Bye, Hanley. Bye, Marlins. Bye, Rays.

The Miami Marlins have dumped all of Hanley Ramirez’s contract (“an original Eovaldi – how lovely”). They have traded Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for a Detroit Tigers’ can’t-miss pitching prospect (how well did that work out when they offloaded Miguel Cabrera for Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin?). They threw Randy Choate overboard and might flip Carlos Lee. They are begging somebody to take Heath Bell off their hands. They might still deal Josh Johnson (update: there’s now even a rumor-let today about trading Jose Reyes).

But unlike when Wayne Huizenga did it in 1998 and 2004, owner Jeffrey Loria claims with a straight face that this is not a fire sale.

“It’s no secret I love [Ramirez],” Loria told Fox Sports and MLB Network reporter Ken Rosenthal. “He needs to have a fresh beginning, a new beginning … This is a very painful moment for me. But we had to do something.”

Uh-huh. The people who are having the “very painful moment” and who “need the fresh beginning” are Florida baseball fans. If any.

In the new stadium, the Marlins have averaged 28,397 fans per game, which is 12th in MLB in terms of percentage of capacity (that’s about three-quarters full). But a) it’s not as big as it seems (the Brewers have averaged 83% of capacity) and the raw numbers are below need, not growing, and disturbingly static during the most marketable moments. Since June 3rd, Miami has hosted 10 marquee games against divisional rivals Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, and three more against the Red Sox. They’ve only drawn even 30,000 fans on four of those dates.

Check, please.

The Marlins’ billion-dollar bet – that people would go to an area with no parking and little public transportation to go see a sparkly new ballpark and an all-star team – was failing even before the team began to stumble on the field. The sadness here is that I don’t know what you do with a great new ballpark that can’t draw enough customers to permit you to make money off it. Crate it and ship it to San Jose for the A’s? Airlift it to Montreal and try that again?

Of course the Marlins’ failure will kill the Tampa Bay Rays, too. Only a miracle would’ve given the state of Florida or the local governments the kind of political cover necessary to even chip in to a new baseball stadium (well, baseball stadium) in St. Pete or Tampa. The Rays have excited an initially ambivalent fan base with a superior job of planning and growth and innovation. And their new loyal fans can’t figure out the equation. They’re a little hurt that the team expects them to pay to get into the park.

So Florida baseball, 20 years old, isn’t going to get much older – at least not as we know it now. The Marlins are stuck there, doomed to live forever in a mansion with no furniture. The Rays aren’t. They’re almost certainly going to have to move. It’s a shame, too, because in those two decades the two clubs have produced three World Series trips, which is exactly one less than the five California franchises have produced in the same span.

The other shame here is, it’s not as if some of us didn’t see this coming. This is the blog entry from last November 15th (and that was before they’d actually signed Reyes or Bell, and before Guillen’s Castro gaffe):

Miami In A Vice

They have gone out and spent the money on what looks like a fabulous and distinctive new ballpark.

They have gone out and spent the money on what is an often fabulous and alwaysdistinctive new manager.

They are evidently willing to go out and spend the money (“in the range of five years, $18-$20 million a year,” per Buster Olney on ESPN) on Jose Reyes and might be able to snare Albert Pujols as well.

They even went out and spent the money on rebranding themselves as a city, not a state, and on some decent looking new uniforms (although the basic premise of the attire struck me as an adaptation of the original 1977 Toronto Blue Jays’ unis, with orange substituted for powder blue).

And I think it will all end in disaster.

As the 20th season of Marlins baseball looms, there is still almost no evidence that South Florida is a major league baseball community, or that it wants or needs big league ball. The entire dynamic could be changed by the new roofed stadium, but the certitude about that – and the willingness to wager literally hundreds of millions of dollars on that certitude – is, to me, unjustified. With the caveat that I know from sopping-wet experience that Joe Robbie/ProPlayer/Whatever Stadium was a miserable place to watch a ballgame, I still think that it’s mortifying that the Fish averaged 37,838 fans per game in their inaugural season of 1993, and 33,695 in 1994 – and never came close to that figure again.

