the Next Contending Marlins Team if Miami plays its cards right.  Indeed, I’m sure a cogent argument to such effect could be made if it hasn’t been made already.

Such a position, however, requires that one give the Marlins’ brain trust the benefit of the doubt and to assume that they have any interest at all in creating the Next Contending Marlins Team.  Because absolutely nothing in owner Jeff Loria’s history suggests that he gives a tinker’s damn about winning baseball games, making fans happy and developing Miami as a vibrant market for Major League Baseball.

Quite the opposite, actually. Here are some random Jeff Loria and Marlins facts which, taken together, aren’t terribly random:

  • After purchasing the Montreal Expos in the 1990s, he immediately claimed that, without a new stadium, the team that was much beloved and supported by its fans and once was near the top of the National League in annual attendance could not compete without a new stadium. When public officials balked, he cut payroll and denigrated the City of Montreal as a baseball market.
  • In 2000, unsatisfied with rights fees offered by English-speaking TV and radio broadcasters in Montreal, Loria allowed the Expos to play with no television or English radio broadcasts, preventing thousands of Expos fans from actually seeing or hearing Expos games.
  • In selling the Expos, he received a sweetheart deal and no-interest loans from Major League Baseball which allowed him to buy the Marlins put the Expos into league receivership. When he left Montreal, he moved the Expos’ entire front office staff, on-field staff, office equipment and computer equipment to Florida, leaving new Expos general manager Omar Minaya with virtually no resources with which to field a competitive team.
  • The atrophied remains of the Expos then served as an easy target for contraction threats by Major League Baseball designed to create leverage in labor negotiations with the MLBPA and had the effect of alienating all but the most die-hard Montreal baseball fans. As a result of both Loria’s acts as Expos manager and his complicity in the league’s use of the Expos as an example and bargaining chip, Montreal was utterly destroyed as a viable baseball market.
  • Loria took over the Marlins in 2002.  Between 2002 and 2010, the Marlins got around $300 million in revenue sharing and banked at least $154 million of it in pure profit.
  • Two years ago, the Marlins were forced into an agreement with Major League Baseball and the player’s union to stop violating Article XXIV(B)(5)(a) of the Basic Agreement which requires revenue sharing money to be used to improve your team instead of lining ownership’s pockets.
  • In addition to team profits and the substantial appreciation of the franchise since he purchased it, Jeffrey Loria pays himself around $10 million a year in “administration fees.” As a result of last night’s trade, he is now paid nearly twice the salary of the Marlins’ highest-paid player.
  • The ballpark which the Marlins convinced Miami to build them was paid for by the public against its will, was shady all around, led to public outrage which cost politicians their jobs and wound up costing far moredrawing far fewer fans than the team promised taxpayers it would and has led to virtually zero development of the surrounding area, contrary to the promises of Loria and his friends.
  • A year ago Friday, David Samson talked big about the Marlins “rising payroll, higher revenues” and the team’s new way of doing things, a plan that lasted until roughly July.
  • David Samson last March to a group of Miami business leaders:  “I don’t have to hold back now that the stadium is built – not that I ever have …” He called people who run for office “not the cream of the intellectual crop,” adding about the entire population, “That’s not to say we’re not the smartest people in Miami. My guess is, if you’re in this room, we’re immediately in the top 1%.”

The Marlins are not a baseball team. They’re a kleptocracy. Jeff Loria and his cohorts are cynical liars who care nothing about baseball beyond the cash it allows them to extract from gullible fans, corrupt politicians, unwitting taxpayers and a complicit league office, all of which they have either explicitly called stupid or clearly assume to be based on their actions.

They may continue to play baseball games in Miami, but baseball is merely the MacGuffin which drives the plot for the shysters in this ownership group and they will lie to anyone about anything in order to further it.  In so doing, they are well on their way to destroying yet another market which should, by all rights, be fantastic for baseball.

At this point, they should be allowed to do so. People should stop showing up. Marlins fans, no matter how much they love their team, should shift their allegiances to one which does not hold them in contempt.  Jeff Loria and Major League Baseball should be forced to sleep in the bed they made for themselves and suffer the consequences of their greed and cynicism. The new ballpark may make allowing Miami go the way of Montreal a tall order, but perhaps the franchise can at least wither on the vine long enough to make it more appealing for Loria to get out of the baseball business and find some other investment with which he can fleece the unsuspecting.

