On Jeffrey Loria And Ownership

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was in the news this week and, as usual, there was a decidedly unctuous odor to it. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported on Monday night of a power struggle between Loria and Larry Beinfest, the team’s president of baseball operations. Lining up with Loria is Dan Jennings, the vice president of player personnel. Lining up with Beinfest is Mike Hill, the general manager. David Samson, Marlin’s president and Loria’s stepson, is nowhere to be found.

In essence, Loria reportedly has pushed aside or overruled Beinfest on a series of baseball decisions, for less than rational baseball reasons. Although the feud between the two dates back many years — Beinfest has been with the Marlins for 13 years — it escalated recently in the wake of allegations that hitting coach Tito Martinez had verbally abused several players. Beinfest conducted an investigation and promised the players confidentiality. Loria was furious when Martinez resigned because he had hand-selected Martinez in the first place. Loria took that anger out on the players who complained: Beinfest was preparing to promote Chris Valaika from Triple-A but Loria interceded because Valaika had been one of the complainants against Martinez. Valaika lost the opportunity he’d earned for a major-league paycheck.

Beinfest wants to know where he stands. Loria refuses to tell him, perhaps preferring to let Beinfest twist in the wind long enough to get fed up and resign. Beinfest is under contract until 2015. If Loria fires him, Beinfest gets paid for two more years. If he resigns, he doesn’t. Given his history, it’s no surprise that Loria would choose the less costly route — to him.

Marlins beat writer Clark Spencer followed up on Rosenthal’s story on Tuesday in the Miami Herald. Spencer reiterated much the same information but he also talked to former GM Jim Bowden, now with ESPN. Bowden kinda, sorta defended Loria:

In general, [Bowden said], it’s the owner’s team and they “can and should do whatever they think is best for the organization, because they own it.”

“I think people tend to believe that an owner should hire a GM and not be involved, and that’s really old-school thinking,” Bowden said. “There are very few situations left in baseball where the GM has full autonomy in making the call. I’ve never had a situation my entire career where I got to make the call, ever.”

That said, Bowden added that “the most important thing is to be on the same page.”

Bowden’s words stuck with me because, well, he’s right. The person or people who put their money on the line for a baseball team — or any other sports team, for that matter — should have final decision-making authority, even if those decisions don’t make baseball sense or are counter-productive or will ultimately cost the owner money down the road.

There are restrictions, of course. Baseball owners must act consistent with MLB’s constitution and the collective bargaining agreement with the players. But those documents provide fairly wide latitude. The Commissioner’s Office has stepped in on occasion, when an owner acted so outside the bounds. Frank McCourt is the most recent example, but there are others, including the several times the commissioner punished Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner.

Loria’s been mildly chastened by the commissioner a few times, at the urging of the players’ association, who’ve loudly complained that Loria pockets his revenue-sharing money and doesn’t spend nearly enough on payroll. Mostly Loria’s come in for public condemnation, from reporters and columnists like Ken Rosenthal and Clark Spencer, and from fans. I may not like what Loria says or does. You may not like what Loria says or does. But there’s not much we can do about it.

Other baseball owners also have been in the news lately, in part because of their effort to own the news. John Henry, the Red Sox’ principal owner, bought the Boston Globe in August. Henry was quick to dispel the notion that he would take any steps to affect the paper’s news coverage, whether of his team or otherwise. Pete Abraham, the Globe writer who covers the Red Sox beat, tweeted shortly after Henry’s purchase was announced that he didn’t expect his coverage of the team to change in anyway. Three weeks after Henry’s purchase, Bill Shaikin reported that Mark Walter, one of the new Dodgers’ owners, is considering making an offer to buy the Los Angeles Times from Tribune Company.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about a baseball owner also owning a newspaper in the same town. For years, the Tribune Company owned the Cubs and the Chicago Tribune. That relationship came to an end, not because of any impropriety, but because the newspaper business is suffering financially, and Tribune went into bankruptcy, opening the door for the Ricketts family to buy the Cubs in 2009.

And yet, when we hear about John Henry’s purchase or Mark Walter’s potential offer, we stop and wonder: how could that dual ownership not affect the newspaper’s coverage of the team? Would a John Henry-owned Boston Globe have investigated and published “Inside the Collapse,” the fried-chicken-and-beer expose on the 2011 Red Sox team that collapsed down the stretch?

Look at what just went down between the NFL and ESPN. The World Wide Leader doesn’t own the NFL, and the NFL doesn’t own the network, but the very substantial financial relationship between the two led ESPN to withdraw from its partnership with PBS’ Frontline, which is producing a documentary on concussions in the NFL. ESPN came in for tremendous criticism, but it stuck with the decision, at the behest of the NFL.

Which brings me back to Jeffrey Loria and his front office mess. As far as I can see, there won’t be a happy ending where Loria is forced to sell the Marlins to a “better owner” or to run the team in a logical and humane manner. Nor is there any great moral we can discern about Loria, John Henry or Mark Walter. I was simply struck by Jim Bowden’s honest, if not stark comments on the power of team owners.

