Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reality ranch

After I posted on Facebook, about last night's opening night win, that hopefully the Marlins would not be as embroiled in negativity a friend asked: "But Henry, isn't it frustrating to know that Jose Fernandez will most likely not be in a Marlins uniform in 2 years? You can look past that and enjoy today?"
My Answer is that even if the Marlins had never had a "fire sale" in their history and even if we had a deep-pocketed owner there's no guarantee that Fernandez would be in a Marlin uniform in two years.
The Dodgers just signed a 25-year - $8 billion contract for their TV rights. As Dan Lebatard noted, before the Dodgers have sold a single ticket or hot dog they start the year with $320 million dollars. Teams like the Marlins can't compete with that. That's reality.
You can choose to live in a past where players spent their entire careers with one team or you can wake up to that reality and realize that teams have to be smart with their money. The Marlins can't spend big money on players like Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes if they aren't producing. Few teams can. 
In the last 10 years the Yankees have won exactly the same number of World Series championships as the Marlins. The Tigers who just re-signed Miguel Cabrera (a former Marlin) to largest deal in history haven't won a World Series since 1984.
The Dodgers themselves haven't won since 1988. How about the Mets, the Cubs?
The point is spending does not equal winning and nobody has a guarantee of keeping their players anymore. One can joust windmills or one can enjoy the ride.
So I answer his question with a question of my own: What if the Marlins are this year's Pirates? Are you going to stay home pouting about what might happen in two years?

I'll be in the stands cheering.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Six Reasons to go to Marlins Park in 2013

It's easy to get swept up in the anger that's being directed toward Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and conduct a personal boycott of the Miami Marlins. But I've lived my life as a contrarian. For example, I don't call what Loria did in trading away several big name players a fire sale. That diminishes the expression "fire sale." To me a fire sale is what H. Wayne Huizenga did when he broke up a World Champion ball club. Loria broke up a mistake. But that's not what I'm here to write about today. I want to tell you the reasons why I won't be boycotting the Marlins and why I'll probably be going to more games this year than last.

1. It's baseball and this is my hometown. My favorite sport is college football and pro baseball is very, very close second. Since my Gators play in Gainesville I don't get many chances to go up for a game. And when I do it requires major planning and expense not to mention the investment of an entire weekend. For decades Miami had no Major League Baseball team. Now we do and I enjoy the sport, period.

2. The ballpark. You can say that Marlins Park is gaudy and that you don't like certain elements of it but you can't deny that it's a HUGE improvement over the previous digs. The temperature is controlled, you shouldn't get wet (malfunctions of the roof notwithstanding), the sight lines are great, the food is actually pretty good. Besides, as many angry fans have said, it's our ballpark, we built it (with tourist taxes, but we built it). Why shouldn't we enjoy it?

3. The players. Lost in all the controversy about the organization is the fact that there will be 25 guys in uniform on opening day. Some are known commodities like Giancarlo Stanton, others are works in progress like Steve Cishek and still others are complete unknowns with the ability to perhaps surprise and delight. One thing is for sure there are no overpaid overhyped hot air bags like Hanley Ramirez or Heath Bell on this squad. That alone is reason to like the 2013 Marlins more than the 2012 version.

4. The competition. Maybe the Miami Marlins aren't really your thing. Well this season's schedule serves up the usual divisional rivals who have many fans in our community like the Phillies and the Mets, other National League teams with big fan bases like the Cubs and Cardinals as well as American league teams including state rivals Tampa Bay and as little seen Cleveland, Detroit and Minnesota.

5. The price. It's still probably the best bargain in professional sports. Dollar for dollar you aren't going to beat the experience of a major league baseball game, in the cheap seats, in comparison to other sports.