In the meantime, anyone who decides to stick with the Marlins while this crowd is in charge deserves whatever they get from this abusive, exploitative relationship.

Trevor Bauer says his finger will be OK for the World Series

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians walks back to the dugout after being relieved due to his cut pinky finger in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during game three of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians starter Trevor Bauer said he expects his sliced right pinkie to heal in time for the World Series.

Bauer, of course, is a drone hobbyist and hurt his finger while fixing a drone. By the time he’ll have to pitch again he will have had nine days since his last, bloody start in ALCS Game 3. Yesterday he said “I’ll be ready to pitch in the World Series whenever they need me. I’m doing everything I can and I’ll be back out there for sure.”

Bauer reportedly suggested that Indians trainers cauterize his finger on Monday. They declined. Which is something Bauer should probably thank them for.

It’s time for Major League Baseball to take a stand on Chief Wahoo

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06:  A fan holds a sign during game one of the American League Divison Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on October 6, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. Come Tuesday they will be on baseball’s biggest stage — an international stage — for the first time in 19 years. In honor of this occasion, I’d like to know a couple of things:

  • Does Major League Baseball believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature?
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, does Major League Baseball think it appropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as its logo?
  • If Wahoo is a racist caricature and if it’s inappropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as a logo what, if anything, does MLB plan to do about Chief Wahoo?

At the outset, I’ll say what should not come as a surprise to any of you: I believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature. I’ve argued it ad nauseum over the years and really don’t wish to mount that argument once again. Mostly because I think the notion that Chief Wahoo is racist is indisputable. Also, because those who do not wish to see the Indians abandon that logo never actually argue that it isn’t racist. Indeed, I’ve not seen a single convincing argument in favor of Wahoo not being racist on his own merits. Oh sure, there are lots of deflections (A logo isn’t important! Tradition is tradition!; It’s just sports!; What about that other racist logo?! My quarter-Cherokee grandma says she’s fine with it!) but no one has once made even half a case that that red-faced, big-toothed, hook-nosed, feather-wearing abomination is not, in fact, a racially insensitive caricature. I don’t think such an argument could be made, actually.

So that’s not what I’m on about here. Rather, I’m interested in how this racist caricature can be eliminated from the sport I love and what has prevented it from happening to date. That’s a very different question, and it’s one that has little if anything to do with accusations of racism or good guys and bad guys. It has everything to do with institutions and inertia. And I think it’s time to drill down into that some.

Let us stipulate that the Cleveland Indians, as an organization, are not a bunch of racists. I don’t believe that for a second. They, like every other sports team, have a history and, for lots of reasons, the Indians history comes with Chief Wahoo packed in the baggage. While the Indians have made efforts over the years to diminish Wahoo, those efforts have not taken. The most likely reason for that is fear of fan backlash. Fans who, even if they themselves are not racists either, do what all sports fans do and root from a primarily emotional place, where real-world questions like “is what I’m wearing racially offensive?” are not permitted to intrude. It’s not just writers they want to stick to sports. They stick to sports themselves and, with a strong assist from cognitive dissonance, their conception of sports involves a Chief Wahoo cap and arm patch.

So, you’re running the Indians. Even when you win your division you don’t draw well, and thus the LAST thing you want to do is anger or alienate your most passionate fans. Of course you don’t get rid of that logo. Doing so would take some pretty considerable moral and ethical courage. Or, at the very least, moral and ethical courage in quantities that outweigh the short term P.R. and financial motives of a for-profit business, and that’s quite a bit. So let us stipulate two things, actually: (1) The Indians are not a bunch of racists; and (2) Even if they’re not, they’re not, on their own, going to get rid of Chief Wahoo. If they were going to, they would’ve done it by now.

Which is why I turn to Major League Baseball. If the Indians themselves are not going to do the right thing and eliminate Chief Wahoo, Major League Baseball should.

