Marlins Close Upper Deck: Can Loria Admit Fault?

The Marlins have the worst attendance in baseball. In fact, for the sixth straight year, the Florida Marlins have had the worst-attended home games in the National League. That’s an indignity they share with the last team that Jeffrey Loria owned, the Montreal Expos, who were last in the league in attendance for seven straight years from 1998-2004. (Loria sold the Expos and bought the Marlins in 2002.) The Marlins’ home attendance is so bad that the team recently conceded that they have no hopes of filling their stadium at any point for the rest of the year: they’ve closed the upper deck of Sun Life Stadium, for reasons of cosmetics and pride — it will provide “a better ambience,” said a team spokesman. But the real reason is that they don’t want to have to pay security personnel and support staff to cover a part of the stadium that absolutely no one buys tickets for.

In fact, the upper deck had already been closed on weeknights, and was only held open on Fridays and Saturdays, which the club is finally putting a stop to. Instead, the team will just automatically upgrade their upper deck season ticket holders to lower deck seats, and nuts to anyone who wants nosebleeds.

We all know about the Marlins’ money issues. Other than Hanley Ramirez’s six year, $70 million contract (and, to some extent, Josh Johnson’s four year, $39 million extension, and the rumored extension that Dan Uggla turned down), the team has shown almost no inclination to spend money on players — remember, they actually earned a rebuke from Major League Baseball just last year for too obviously pocketing the proceeds from revenue sharing rather than investing in players. The team has rarely had trouble finding players. But it rarely makes much effort to keep them. And it has no interest in keeping Sun Life Stadium, either, as the team hopes to have its new park in Miami’s Little Havana ready for Opening Day, 2012.

The Marlins’ move to rope off the upper deck makes sense. Since 2006, the team has averaged a hair under 17,000 fans a game, the worst in baseball. And they play in the roomiest stadium in baseball, a football stadium used for baseball that is capable of holding more than 75,000 fans in gridiron season. Even a respectable tally of fans looks microscopic in that coliseum, and their tally of fans is far from respectable. The team hasn’t averaged 30,000 per home game since 1994, the year after the team got founded; it hasn’t averaged as many as 20,000 a game since 2005, two years after the second world championship. You wouldn’t accuse the team of underestimating the Miami public.

Full disclosure: I feel slightly guilty every time I write about Jeffrey Loria as a baseball owner. Several years back, I met Jeffrey Loria. When I was in college, he took a group of Yale students, including me, to a ballgame at Yankee Stadium. And so I feel that I must admit that I feel bad slagging a guy who bought me a free baseball ticket. In my brief interaction with him, I owe him nothing but thanks.

But his ownership has been disastrous for two successive franchises. While they were busy having the worst home attendance in the league, in a related matter, the Marlins had the lowest payroll in baseball from 2006 to 2009. (After their public rebuke, they leapt all the way up to fifth-worst in 2010, ahead of the Athletics, Padres, Pirates, and, amazingly, the Rangers.) The Marlins won a world championship in 2003, in Loria’s first full year as owner — the crazy year when they started 16-22 under Jeff Torborg, a Loria crony who had previously managed for him up in Montreal, and then went 86-55 under a craggy-faced cigar-smoking 72-year old named Jack Aloysius McKeon.

But since that miraculous summer, Loria’s shallow pockets have produced years of treading water: a 609-615 record from 2004 to 2011, as the team has gone through five different managers, including Jack McKeon twice. McKeon retired after 2005 and was replaced by Joe Girardi, who was fired one year in; his replacement, Fredi Gonzalez, was fired midseason in 2010 after three and a half years’ service. Gonzalez’s replacement, Edwin Rodriguez, resigned a month ago amid rumors that he too was on the firing line. Then, Brandon Hyde was only interim manager for a single day before McKeon came back to Miami at the age of 80. Whatever success he achieves, he obviously isn’t a long-term solution. (He wasn’t a long-term solution even as a young man. He has never been in a city for more than three and a half years.)

It’s rather remarkable that the team has done as well as it has, with such a famously stingy and meddling owner, and it is testament to the baseball operations staff assembled under team president Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill. Loria kept firing managers because he believed that his teams were underachieving, despite the fact that his teams usually had the lowest payroll in baseball. Now, he’s closing off the upper deck of his football stadium, acknowledging that South Florida fans aren’t likely to have interest in his latest cheaply assembled last-place team. He’s right. But if he wants to know why, he really ought to look in the mirror.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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MikeS
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MikeS
5 years 1 month ago

Whenever Ozzie Guillen’s mouth gets him in the least little bit of trouble (often) or when his job is rumored to be the least bit in jeopardy (lately) Chicago sports writers always seem to think that Ozzie doesn’t care because he’ll just go manage the Marlins if he leaves the White Sox. Ozzie Guillen’s mouth and Jeffrey Loria’s business practices. I think that would make the Dodger’s fiasco look like a minor accounting error.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
5 years 1 month ago

Guillen for LoMo would have been the best trade of alltime.