6. By staying away from the ballpark you perpetuate the vicious cycle we've been subjected to by lowering team revenues and thus any chance of increasing payroll to re-sign our young stars or to add help should the team catch lightning in a bottle and be surprisingly better than expected. I know a lot of people think this is all the owner's fault but over the life of this franchise there have been a lot of fans disguised as empty seats if you know what I mean, even last year in the new ballpark with all those big names. The key to future stability will be a sizable and loyal fan base that attends with regularity.

I know these reasons won't change many minds in this environment of hate and distrust. And I know people will say I'm shilling for nasty and greedy owner. It's OK, I'm a big boy. The criticisms don't change the facts that I've listed above. I have nothing to gain by defending Loria or the Marlins organization. I'm just a fan of my team and will be long after Loria and all these players are gone.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What are Loria's real motivations?

The recent fire sale of Marlins talent has many in South Florida howling. All the old insults such as "carpetbagger" have resurfaced and are being hurled at Jeffrey Loria. Now I have no reason to defend the guy but in trying to determine what his real motivations are I think it's important to remember some very relevant facts of some facts.

 1. In 1999 Loria bought 24% of the Montreal Expos for $12 Million. He managed to acquire 94% of the team when the other shareholders didn't answer margin calls. So here's a guy who becomes a major league owner (barely) with $12 million and change.

 2. In 2002 he sold the Expos to MLB for $120 million. He didn't get to pocket the gain however as he then bought the Marlins for $158.5 million. Do the math. He was $38.5 million short so MLB LENT him the money.

 3. In 2003 he signed Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez for a one year/$10 million contract that was PAID OVER THREE YEARS

 4. In 2009 the deal for the construction of the new Marlins ballpark was finalized. The Marlins agreed to contribute $125.2 million (roughly 20% of the construction cost). In order to pay this money the Marlins BORROWED $35 million from the county.

Now, all of the above instances suggest a guy who is playing in a high stakes game he can't really afford. Does this mean he doesn't want to win? I don't know. I think he wants to be a baseball owner, I think he wants to win. I think he wants the ballpark full so he can field a competitive team but let's face it, he gambled in 2012 and lost. The team underperformed on the field and at the box office.

Some have characterized this fire sale as Loria putting $100 million into his pocket but that assumes he has $100 million lying around. I'd say the reason for the fire sale is precisely because he doesn't have $100 million lying around and nothing in his history suggests that he has $100 million lying around. I believe he's trying to save his ownership stake in the team because he's leveraged to the hilt. Does it suck for us fans? Yes. Would it be better to have a deep pocketed owner? Yes. But let's look up the road at the Dolphins. They've had deep pocketed owners since Joe Robbie died and it hasn't translated into winning.

I'm not ready to make the guy into the devil because he's juggling money trying to stay in the game as long as he can. The fact is that Jeffrey Loria bought this team when nobody else wanted it. He made some wild gambles like the aforementioned signing of Pudge, won a World Series and got the ballpark built in almost impossible political environment. All from a $12 million investment. I can't say for sure what's in his heart but on a certain level I have have to admire him.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ozzie's bigger crime

His team stinks. He apologized for making bone headed statements in praise of fidel castro, when will he apologize for the fact the team is 2-5? Maybe during spring training instead of being outrageous to journalists in an effort to live up to well-cultivated image, he should have been preparing his team for the upcoming season.

Ozzie Guillen: Dumb Luck or Just Plain Dumb?

The fine folks at Pajamas Media asked me to opine about the Ozzie Guillen kerfuffle. Here it is...

There are thirty teams competing in Major League Baseball, but only one has just inaugurated a state-of-the-art, taxpayer-funded ballpark in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. There are thirty Major League managers leading those thirty teams, but only one was dumb enough to recently offer fawning praise of Fidel Castro to a Time reporter. If I told you that the man who said such things has to field a team for 81 home games in front of an audience of escapees from Fidel’s Caribbean gulag and their children, you probably wouldn’t believe anyone could possibly be that dumb. And yet it happened.