 




Print This Post



Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


34 Responses to “On Jeffrey Loria And Ownership”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. GotHeem says:

    Wendy you’re the best. Really. Another great read.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Antonio Bananas says:

    Team ownership is always really interesting to me. Interesting article too, really shows how much of a business baseball is just like anything else.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Ira says:

    If Wendy Selig had any balls (I assume that Bud has been dead for years and the news has just been covering it up) she’d have forced Jeffrey Loria to sell the team “In the best interests of Baseball” years ago. Remember that Loria began his career in MLB ownership by his “ownership” of the Montreal Expos. Yeah, that ended well.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Robert Kuhl says:

      The Marlins problems are not the owners’ problems. As much as I would love to see Loria ousted…. there is zero chance of this happening.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. NatsLady says:

    Thanks for this article. Nats are very lucky in their ownership–rarely do the Lerners interfere. But there are still times which Rizzo has to go to them to authorize big payouts, and justify spending on certain contracts (in 2012, Rafi Soriano comes to mind. Apparently ownership nixed paying Girardi a few years ago when the Nats were not close to contending. Seems like that’s as it should be. You get a budget. Day-to-day operations and most signings are your job. But if there is something outside of the “routine,” you have to at least run it past the boss–and the boss has a veto.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. JD Rocks says:

    Denying someone a promotion for something said in a confidential harassment investigation, and this is public knowledge – wow. Wendy, if you were an MLB lawyer, would you advise action to avoid being complicit in a clear violation of the employee’s rights? Maybe Loria can get away with this kind of thing in Florida, but the bigger fish (pun intended) would be in going after MLB for sitting on their hands throughout this debacle.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Roger says:

      I’m not a lawyer, but I doubt anything comes of it legally. The player would have to prove both the denied promotion and the motive behind it, both of which are awfully hard to do. Perhaps there’s something in the CBA that would allow the union to bring it in front of an arbitrator, where the standards might be a little lower, but I doubt it. I can’t see the owners ceding such rights.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • RSquared says:

        An internal disagreement over what player should be promoted to the MLB 25 man roster does not seem to be arguable in a court of law, no matter the intent. Valaika’s career is covered by the CBA, not the whim of an owner. He will be free soon.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Wobatus says:

          Valaika also really isn’t all that good and he’s now 28.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • JD Rocks says:

          Seriously? His manager was ready to promote him, so he is clearly good enough. But that is almost entirely beside the point. Say my daughter works at a grocery store. She makes a confidential complaint to HR that the night supervisor is harassing her. The manager investigates and finds that there is a pattern with this particular supervisor, and his resignation is accepted. Later, my daughter is about to be promoted, and the store owner flies in from New York, overrules the store manager and nixes the promotion. And he lets everyone in the store know why she wasn’t promoted, and that ‘whiners’ won’t be tolerated. And none of the other store owners in the franchise say boo? Any civilized country would have laws preventing such behavior. Oh, please, let me collect the legal fees on this one!

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Wobatus says:

          No, I get it. I’m not saying Loria is right to do it, but he could argue that the guy is not really all that good and he decided he didn’t want this all that good guy up collecting a paycheck, that he disagreed with the GM.

          Your daughter is part of a protected class of citizens as far as being harassed. Valaika is not, at least per federal law, I think. what the CBA says about it I don’t know. Morally, it may be repugnant, but if Loria says I think this guy is a whiner, he isn’t all that good anyway, etc., at least at federal law, if he were an at will employee, I don’t think you could do anything about it.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Wobatus says:

          Check that. Valaika may be part of a protected class. He couldn’t be denied promotion because of his race or national origin, sexual orientation, etc., but that’s not what is being alleged. All I meant was he isn’t that great, so Loria might be able to say that was part of his decision making process, and he has final say. Whether he could strictly say I didn’t promote him because he’s a whiner and get away with it, I don’t know under the CBA, but I don’t think Valaika would have a case under federal law if he were an at will employee.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Wobatus says:

          Whoops, strike all that, I’m wrong. Retaliation may be grounds for a wrongful termination suit, or inthis case I suppose constructive wrongful termination (since he wasn’t actually terminated, just not promoted).

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • JD Rocks says:

          Constructive dismissal, yeah, it could go there. But it won’t, because he wants to work again and there are only 29 other places for him to work for the same money. He does have a poor attitude, but he will likely shut up and hope he catches on somewhere. Slim chance he will ever see an MLB field again, because of the aforementioned skills, attitude and the public blackballing. My real hope is that somebody – the union, other owners, lawyers, the aclu – anybody, takes Loria to task for his abhorrent behavior. And for Tino Martinez to not coach my kids.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Chris says:

    As you know, Rogers Communications owns the Toronto Blue Jays, SkyDome (Rogers Centre), a national TV sports network that now includes 6 channels, many more media outlets (TV,Radio,Magazines,Websites,etc…), nation-wide wireless network and provides cable TV and internet access ostensibly across the country. The only thing they don’t own are large daily newspapers. Irregardless, I have witnessed many instances this season where a Rogers employee has openly criticized Blue Jays players, managers, coaches, front office employees and ownership without fear of reprisal. Certainly Rogers used every avenue available to them to promote and hype this season, but I haven’t noticed any pressure on talking heads to sugar coat the disastrous outcome. In fact, I think ownership of both a baseball team and media properties encourages any kind of coverage, positive or negative, because there is no bad publicity when it comes to filling space with cheap content and keeping people focused on, or distracted by, the quality of play on the field.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Radivel says:

      If only Rogers would fire Greg Zaun and his Zaunkenomics (Zonkenomics?) where he repeatedly and consistently debunks “statistics”.