I mean, not close. The World Champions of 1997 played before an average house of 29,190. Otherwise they have had just five seasons of more than 19,007 paid admissions per game, and four that were below 15,766 a year.

Team president David Samson thinks some improvement on the squad and the ballpark will convert a city that has for two decades been saying ‘you fill me with inertia’ will suddenly convert into producing “30 to 35,000 every single game.”

This was a city that could not support AAA baseball in the ’50s, and never again tried higher than A-ball. And I don’t buy the idea that a high-priced indoor facility in Miami proper rather than it a remarkably hard-to-get-to corner of Fort Lauderdale is now going to entice 37,000 fans away from everything else the city offers, especially at night. Pujols and Reyes would be hard to resist. Then again the Marlins fans of nine seasons ago resisted the 2003 World Champions (except for 16,290 of them each game). I’m not even sure how a $95,000,000 investment in Reyes and lord knows how much in Pujols would translate into profitability or even break-even status.

Reyes alone will not do it – ask the Mets.

As if these doubts were not enough, late last night the impeccable Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald tweeted something to make Miami fans shiver:

Source: H. Ramirez is not at all pleased at prospect of changing positions if #Marlins sign Reyes; the two aren’t the friends many portray.

When the Reyes rumors first started, Spencer had quoted Hanley Ramirez with words that bring honor to the role of wet blanket: “I’m the shortstop right now and I consider myself a shortstop.”

One can easily see where all this will go if a) Ramirez and Reyes squabble; b) Reyes gets hurts again; c) the Marlins don’t sign enough new talent to compete in a daunting division; d) the fans don’t show up; or e) all of the above, in any order you choose. When the ’97 Marlin World Champs did not yield a new stadium, 17 of the 25 men on the World Series roster were gone by mid-season 1998 and three more by mid-season 1999.

Imagine Jose Reyes being traded in a fire sale in the middle of 2013. Or Albert Pujols.

22 Comments

Loria has always been a clown. I don’t know why MLB awards a perennially bad owner with a better franchise, and then takes ownership of his mess which was the Expos. Please Loria, sell to an owner who cares a little bit about winning.

He served his purposes for Bud Selig’s master plan to dominate the industry. As did John Henry.

California’s produced 3 Series trips in that span, right? Giants and Angels in 2002, Giants in 2010.

Last I checked San Diego is in California.

Oh that’s right! Completely spaced on the ’98 Pads.

This appears, to me, to be a failure of management (what again?) to understand the logistics and necessities of building a baseball team. The owners were going after personnel to build a good team player-wise, spending like a drunken sailor on talent. Maybe they thought if you’ve got the stars the rest will follow. But they did not take into account the delivery. Not of the ball club per se, but the fans to the stadium.
This is not a classic example of “If you build it, they will come”. This isn’t Iowa. This is Miami. Demographics aside, there are not too many people that appear to be interested in baseball in that part of the state. Location aside, I noticed that one has to have extended discretionary income to go to a ball game in any state. Pretty soon we’ll be required to mortgage something for the price of admission. Forget the food court all together.
Owners are going to have to take note, that if they want a fan base they better start investigating into more realistic access and pricing terms. Otherwise only the 1% will be going to games and that’s not a very large number when up against the 99% they base their attendance records on. Thank you, Keith, for your astute observations.

I don’t see why you’re picking on the Marlins, Keith. Without Kemp, Ethier and Vin Scully in the booth the Marlins are more fun to watch than the Dodgers even with out Hanley– or especially without Hanley. Hanley is a headcase. The fans didn’t like him. Not exactly a fire sale. And this is how the Marlins do business anyway– get some of the best years out of a player, trade him for prospects or young players then go on another run with them. They always seem to find talent– just don’t get attached to a player. As for attendance, Citi Field looks kind of empty these days too. Losing stinks, whether it’s in Miami or NYC.

I meant to say– other than Kemp, Ethier and Scully’s announcing the Dodgers are boring. In other words, the Marlins are more fun to watch than the Dodgers even when the Marlins are losing or cutting payroll– again. Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton are a blast.

As a Chicagoan living most of the year now, in suburban Miami, I’ve echoed many of Olberwhores sentiments. But, while Keith did a good job with this essay, like his un-nuanced political views, he misses a few factors.

