Looking at the headline to this column, you might have thought it was about a new rock band. (Not to worry, I’ll never write about rock — it gives me a rash.) But, no. I just want TAS readers to be aware that the sports press is reporting that Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has agreed in principle (leaving aside the interest for the moment) to sell his team to an ownership group headed up by Jeb! Bush and including retired Yankee great Derek Jeter.
This partly explains why tickets to Major League baseball games cost so damn much, when retired shortstops have enough money to become owners, even part owners, of baseball teams. I didn’t count all the zeros in the gaudy contracts Jeter signed with the Yankees while he was a player. But there were a lot of them. The home-sweet-home he built in Tampa is so big his kitchen and his living room are in separate zip codes. It can be seen with the naked eye from the closer planets. Those attempting to walk from one end of chez Jeter to the other are advised to pack a lunch. But I digress…
I don’t recall my fellow Floridian, the ever-wonkish Jeb!, evincing any interest in baseball until now. His taste has always run more to eye-glazing education philosophy and disingenuous reasons why the United States doesn’t need a southern border, or at least shouldn’t inconvenience those attempting to cross it one way north. But perhaps he’s always been a secret fan of the Grand Old Game. Or perhaps he’s just upholding a family tradition, his brother George W. having made a packet out of his ownership arrangement with the Texas Rangers before he became president (of the United States).
The Miami Herald reports that if the deal goes through as expected, Bush the Younger will be the team’s “control person” (in some circles called the managing partner), meaning he’ll make all the important decisions. Long-time Jeb! watchers can only speculate what some of these might be. Will he require that stadium announcers announce only in Spanish? If Ichiro (the Sultan of Slap) stays, he may have to learn a third language.
Loria, 76, has owned the team since 2002. And save for that magic year of 2003, when the Fish bested the Yankees in six games in the World Series, it has not done well in National League standings or in attendance. This even though the team liberated a ton of Miami-Dade tax dollars to build a new ball yard opened in 2012. Jurisdictions being hounded by owners of their local Major League franchise for a new ball yard, which is mostly every jurisdiction that has a Major League franchise, can learn from what happened, and didn’t happen, in Miami. Even with a new ball yard, Marlins attendance continues to be among the lowest in Major League Baseball. Most years, only that other Florida team, the woebegone Rays of Tampa Bay, manages to attract fewer paying customers than the Marlins. To add to the team’s financial woes, the Marlins have the puniest local television contract in MLB. It’s hard to tell if Jeb! sees this new venture as a sound investment or a hobby.
Over these lean Loria years, the team hasn’t done well on the field. The team hasn’t made it to the playoffs in 13 years. Only the Seattle Mariners have gone longer without playing October baseball. This year the Marlins have an interesting mix of on-field talent, and are so far playing above .500. But they will have a tough time staying with the talent-loaded Washington Nationals, the smart money in the National League East this season (and most other seasons).
It’s not a certainty yet that Jeb! will become the head Fish. The money guys on all sides have to be satisfied. Major League Baseball has to sign on, and of course Columba will have to give her approval. Jeb! is probably well-advised, should his group succeed, not to be too buttinsky in his leadership style. His manifest public skill has been in boring audiences rigid rather than in evaluating player talent and potential. He should probably listen to Derek, not to mention to Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who know more than just a little bit about the game. They might help Jeb! avoid making too many bush decisions.