By Andrew Kahn
Derek Jeter could be the next owner of the Miami Marlins. To be successful at the job, he can’t treat the team like a business. He has to care about winning, avoid meddling, and refrain from making decisions that are explicitly financially motivated. In other words, he has to be everything the current Marlins owner isn’t.
Call me naïve, but a baseball team—or any major sports franchise—should not be run like, say, an automotive company or a fast food chain. A wealthy investor looking to turn a profit should buy an automotive company or a fast food chain. Stay the heck away from sports.
While I enjoy my Apple laptop, Nike shoes, and a butter burger from Culver’s, I am not a “fan” of any of these companies. If they put out a bad product, I’ll buy elsewhere. If they went out of business, I wouldn’t shed a tear (well, maybe one for Culver’s; have you had a butter burger?). The same could not be said for the New York Mets. I’m stuck with them, and I care very much about their success. The owner should feel the same way. He or she should treat the team as if running a national park: Money needs to be brought in for certain expenses, but the goal is public enjoyment.
Jeffrey Loria did not understand this. He got the ball rolling on the Expos leaving Montreal—violating the First Commandment of sports ownership: Thou Shalt Not Relocate—so expectations were low for him when he arrived in Miami in 2002. Since then, he’s undermined his general manager by engineering multiple fire sales, fleeced residents out of billions to finance stadiums, and spent sparingly on free agents. The Marlins have made the playoffs just once in Loria’s tenure.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Loria is a big-time art dealer. There is a difference, though, between wheeling and dealing for a personal collection and overseeing the Museum of Modern Art. The former can be done whimsically or for profit; decisions don’t affect anyone but the collector. The latter must be handled with utmost care. To paraphrase Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “With great wealth comes great responsibility.”
The success of a baseball owner can’t be seen on a spreadsheet from the finance department. To be fair, it can’t always be seen in wins and losses, either. An owner can have misplaced ideals and still win a World Series, as Loria proved in 2003. Likewise, an owner can wholeheartedly reinvest in the team and still lose 90 games annually.
Sometimes keeping score is as easy as a groundout to shortstop. Carl Pohlad tried to sell the Twins in 2001 with the assumption the franchise would be contracted. Long before that, Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to help finance his theater productions. These were unequivocally bad owners who deserved the wrath of their fan base. Mets fans do not care for Fred Wilpon, but like former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, it is not overt greed but a simple lack of funds that prevents him from being as successful as he should.
While McCourt was forced out of his position, Wilpon continues to shortchange Mets fans and Loria is selling the Marlins not because of an MLB mandate, but for the tremendous profit. His gain will be an even bigger one for Marlins fans. Every fan deserves an owner who cares about them more than money.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn