Thirty years ago, when my wife and I had been in town for two years, I joined up with Rick Horrow, the wunderkind head of the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, and formed South Florida Baseball Committee, Inc., with the aim of attracting interest in Major League Baseball's locating a franchise here. We attracted the biggest names we could think of to the Committee. Jeb Bush. Bob Traurig. Judge John Gale. Hank Goldberg. Ron Fraser.
People laughed. Baseball in Miami? We pointed to the combined population of the three counties and to the large number of Hispanics here. Crossroads of the Americas. Hip hip hooray. All I wanted was a chance to take my son to baseball games.
We did accomplish something. We put Miami on The List. Fast forward to 1985, when MLB formed a Long Range Planning Committee, which consisted of twelve owners who the smart money said had the Long Range Plan of not expanding. Twelve cities were invited to "present." Joe Robbie and I spoke for "Miami." By then he had broken ground on his stadium in what became Miami Gardens. Contrary to popular belief, it was designed for baseball. Robbie showed me the original plans. An overlay to scale showed there were more seats closer to home plate than my beloved Fenway Park. The only problem: no roof nor even an umbrella. Sound familiar?
Six years later, we were awarded a franchise, but not to Robbie. To the non-baseball-loving, non-Miami-Dade-oriented Wayne Huizenga. After the '98 season, he had had enough, and sold to a commodities trader named John Henry. Henry loved baseball. He came up with a great idea: build a domed stadium on "Bicentential Park," an empty plot of land just north of downtown Miami alongside the most beautiful urban waterway this side of Seattle, Biscayne Bay, and finance it with a $4/passenger tax on cruise passengers. The cruise industry protested and actually threatened to leave Miami. (As if. It reminded me of United Airlines' threat to move their hub out of Denver if the Denver International Airport were built and near-in Stapleton were closed. A bunch of hooey and hot air.) Some Big Wig on the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce huffed that John Henry was from Palm Beach, as if that were a reason to oppose the plan. Eventually, my former Committee member Jeb Bush vetoed the bill that would have enabled this plan to eventuate. On April Fool's Day.
Finally, in 2002 MLB sold the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria, who, unfortunately, loves baseball, has the personal touch of a cold, dead fish, and must have pictures of Bud Selig with one or two of the other owners. With the expert assistance of his creepy and insincere stepson, Loria outwitted the Miami-Dade County Manager and negotiated the most one-sided stadium deal in U.S. history. Largely by threatening to move to San Antonio. (As if. The suckers bought that line! I wish I could get the people who "negotiated" for the County to agree to negotiate on the other side on all settlements I am trying work out for my clients.) Anyway, they built a fantastic stadium.
My wife and I have been going to 20 Marlins games a year since Year One. All those late-afternoon trips up I-95, when often it was sunny all the way up but dark rain clouds hung over Joe Robbie Stadium. Last year we bought two season tickets and sold off all but 23 of the games.
We all know what happened. The fans stayed away in record numbers, and Loria, having made huge, back-weighted contracts with Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, and being unwilling to wait out contracts with the problematic Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, not to mention the third year of the contract of the putrid John Buck, ordered his "baseball people" to engineer Fire Sale III. The problem with Loria is that he doesn't really have baseball people. He and his smarmy step-son are make-believe baseball people. He has former baseball people without the cojones to tell him to keep his hands off baseball decisions or they'll walk. He's the genius who insisted on signing John Buck to a three-year contract worth $16,000,000.
People are starving in India, for God's sake. Maybe Buck has pictures of Loria.
This winter I told the Marlins ticket people that I would not sign up for another year of season tickets unless I got to meet with Larry Beinfest, the "President of Baseball Operations," to learn about the actual state of the farm system. The San Francisco Giants have proven that a solid farm system is the key to winning World Series and contending every year. I wanted to know whether the Marlins have the structure in place to build a strong farm system: the scouts and the cross-checkers, etc. The results have not been there: it's been slim pickings since 2002, when they picked a pitcher from Massachusetts who turned to drugs rather than trying to get to the Show in South Florida. Unless you want to count the immortal Taylor Tankersley and Chris Volstad. Needless to say, I never got an answer on my demand to hold out unless I got a meeting with Beinfest. Hell, I would have settled for Mike Hill, the GM. At least he went to Harvard.
I am sure my wife and I will go to our usual 20 games this year, because we love baseball and, believe it or not, love the Marlins. Not Loria or his step-son. The players, and the pleasure of watching our team's story unfold over a six-month season, and the enjoyment of watching 142 games listening to Tommy and Rich. And listening as little as possible to the worst baseball radio announcers this side of Seattle. I really can't stand Glen Geffner, who talks too fast and swallows whole words.
But one thought haunts me. Maybe the critics were right in 1983. Maybe this isn't a baseball town.