If you’ve been checking in with the site this summer, you’ve probably noticed my sheer fascination with the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins started off the season with a staggeringly similar spectacle that WWE’s WrestleMania displayed in Miami during the same week. There were all sorts of newly acquired free agents, a fiery new manager, a lime green outfield wall, some conga dancers, and of course, a brand new ballpark that was funded almost entirely by taxpayer money.
It was a cry for attention, but it really never evolved into anything more. On the field, the Marlins didn’t click until May when they had one of the best months in the history of the franchise. But for a litany of reasons (poor management, a locker room full of enigmas and a front office staff more interested in self image than team image to name a few), the Marlins proceeded to fall off the face of the earth. They now stand 13.5 games back in the NL East.
Miami’s fans lost interest (almost immediately), but the rest of the country didn’t, mostly because we couldn’t. It was a train wreck we couldn’t stop watching and because the Marlins’ front office was so desperate to make a splash, it’s a train wreck that we’ve been able to follow on television in excruciating detail.
Baseball has traditionally had the most conservative clubhouses in all of sports. The Marlins volunteered to put not only their clubhouse, but also their entire front office on display for Showtime’s documentary series “The Franchise.” The team is self-destructing, and there has been a full-time camera crew watching it unfold from every angle.
In the season’s first episode, the Marlins’ front office triangle of owner Jeffrey Loria, president David Samson and baseball operations chief Larry Beinfest have a pow wow and talk day-to-day operations with the same amount of subtly as the old guys in corner of your local diner’s bar. They cover a number of issues during the chat but, perhaps poetically, the two lasting topics of conversation were the Marlins’ inability to sell out their own stadium (their only sellout all year was their opening day festival of awkward) and the apparent audacity that franchise player Hanley Ramirez has to have to ask for a contract extension in what statistically has been his worst season in the majors.
It turns out those two discussion items are not mutually exclusive.
After crowning Ramirez and Jose Reyes the cornerstones of their new look franchise, the Marlins completed a trade that sent Hanley Ramirez and the entire remainder of his contract to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a young starting pitcher, and a minor leaguer. It was the third move in a business week that saw the Marlins drop more than $20 million dollars of salary.
The Marlins are underachieving and the fans aren’t showing up. So, to cover themselves financially, the Marlins’ front office is trashing the team. But what’s more interesting than the Marlins’ struggles themselves is fact that the team on the other end of this deal just finished going through one of the worst financial debacles in baseball history.
Frank McCourt drove the Dodgers so far into the ground last year that Bud Selig took the team away from him in the middle of the season. Fans had no interest in coming to games from the very beginning of the season because McCourt spent the previous offseason dumping salary in order to make payroll. Things changed in Los Angeles the moment that McCourt left, but the proverbial turning of the corner came when new Dodgers’ chairman Mark Walter said the following to the Los Angeles Times last week.
“I’m not trying to save a dollar, I’d rather say we have a great team and maybe spend a little too much.”
One week later, the Dodgers have Hanley Ramirez, who is finally playing for a contending team (this often reinvigorates veteran players in any sport). It’s not just a sign that times are changing, it’s a sign of good management.
Financial success in baseball is not a chicken or egg debate. If you make it clear that you are trying to build a winner, the fans will show up. If you don’t, they won’t. It’s that simple. No one cares what your franchise looks like behind the scenes, no one cares about your tropical home run mosaic thing and no one cares about front office people. In fact, they only care about front office people when front office people get in the way, and that’s the wrong kind of caring to hope to obtain.
Baseball teams go through cycles like this, but the approach that Marlins’ ownership has taken leads me to believe that this turnaround will take a little longer than that of the Dodgers.
Article Written By: Jared Zeidman, Executive Editor, TakeOverTheGame.com
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