      But yes, I know there are a number of broadcasters that could learn from the Blue Jays honesty regarding their own performance or lack thereof. It would be refreshing to hear Hawk Harrelson give us some self-hate.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Efil says:

      The only example I could think of, and correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Blue Jays radio personality and semi-official team-apologist Mike Wilner suspended from covering the team by his employer, the FAN 590 radio station (owned by Rogers Comm.) when he very openly (and correctly) criticized Cito Gaston’s lineup construction and bullpen usage a few years back in a postgame interview?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Efil says:

        Sorry, also meant to include that that was the one and only time I could think of where Rogers or a Rogers-owned media outlet has disciplined one of its writers/analysts for being critical of the team. Sportsnet writers, analysts, etc have free-reign to criticize Rogers-owned (or MLSE-owner) teams, and have often made a point of telling their audience they can do so without repercussions from ownership.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Jay says:

    Report instantly discredited due to the “Tito” Martinez naming snafu. Do some research Wendy.

    -25 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • what...? says:

      OH NO! A TYPO! OH THE HUMANITY!!!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Plagarist says:

      literally one letter off and you’re going to “discredit” a really informative and interesting article? yeah, point proven, you are truly a discerning consumer who makes sharp decisions. thank you, dr. internet, for reminding me that if there’s ever something I don’t want to read (such as an article with a one-letter typo, or some asshat pointing that out) I can just navigate away, OR I can publicize my inane criticisms and make myself look like a fool. you have done us all a service.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. DD says:

    Wendy – Would the other owners be able to force Loria to sell, if the league was able to support some level of issues related to the “best interests of baseball”? Basically, could the owners have a part in the process, as opposed to just Selig? Or would that be frowned upon because it may make potential owners wary of needing to “please” the other owners?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Daniel says:

    Great article. Didnt know that about ESPN but not surprising. Its funny that there is an NFL network and ESPN as I just thought ESPN was the NFL network. Dont know if we can curse or not on here but FUK!!!!! the NFL + ESPN.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Krevenoitch says:

    Interesting that you would choose the words “logical” and “humane” when describing running a company, as those values are often at odds.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. AK7007 says:

    “The person or people who put their money on the line for a baseball team — or any other sports team, for that matter — should have final decision-making authority, even if those decisions don’t make baseball sense or are counter-productive or will ultimately cost the owner money down the road.”

    Are we sure this is true in Loria’s case? How much of his money is on the line? I’d say it’s almost entirely taxpayer and other team’s money on the line, not his.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Robert Kuhl says:

      Loria has every right to make whatever decisions he wants… so long as it is with the goal of winning in mind.

      If he is making moves (like the Toronto trade) solely because he cannot afford to field a competitive team, then he needs to get out of the ownership business.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • AK7007 says:

        I don’t think you are understanding my point – Loria bought a stake in the Expos. After that, he has never been playing with his own money. MLB basically bought the Marlins for him, his stadium is on the taxpayer’s dime, and his org. is run off of revenue sharing money. I accept Wendy’s comment that it’s the guy whose money is on the line who makes the call – but I reject the notion that it’s Loria’s money on the line at all. “Affording” a competitive team hasn’t been the point for some time. He just games the revenue sharing system so that he can take any excess cash for himself. So why is he making the calls instead of the people who are actually fronting the cash?

        +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Krevenoitch says:

    Isn’t the goal to make money?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. B N says:

    “he didn’t expect his coverage of the team (Red Sox) to change in anyway”

    Red Sox local coverage has already been decidedly kind to the team for a long time (if not always to specific players). Even as a Red Sox fan, I don’t see how the coverage could get much nicer without getting downright sycophantic.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Miro's Green says:

    If Jeff Loria isn’t going to let “architects” tell him how to build a stadium, he’s certainly not going to let “baseball operations professionals” tell him how to build a baseball team.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Baltar says:

    What an excellent article and set of comments!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Bad Bill says:

    Excellent article as always from Wendy, but I do take issue with the statement that there’s not much we can do about Loria. There is one thing we can do: we can stay away from games in Miami. I personally am doing that thing, after having there the single most miserable experience that I have ever had at a baseball game, for reasons having nothing to do with the players (for whom I felt sorry at the game in question). A boycott by one person who probably wouldn’t go to as many as five Marlins games lifetime anyway isn’t going to do much. But there are over 300 million of us out here. Why hasn’t a boycott gained more traction for dealing with this sleazeball?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>