Sox2727
Guest
Sox2727
5 years 1 month ago

I’d personally pay for Ozzie’s plane ticket to Miami

jfischbe
Member
jfischbe
5 years 1 month ago

Nice subtlety in letting us know that you went to Yale.

Telo
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Telo
5 years 1 month ago

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6665462/humblebrag-hall-fame

Personally, I would’ve guessed SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology.

hunterfan
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hunterfan
5 years 1 month ago

Tuesday Morning Quarterback on ESPN has written a few rants in his columns about how “philantropists” to Ivy League Colleges are doing nothing more than burnishing their images.

I don’t necessarily think you need to give Loria “mad props” for donating his money to Yale.

UBIK
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UBIK
5 years 1 month ago

Yes, thank God that some dude gave money to a university with a 17 billion dollar endowment.
The man is a goddam saint.

matt w
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matt w
5 years 1 month ago

Dismissing Easterbrook out of hand is generally a good thing to do, but I think he has a point about donating to top-end universities. They do a good job of educating their students, but the students they accept are already much better off than average, so they may actually increase inequality (and particularly entrenched inequality) in this country. I think it’d be more admirable to donate money to college that serve poorer students. Donating to top-end universities does also subsidize academic research, which I think is a good thing.

(I don’t think it was at all inappropriate for you to mention this in your article; it’s proper to disclose your contact with the guy you were writing about.)

Joel
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Joel
5 years 1 month ago

I believe you were intentionally bragging about your superiority in going to Yale, even if it was subconscious because the sentence would’ve read the same had it not included the word Yale it in. That detail was extraneous to your point (that he generous enough to take a group of college students to a game).

gnomez
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gnomez
5 years 1 month ago

Donating to high-end universities doesn’t necessarily support “entrenched inequality,” as you put it, it also allows many of them to give tremendous financial aid. Most elite schools have need-blind admissions. This applied to high-end prep schools as well. One private school in New Hampshire offers full financial aid to any student whose parents make less than $100,000/yr.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
5 years 1 month ago

If this is the showing off college connections thread, then I went to Rice and shared a dorm mailbox with one other student. That student was Anthony Rendon.

He never checked his mail, though; otherwise I had an elaborate prank planned out involving fake secret admirer letters. Sigh.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
5 years 1 month ago

I go to Missouri State (where Ryan Howard went). He came back to town with Cole Hamels and I served them in the restaurant I work at. This is a baseball site, World Series MVP, NL MVP, I win.

jlebeck66
Member
jlebeck66
5 years 1 month ago

I don’t recall the duration, and may even miss on the year, but the Chicago Whitesox closed off their upperdeck back in 2002(ish). I remember going to see Thomas and Ventura as the stadium opened and for a long time it was packed to the gills. Eventually the attendance didn’t warrant the upperdeck being opened. Like I say, the exact reason, execution and duration of the closures have been forgotten, but it’s happened to non-Loria run teams too.

And if we’re bragging about colleges: I let the top 14% of my graduating HS class go off to good colleges, leaving me with the full ride to Prairie State Community College. Suck on that gamefully employed people!

GW
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GW
5 years 1 month ago

gainfully

FanGraphsAHoleCommenters
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FanGraphsAHoleCommenters
5 years 1 month ago

Yes… that’s the word. Major brain fail at the time I posted. Did I mention the community college? lol

Bpdelia
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Bpdelia
5 years 1 month ago

I moved to miami five years ago from nyc. Love the city. The new stadium looks great but watching a game ato joerobbiproplaterandsharkdolphinsunlifeolphin stadium is awful. My wife and I sat third row above the.dugout last week. . . . .26 dollars. . . Fore BOTH TICKETS!

This city has peoplw who know and love the game, and the city bought the stadium.

He must now spend some money. And flushing millions on javy and infante wont cut it. there is a real nice core with johnson, sanchez, nolasco, ramirez, stanton , morison, sanchez.

The city will support the team if there is long term commitment to at least a readonable payroll

Kirkwood
Member
Kirkwood
5 years 1 month ago

I’m a Red Sox fan. If it cost 26 dollars for two tickets, no matter where the seats were, I’d be at every game.

Hell, if I lived in Miami, I’d go to nearly every game anyway, cause fuck it that’s cheap as Hell.

MW
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MW
5 years 1 month ago

The weather alone in Miami would prevent me from sitting in that stadium.

Matt Mosher
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Matt Mosher
5 years 1 month ago

I’m willing to bet they’re doing the same thing with the new stadium within five years. Miami is the new Montreal of MLB.

CMC_Stags
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CMC_Stags
5 years 1 month ago

Same owner, same story, new city.

jwb
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jwb
5 years 1 month ago

“leaving me with the full ride to Prairie State Community College”

Mmm! Burrito Station!

randy
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randy
5 years 1 month ago

If the Tigs go another direction, maybe Leyland can return to Florida.

Lew Wolff
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5 years 1 month ago

HA!

I got the jump on ballpark intimacy over 5 years ago, so Loria can suck it…
http://deadspin.com/5306316/why-your-stadium-sucks-oakland+alameda-county-coliseum

my brilliant GM Billy swore it was the latest and greatest market inefficiency to exploit, but now im having doubts since i havent even seen a single article published about this phenomenon yet

david
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david
5 years 1 month ago

nothing is worse than oakland. $1 upper deck tix and hotdogs on wed in the 2000-2004 era and they still couldn’t draw crowds.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
5 years 1 month ago

So, Am I reading this right and seeing that Loria is responsible for 13 straight years of lowest attendance? Is he the Donald Sterling of baseball (la clippers owner)?

ABC
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ABC
5 years 1 month ago

I keep reading “In my brief interaction with him, I owe him nothing but thanks” with a second (pre-but) comma.

And I keep thinking that the sentence with two commas more accurately expresses the thought.

Candlestick Parker
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Candlestick Parker
5 years 1 month ago

Montreal was a basket case before Loria came along. In fact, the only reason he was able to buy the Expos in the first place was that there wasn’t another business person in North America willing to own an operate that franchise in Quebec.

Certainly Loria covered himself in no glory during his years there, but it’s a myth that he destroyed the team. For a host of economic and demographic reasons, the Expos were already doomed.

Raf
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Raf
5 years 1 month ago

The Expos may have been a basket case, but having Loria at the helm didn’t help matters much

evo34
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evo34
5 years 1 month ago

Precisely. It’s unreal that people don’t understand the basic economics of location. I suppose Remington and the majority of commenters here believe that if Loria bought the Yankees, they would suddenly have terrible attendance…

gnomez
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gnomez
5 years 1 month ago

If Loria bought the Yankees, cut their payroll by 80%, and suddenly started fielding a last-place team, I bet their attendance would tank.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
5 years 1 month ago

The thing I can’t understand about Loria is, Why Miami? He owned the Expos, and they moved to Washington, which other advantages apart is (I believe) Loria’s hometown.

Raf
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Raf
5 years 1 month ago

The Expos were to be contracted, when Loria bought the Marlins. The Marlins became available when John Henry wanted to buy the Red Sox. So, Henry bought the Sox, Loria bought the Marlins, and MLB took over the Expos, with the intention of contracting them along with the Twins.

Matt Mosher
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Matt Mosher
5 years 1 month ago

Never said Loria destroyed them. The 94 strike crushed fan interest and the lack of funding for a downtown ballpark sealed the deal. I know, I live an hour away and was there hundreds of times.

But the Marlins rival the old Expos in fan disinterest. Even when they contend, they have trouble putting people in the seats. I know there are millions of people there, but they obviously have better things to do than watch the Marlins.

kid
Member
kid
5 years 1 month ago

So let me see if I understand this.

1) Shady practices result in every one of his financial endeavors turning into a shitstorm? Check.

2) Unwilling to spend a time to put a competitive team on the field at the expense of taking said dime out of his bank account? Check.

3) Caught red-handed padding his pockets w/ Revenue Sharing money which was intended to be used to make the team better? Check.

4) Hell bent on bilking the city out of money for a new stadium for a team that he doesn’t even care about? Check.

This guy is a disgrace to the game of baseball, and I feel bad for the millions of fans who have contributed their hard-earned dollars, hours of life and loyalty.

jpg
Guest
jpg
5 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the link to deadspin story about the shit hole oakland coliseum. That was a fun read.

William
Member
William
5 years 1 month ago

thank god for this new stadium. Hopefully it doesn’t hold more people than 20,000

Brewers2011wschamps
Guest
Brewers2011wschamps
5 years 1 month ago

yeah, thank god. It’s always nice to see taxpayer dollars being used to indirectly subsidize the contracts of players like Hanley Ramirez or Josh Johnson.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
5 years 1 month ago

and the worst part is Loria will not have to publicize his books. I think every team should be open book. If fans subsidize the stadiums, even fans who don’t like baseball at all, so I guess they’re not fans. It doesn’t make any sense.

chuckb
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chuckb
5 years 1 month ago

It’s too bad that, whenever a discussion about relocation or contraction comes up, MLB can’t just contract Loria.