In Ball Four, his groundbreaking memoir about life in the big leagues, Jim Bouton explains what it’s like to be a thinking man in a sport that has a dearth of them. And that explains Ozzie Guillen, the Miami Marlins manager, and why he’s now public enemy number one among many Cuban Americans: he’s old school dumb.

The furor began when Time magazine quoted Guillen as claiming to “love” and “respect” Fidel Castro because of his longevity, in spite of the fact that there are many who wish him dead. The piece in Time was about Ozzie’s outlandish personality, and I’m sure that he got carried away trying to live up to his well-earned reputation, except that this time it was really, really dumb.

In the same piece, Ozzie asserts that he gets drunk after every game, win or lose. It’s probably not true and it’s kind of a dumb thing to say, but praising a brutal dictator who has repressed, imprisoned, tortured, and exiled more than a million of your neighbors breaks the dumb-o-meter.

More, after the jump.

Continue reading Ozzie Guillen: Dumb Luck or Just Plain Dumb?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The dawn of a new day is upon us

It's been 15 long years since H. Wayne Huizenga said that the building of a publicly-financed baseball-only facility was necessary to make baseball viable in south Florida over the long term. Tomorrow, that goal, sought after by three owners becomes a reality as the brand new Marlins Ballpark officially opens for the regular season. As a resident of greater Miami for the last 34 years and an ardent baseball fan I am extremely happy. As usual, there are plenty of critics and malcontents vociferating about the financing, the location, the parking, the accessibility, whatever. Over the years I wrote a lot about this ballpark, mainly defending it, though nothing recently. Today I'm not going to defend it. I am going to enjoy it. I'm headed out to the open-to-the-public batting practice. I have tickets for the April 19th game and I wouldn't be surprised if I decide to go to another game before that. It's time to celebrate. Baseball is here to stay.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Congrats to the Fighin' Phillies

I was born in Philadelphia. The first sporting event I ever attended was a Phillies game. I remember the 1980 World Series like it was yesterday. The 1993 World Series is one I'd like to forget. I was at Skydome when Joe Carter hit that homer to win it for the Blue Jays. I'm not conflicted about my loyalty. I became a 100% Marlins fan when I had season tickets for the club. But if the Marlins can't win it all, the other team I'll always like to see hoisting that trophy with all those little flags on it is the Phillies.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Marlins financial info leaked to media

Miami Today published a report based on pro forma financial statements that it apparently obtained from Norman Braman. The second I saw the report I contacted Jorge Costales who is, to my mind, the most knowledgeable person about Marlins finances that doesn't work for the organization or Forbe's magazine.

He has posted his interpretation of this recent development here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Judge Cohen Punts...

and Jorge Costales thinks that's a good thing.

I don't.

I think what the judge did was weak. She passed the buck. Her job is to rule based on current law as she understands it, not to wait for guidance from the Supreme Court to do it for her. What precedent does that set?

There is a time-sensitive nature to this case and now it's in limbo indefinitely for what Jorge rightly points out could be nothing more than political considerations for the judge herself.

As far as the naming rights to the ballpark go, Wayne Huizenga sold the name of Joe Robbie Stadium to the now defunct Pro Player apparel company for $20 million over 10 years back in 1996. That's $2 million a year. A nice sum, but not something to stop the Marlins deal over. It should be also be noted that the market for stadium names probably isn't as strong as back then. Huizenga finally gave up trying to sell the name and it's now Dolphin Stadium.

As far as trying to get Braman aboard, I don't think the Marlins can offer anything that will appease him. He's just being a curmudgeon and enjoying every minute of it. As fans we've been waiting for this new ballpark ever since Huizenga announced he was selling the team in 1997 and now that we're an inch from the finish line that old fart is standing in the way. And the judge is allowing him to.

Arguments for the ballpark

I'd like to take a minute to address some of the criticisms of the plan for the new Marlins ballpark. Opponents to the plan center their argument around two basic premises. The first is that the money could toward more worthwhile things like education, mass transit, etc. And the second is that public funds should not be used to help private business.

