Jeffrey Loria: Fish Out of Water

By: Jacob Walters

How bad of an owner do you have to be to tank not one, but TWO franchises, one franchise to the point of relocation to the nation’s capital? Adding insult to injury, a top closer, Kenley Jensen, turns down more cash offered from your ballclub to re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Taking two franchises and destroying them is only part of former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria’s legacy.

Born in Manhattan on November 20, 1940, before Loria sabotaged the Miami Marlins and gave them a hotel-like logo, he was the owner of the Montreal Expos. Initially, Loria owned a 24% stake in the Expos in 1999 for $18 million CAD (approximately $12 million USD) and was the managing general partner. This wasn’t his first attempt at buying the franchise; Loria tried to buy the Expos in 1991, but Charles Bronfman balked at Loria wanting a controlling interest in the team. Eventually, Loria headed a group involving the city of Montreal and Bronfman’s son, Stephen, to buy the team.

Loria has tried numerous times to replace the then-Expos home, Olympic Stadium, stating “We cannot stay here”. He tried to get more public funding for a downtown park, Labatt Park (admittedly, that does sound like a cool name for a park), which was balked at by the provincial and municipal governments. Premier Lucien Bouchard gave his take, saying that he couldn’t support using public funds to build ballparks when Quebec was being forced to shut down hospitals. Loria was also in bad graces with Expo fans when the Expos failed to reach an agreement for television and English-speaking radio coverage during the 2000 season.

In 2002, Loria sold the Expos for $120 million. The Expos eventually relocated to Washington, D.C. to become the Nationals (who won the World Series last year, by the way). During Loria’s tenure, the best year for attendance for the Expos was in 2001, where Montreal pulled in… 926,272 fans for Expos games. In fact, Loria left this team to split home games between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico! Sacre bleu!

So what does Loria do after sabotaging the Expos? He buys the Florida Marlins from John Henry for $120 million, paving the way for Henry to buy the Boston Red Sox. Loria bought the Marlins with the help of a $38.5 million no-interest loan from MLB. This wasn’t without a fight, however. Loria’s partners in the Expos ownership consortium filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against Loria and MLB. Many Montreal baseball fans (and Canadians) felt that Loria had no intent of keeping the Expos in Montreal. In fact, when Loria announced the team’s new name and stadium on Remembrance Day (the Canadian equivalent of Veterans day), Richard Griffin wrote a scathing article, ripping Loria. He wrote: “It’s ironic that Loria and the Marlins held their celebration in Miami on Remembrance Day because there’s a generation of fans north of the border that will never forget how Loria’s actions led to the Expos leaving town.

Loria in Miami was the mirror image of his Montreal regime. Sure, the Marlins won the World Series in 2003. But that was behind the brilliant ownership of John Henry beforehand, who went on to win four World Series titles with the Red Sox. Of course, only 1,303,215 got to witness the Marlins’ magical 2003 season. In fact, the Marlins have had their total attendance climb over two million once (2012 with 2,219,444). That year saw the Marlins change their name to the Miami Marlins, go 69-93, finish dead last in the NL East, AND trade players like Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes to the Toronto Blue Jays a season after acquiring them. Ironically, Loria said the Marlins didn’t ‘sell out the facility as imagined’ despite attendance numbers the highest during his regime.

Loria’s fire sale didn’t inspire much confidence with Miami citizens over his desire to win. As a result of the 2012 Blue Jays trade, the Marlins faced numerous boycotts and threats during the 2013 season from politicians, sportswriters, and residents alike. The Marlins have had five winning seasons (out of six in franchise history) from 2003 to 2017. Even after the Marlins won the World Series in 2003, high-priced players were sold off to usher in a rebuild. To add insult to injury, Loria’s Marlins have finished dead last in payroll four times. But at least you signed your big star to a massive deal, right? That star, Giancarlo Stanton was soon traded to the Yankees.

As with the stadium debacle in Montreal, Loria pulled the same shtick in Miami. Loria’s Marlins Park got $500 million in public bonds from Miami-Dade County. Eventually, that cost will balloon to $2.4 billion (via Deadspin), with the public paying the bill. Miami-Dade also doesn’t have the option of paying those bonds back early, something Miami wishes it had. That sucks, especially when the public is picking up 70% of the tab during rough economic times. All Miami got was an amusement park-like eyesore in center field!

Merciless meddling has been Loria’s trademark. In April 2013, Loria violated clubhouse protocol by having Ricky Nolasco and Jose Fernandez switch games of a doubleheader. That same season, Tino Martinez resigned as hitting coach over allegations of verbal and physical assault towards players. One of those was Chris Valaika, who was going to be promoted to the majors with Placido Polanco going on the disabled list. Guess who vetoed that move? Mr. Loria himself.

There are plenty of other reasons why Loria is the worst sports owner. After all, he nearly sold the team to Jared Kushner and appointed Ambassador to France (again, sacre bleu!) by President Donald Trump. But if corruption, greed, and a selfish persona isn’t enough of a reason to deem Loria the worst, I don’t know what is.

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