At this point I’ll say something which will probably surprise a lot of you: I’m not crazy. I may stand up on soapboxes and rant and rave about any little thing that crosses my mind, but I am, at heart, a realist. I know how large and sophisticated organizations work and I know that Major League Baseball is a large and sophisticated organization. It cannot snap its fingers and make whatever crazy, soapbox-standing bloggers want to have happen happen, even if wanted to (note: it does not want to). There are rules and norms and politics to even the most pedestrian of issues that cross Rob Manfred’s desk, and Chief Wahoo is not a pedestrian issue. It’s a controversial one that lends itself to passion and bad press and those are the hardest things an organization like MLB has to deal with. Indeed, it would prefer not to.

Part of that complication is that this is a club matter and clubs, under Major League Baseball’s business model, are mostly their own things and they can do what they please with most things. Certainly things like club identity, logos, colors, uniforms and the like. At most MLB gives final approval on new ideas in these areas, but it does not order clubs to change fonts or logos or mascots that have been in place for decades. “Hey, Orioles? You’re now the ‘Knights’ and your colors are purple and gold. Make it so” is not a memo Rob Manfred is going to write.

There is likely not even a mechanism in place for this. League-wide matters are dealt with via MLB’s constitution, to which all clubs agree, and that usually involves league wide ownership votes. This is not one of those things, though. Thirty club owners are not going to hold a vote about what mascot the Indians can slap on their cap. Large and complex organizations do not eagerly do things for which there is not a formal mechanism to accomplish said things. So, in addition to the historical inertia and the abhorrence of controversial issues and p.r. and the like, you have systemic reasons which make it easier for MLB to not act than to act.

But that does not mean it should not act. I believe it should, and I believe that the only way Major League Baseball will not, eventually, act to abolish Chief Wahoo is if it willfully ignores those questions I posed above. If it ignores, in fact, the very words it uttered just this week when the matter of the Indians name and logo was the subject of an Ontario court hearing:

“Major League Baseball appreciates the concerns of those that find the name and logo of the Cleveland Indians to be offensive.  We would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation.”

To truly be a part of that dialogue, Major League Baseball itself is obligated to state its convictions on the matter. If it is having trouble finding its convictions I will, once again, offer a little guide to help them along:

    • Does Major League Baseball believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature? That’s a pretty simple question. A human being as educated as Rob Manfred and as educated as the hordes of Ivy Leaguers who work for him can plainly and quickly answer if it wished to.
    • If not, why not? Like I said, if they can make a convincing argument that Wahoo isn’t racist it’ll be the first time anyone has done so, but like I also said, these guys are smart, and I bet if anyone can they can. I’ll give them a fair hearing.
    • If MLB does think Wahoo is racist, does Major League Baseball think it appropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as its logo? Based on everything I know about Major League Baseball and its commitment to diversity, inclusion and open-mindedness, it cannot answer this question in the affirmative if it believes Wahoo to be racist.
    • Finally, if Wahoo is a racist caricature and if it’s inappropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as a logo what, if anything, does MLB plan to do about Chief Wahoo?

And there we are. There’s nothing formal in place to make the Indians change, but if Rob Manfred gets to that last question, he can certainly lean on the club. He can make a public statement about it and what is right. Or, he can take a different tack and show the Indians how much merch they’d sell if they got a new logo. It doesn’t matter much. The Commissioner is not omnipotent, but in a matter of conscience that affects only one club, some meetings and phone calls and his power of persuasion could make a big difference here. All the difference, really.

But first Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred have to themselves be inspired to act. They have to cease dodging the matter by making reference to the controversy and the feelings it engenders and actually take a position in that controversy. The Indians have shown that they will not act unilaterally, so MLB should, at long last, weigh in itself to force their hand.

Commissioner Manfred will, no doubt, be in Cleveland for the World Series. He will, no doubt, hold a press conference or two. Given the Indians return to the international stage, the usual protests about Chief Wahoo will be louder than they typically are and Commissioner Manfred will be asked about the matter. I believe that he, on behalf of the league, should answer the questions I have posed here and that other journalists will no doubt pose to him in person.

I hope he does. I hope that, rather than once again merely acknowledging a longstanding conversation about a baseball team sporting an abjectly racist logo on its cap in the 21st century, he, on behalf of Major League Baseball, enters the conversation. I hope he does what no one else seems willing or able to do: eliminates Chief Wahoo, now and forever.

Doing so would not be the easy course. It would certainly be easier to dodge these questions than to answer them openly and honestly and to then do what one’s answers to them obligate one to do. But it would be the right thing to do. I suspect Major League Baseball already knows this.