Of course, that would then apply to McCourt, Pohlad, and probably several others as well.

evo34
Guest
evo34
5 years 1 month ago

So….”The team has rarely had trouble finding players,” but the owner deserves no credit for this? He is only credited with negative things occurring, such as [gasp] a nearly .500 record? Is there any evidence that Montreal and Miami are great baseball markets ruined by a bad owner? Or is the evidence more that they are two of the worst markets in all of sports?

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
5 years 1 month ago

Yea, Miami is probably a terrible market. I mean, tons of latin people live there, many from the carribean, and they hate baseball there….

Or maybe he clearly pockets a ton of money.

I believe that the fans should be the owners. There should be a board of directors type of committee that runs the team and hires people to manage the finances. I’m sick of businessmen using shared rev to make money. Some will use clever little ways to get around paying some taxes. It’s ridiculous. It needs to be cleaned up.

evo34
Guest
evo34
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, Miami is known as a great sports market. That’s why they finished dead last in attendance in both 2008 and 2009, when they were well above .500. You understand that the when they won the World Series in 2003, they were 15th out of 16 team in attendance, right? All those baseball-loving Latins apparently decided to catch the game in a bar. Or something.

Raf
Guest
Raf
5 years 1 month ago

Montreal drew when they were good.

I remember Cleveland and Atlanta in the 80’s, if baseball could survive there, it can survive just about anywhere.

evo34
Guest
evo34
5 years 1 month ago

Really? What year did they have even league-average attendance? Even in their best season (strike-shortened 1994), they drew 30% less than the NL average. In their second-best season (1993), they drew almost 40% less than league average.

Raf
Guest
Raf
5 years 1 month ago

Attendance was increasing in Montreal, up until the strike hit. A playoff run in 1994 would’ve helped; the Marlins got a little bump from 2003-04 after they won the World Series.

The Expos drew quite well in the early 80’s, IIRC they were second in the league in 82? 83?.

Also, there were other teams that were run poorly, that the Expos outdrew; the Padres were bad for a while, the Pirates were bad for a while, as were the Mets and a couple other franchises. Could a new park have helped? Possibly, but people will come out to see a good team. Had Montreal been able to sustain the successes starting in 93, I’m sure they would have been able to draw around 2M like they were doing 10 years prior.

Even now, in DC, the Nationals aren’t really drawing, of course they have fielded some pretty bad teams.

Chris
Guest
Chris
5 years 1 month ago

Some could say that Loria is a poor-man’s George Stienbrenner. The problem with that comparsion is that Stienbrenner would meddle but he spend whatever was necessary to put a consistant winner on the field. The Yankees made the post-season every season from 1993-2007 and won the world series four times during that stretch (coincidentally, they lost to the Marlins in 2003).

As I’ve Marlins fan I’ve noted for years the only reason they’ve had any success is due to smart baseball moves from Larry Beinfest. Beinfest has to deal away players due to Loria, but always gets top-notch prospects who develop into superstars in return. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell were traded in 2005 and that deal got us Hanley Ramirez (who’s hit over .400 since June 20th) and Anibal Sanchez (an All-Star Snub in my opinion). The stadium issues is because of the stigma to the Marlins franchise (with two fire sales in the course of nine years in 1998 and 2006) and the fact that Miami is not a very good sports city unless you have LeBron James-Dwayne Wade-Chris Bosh on the team.

As 2011 goes, you can’t blame the 45-49 record on Loria. The Marlins had a month that not even historically bad teams (i.e. ’62 Mets or ’03 Tigers) have had. 5-23 is one of the worst records of all-time, and it happened to a team 1 game back of the Phillies who had the best record in the MLB. Discounting June, the Marlins are at 40-26 which is nearly identical to the MLB’s best Philadelphia Phillies (40-24 discounting June).

The Marlins have played well in Loria’s ownership in spite of Loria, not because of him. Hopefully, he’ll open the pocket books to keep fans in his new building, because if a $50 million team can be one of the best in baseball over 3/4 of the season, an $80 million team or even a $75 million team should be a winner. One can only hope.

Raf
Guest
Raf
5 years 1 month ago

It depends on how Loria spends his money. While it was nice that the Expos acquired Hideki Irabu from the Yanks, I think the package that they gave up, Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly & Christian Parker would’ve helped better in the long run.

Same for a few other trades that were made. I think Omar Minaya (post Loria, but still) should’ve been smacked for that Bartolo Colon trade.

Page
Guest
Page
5 years 1 month ago

Dear God, do you even know how ignorant it is to say that the Miami market sucks because of the amount of Latino people? And to say that Carribbean people hate baseball? Give me a break. Have you ever watched a Carribbean World Series game?

liamandme
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liamandme
5 years 1 month ago

I think you must be retarded.

evo34
Guest
evo34
5 years 1 month ago

Have you ever been to a Marlins game?

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