The Marlins are typically in the top ten among MLB teams in local television ratings. Hence, South Florida isn’t agnostic about the existence of the Marlins-they’re just not game-goers. The reasons for such apparent apathy are several. For one, and this goes for the Rays, Braves, Reds and even Astros: Wages in the South don’t approach those in the Northeast, SoCal, Chicago or even, suburban Detroit. It isn’t just baseball that suffers. The newly fabled Heat are a “soft” sell-out as are the ‘Fins, likewise for the TB Bucs. Also, and this is a reason why the Padres aren’t the wealthiest franchise either, while the Cardinals draw from all over the Midwest, the Rockies get fans from as far as Nebraska, and the BoSox are “New England’s team”, Miami isn’t close to ANYTHING. And if a guy in Orlando wants to see baseball-and apparently that isn’t often-he can make the shorter drive to St. Pete. Lastly, and this is key, the unique, elongated, geographical layout of South Florida makes it so that wherever the Marlins had moved, they’d still be 40 miles away from one important part of their fan base or another. (essentially SoFla is 100 miles long but only 10-15 miles wide) Miami was the only local government interested in playing ball but the Little Havana location basically knocked out regular Palm Beach County fans who aren’t willing to fight l-95 traffic for 2 hours. So the team is essentially limited to Dade and Broward and lets face it, when Colorado, Rep. Tom Tancredo called Miami, “third world”, he wasn’t far off.

That said, Miami is recovering from the housing melt-down, those “ghost buildings” on Biscayne Bay are now at full occupancy (to the point where new projects are in the pipeline) and the city has added more new residents in the past half decade than almost any major city in America. I can remember back in the late 60’s-early 70’s when the Angels were one of baseballs worst drawing teams. But as Orange County doubled in population, baseball benefited. With Florida’s great climate (business “climate” too) I’d be hesitant to bet against the long-term viability of the Marlins.

I don’t believe he would want you as a fan. You can’t spell worth a darn.

Considering the amount of baseball talent this state produces, it’s sad to see the state of the franchises and where it might end.

What is a mook? It’s not in my dictionary, but the old Webster is old. In response, I guess they don’t want to “pave Paradise and put up a parking lot.” However, we know that the convenience and well being of the fans is not always the concern of various ball clubs. Money is much more important than fans. I am not sure they have thought out the connection between convenience for fans and the influx of cash. I recall a similar blog where we considered how many things there are to do in Floriday besides watch baseball. Most people go there for the beach ball. Thanks.

Mr. Olbermann,

My name is Ish Goldstein. I worked for Wayne Barrett and now write for TV after freelancing for the Village Voice and the New York TImes. Wayne is trying to reach you. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers
Ish Goldstein

Any Canadian baseball fan who watched the Expos demise under Loria — and believe me, he literally destroyed the franchise to leave it with zero hope, from letting the stadium deal they had on the books die to cancelling all TV and radio contracts in both English and French — all of us, Jays and Expos fans and just fans of the game, are sitting here laughing. Because we all saw this coming. We all knew what these people are. Loria and Samson are crooks who destroyed baseball in Montreal and they are doing the same thing in Miami. And just wait until that stadium deal really gets investigated. If Loria doesn’t get jail time I’ll be shocked.

“But unlike when Wayne Huizenga did it in 1998 and 2004″

Loria owned the team in 2004. Loria owned the team when they won in 2003.

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Hey I just got charged $2.99 on Dec. 1st to renew my MLB at Bat app. You got to be kidding me, what baseball am I watching now? This is a perfect example of a poorly run sport trying to rip off their true fans. It isn’t exactly easy to contact them either (view the at bat site, no contact link). Some suit decided that they could get away with xx amount of dollars before the tax year end. MLB is screwing their fans, screw you MLB.

For the love of god, if you are Keith Olbermann, PLEASE. look up facebook’s “Keith Olbermann fan page” They represent themselves as you, with a big fan base, even though there is a disclaimer initially saying it is not you. The comments made and represented as you are NOT COMPLIMENTARY to you.

KO is an A HOLE

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What a mook.

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