There is no doubt that despite the many positive aspects of living in South Florida, there's a lot of things that need to be fixed. The abysmal traffic situation is one and the pathetic state of of public education is another. The argument that all of those millions of dollars could be put to better use is a seductive one. I mean how important is a ballpark when the future of our children is at stake? But it's also a dishonest argument that implies that problems with education and other quality of life issues in the county are due to lack of funding.

To put a point on it, the ballpark is budgeted at $515 million. The team is on the hook (pardon the pun) for $155 million. The balance will be paid with public funds ($347 million from the county and $13 million from the city of Miami). Consider that the city of Miami funds would never be funneled toward education since administering the public schools is a county function. Also consider that $50 million of the funds were earmarked for a renovation of the Orange Bowl which has now been demolished. Also consider that a large proportion of the public funds come from tourist taxes that are earmarked for convention and development projects.

But for the sake of argument, let's say all $360 million of the publicly committed funds could be instantly channeled into education, for example, what impact would they have?

Before you answer, consider that in 2006, the budget for Miami-Dade Public Schools was approximately $6.1 billion. The school system serves approximately 350,000 students. That means the public school system is spending in excess of $17,000 per student. Perhaps we should be looking elsewhere to find the source of the education problems that plague us. As I've said here before, can anyone prove to me that NOT building the ballpark will solve the problems our community faces?

You might be thinking that $360 million is still a lot of money. And of course it is, to ham and eggers like you and me. But in relative terms it's less than 6% of ONE YEAR's education budget. Consider that the ballpark will be around for 30 years. Assuming the county's education budget doesn't grow by one penny (a crazily conservative assumption) over those thirty years the county will spend $183 billion on education. The one-time public contribution of $360 million to the ballpark project represents 0.2% of that figure.

In short, the public contribution for the ballpark is minuscule compared to what we spend on the troubled public programs in our county.

The other argument is that we shouldn't spend public funds to "line the pockets" of private business. While the first argument is an appeal to emotion and ignorance, this one is an appeal to envy and indignation. But the truth is that at all levels of government private business is subsidized or given tax benefits because it's generally accepted that when businesses do well, the public does well.

Now I'm not a big fan of subsidies, especially at the federal level because a lot of has to do with social engineering (like subsidizing corn ethanol which is a money loser and is driving up the price of food). I have no problem with tax breaks for corporations but honestly I'd like to see lower across the board tax rates for corporations if not the complete repeal of corporate taxes. But that's a discussion for another day. My point is that in the real world we help out individual businesses when we feel the benefit outweighs the cost.

That's why we build county facilities like the airport to serve private businesses like the airlines. That's why we build a performing arts center that can be used by private organizations that produce such entertainment.

And the last example is an important one because baseball (or any sport) is no less (or no more) a of a form of entertainment than the opera or the ballet. An opera company is a private organization, with executives and employees, etc. Just because the such organizations tend be legally categorized as non-profits and don't generate the type of revenue a ballclub generates doesn't mean that there aren't private citizens living well off of them.

The last thing I'll leave you with is this. What the Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, is asking for is not outrageous in the sense that most of the other owners he's competing with have the benefit of playing in ballparks that were at least partially publicly financed. That leaves their clubs with more money towards the bottom line. In other words he's competing against teams that are publicly subsidized. As baseball fans we cannot ask him to behave like other owners when it comes to signing players and spending money on payroll when we don't give him the same tools that those other owners have to work with.

By blocking this stadium, we would give up the right grouse about fire sales and low salaries. And we'd also be cutting off our nose to spite our face because without a new ballpark, baseball will not be here much longer. It will come back, sure. I can envision us building a brand new ballpark, completely financed by the public, costing $750 million or more, a couple of years down the line to bring an expansion team here. And what of the generation of kids that grew up rooting for the Marlins?