The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Marlins Fake Interest in Moving to Vegas

I’m guessing this is how it went with David Samson and Jeffrey Loria yesterday:

Samson: Knock, knock
Loria: Who’s there?
Samson: The Marlins – and we’re moving to Vegas
Loria and Samson: ha ha ha ha – laughing all the way to the bank, or at least their new stadium, wherever it might be

As you have probably heard by now, the Marlins met yesterday with officials in Las Vegas. Apparently the Marlins are tired of waiting for the powers that be in Florida to put a suitable (in their eyes) financing package together and they’ve also (indirectly I suppose) indicated that they also aren’t really willing to step up to the plate and be responsible for cost overruns (which, if history is good for anything – particularly with retractable roof ballparks – are inevitable; see Miller Park in Milwaukee for more details).

The ruse of moving the team to Las Vegas is far fetched, at best. In case you haven’t been paying close attention, it took Major League Baseball about two years to relocate the former Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. The search for the best place to relocate the team was thorough (and very slow). Interestingly, Las Vegas did not make the short list of relocation possibilities. The top sites (other than D.C. of course) were Portland (Oregon – for you Easterners) and Northern Virginia. Also seriously considered were San Juan, Puerto Rico and Mexico City Mexico.

Locales like Portland even had complex financing plans in place to finance a new stadium and to make bringing a team to their area a reality. Vegas, to my knowledge, and at least as far as the public information that has been released, has none of that currently. That makes this sort of a proposition all the less realistic.

Ultimately it was realized that none of the markets being considered was a sure-fire home run. No one ever really came out and said so much, but the simple fact that it took so long to relocate to one of these places pretty much says as much. By moving the Expos to D.C. and calling them the Nationals, they don’t exactly become the New York Yankees (budget wise) of the National League – or even the financial equivalent of the Houston Astros. They simply just have more hope and potential than they did in Montreal (and don’t even get me started on how a big part of why the Expos didn’t work in Montreal is because of Jeffrey Loria – the man who currently owns and operates the Marlins).

Other “hot” relocation cities like Nashville, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Sioux Falls, and Cedar Rapids didn’t even get much serious consideration. Ok, so those last two I made up, but I think you get the point. There aren’t a lot of great options for moving a baseball team. The major markets are filled (some of them with two teams). In my opinion, the two most suitable places in North America right now to move a team to are New York City and Montreal. Both are populous, relatively wealthy, and have a history with baseball. Plenty of research and analysis has been done on the subject, and I won’t bore you with it here (it’s plenty easy to Google). Suffice it to say, New York used to support three baseball teams. Now it only supports two. Adding a third team would cut into the television and other revenue the Yankees and Mets would generate, but it would relegate them to a status more equal to what most of the other teams in the league can generate.

But, baseball isn’t going to move a team to either of those places. And baseball isn’t going to let a team move to Las Vegas either. This is purely a bluff by the Marlins. It probably worked out quite nicely for Loria and whoever else was there. They were on their way to Anaheim anyway, so this meeting might well have taken place during a lay-over between flights between Miami and Anaheim. Kidding again – but you get my drift. This meeting with Vegas officials (including the mayor offering to bring showgirls for Loria to “enjoy”) is a bluff and an act aimed at getting the officials back at home moving on financing a ballpark.

The real answer here is that the Marlins need new ownership. The current owners got lucky with the 2003 team and built a championship caliber club. Since they don’t seem content to do that again and to build a long term winner the way that the Athletics and Twins have, it’s time for someone with bigger pockets to step in. Publicly (or even privately – but that’s why it hasn’t and isn’t going to happen privately) financing a stadium for the Marlins doesn’t solve their financial woes. It would only allow Loria to eliminate the debts he’s incurring with the current system. A new stadium would allow the Marlins to keep a $50-million neighborhood payroll on the field, be competitive and not incur heavy losses. Once in awhile they’d make a run at the playoffs.

That’s not the long term fix anyone’s looking for though. What the Marlins need is a deep pocketed owner, like an Arte Moreno of Anaheim or George Steinbrenner of the Yankees. Someone who can afford to take risks and isn’t afraid to take them. South Florida is a front-running sports town. This team needs to have a payroll (in today’s dollars) of between $80 million and $100 million annually. The team needs to be laden with stars and it needs to win. With that, the team has a chance of drawing fans and being able to afford such a payroll. As much as they try to force it, getting the stadium first and making it all work later isn't going to happen. This is South Florida, not a cornfield in Iowa. It's not build it and they will come. The motto in Miami should be - do it first, do it well, win a few times, keep doing it, and then we'll come... oh, and it has to be an event too - once there are cool people there, we'll come. That’s what works and that’s what sells in South Florida. A fancy new ballpark and a better than .500 team isn’t going to cut it.

Oh, and if by some small chance this Vegas thing isn’t a bluff, I’ll be happy to help the Marlins pack up their things and move out West. Just let me know. I’ll even bring some book boxes and packing tape.


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