Dave Hyde: Bush and Jeter sound good – but answers remain before Marlins sale
What’s not to like so far? The Marlins need a respected owner? They’ve got a prospective one with political heft in Jeb Bush. They need an owner with baseball credibility? They got another prospective one with a Hall of Fame aura in Derek Jeter.
They need to close the deal?
That’s what Tuesday was about, as a group headlined by Bush and Jeter agreed in principle to buy the team from Jeffrey Loria and now goes through what a source called a “complete and at times Byzantine process” of approval by Major League Baseball officials.
So there are no hallelujahs, white smoke or certainties just yet. There is only the hope that Bush and Jeter know exactly what they’re stepping into if they buy this franchise. Because, let’s be realistic: All the upbeat talk about them is merely a reflection on the dislike for Loria.
New ownership alone won’t “save” this franchise. It won’t propel it into local relevance. Beyond the cursory honeymoon period, it won’t mean a significant bump in attendance despite all these “fans” promising they’ll be back when Loria leaves.
They said the same when H. Wayne Huizenga sold to John Henry.
And when John Henry sold to Loria.
Now they’ll say the same when Loria sells to Jeb and Jeter (The Jeb-ter? The Jet-jeb? The J.J.’s?).
A change in ownership won’t mean much more in the short term other than a disliked owner is out and, by comparison, owners with respected pasts and blank slates are in. And that’s fine. That’s a step forward. But Beelzebub could buy the Marlins and people would be cheering today.
Here’s the prime question baseball commissioner Rob Manfred needs to answer: Does this ownership group have enough money? Bush and Jeter might be rich by most standards. But they’re not rich like Dolphins owner Steve Ross or Heat owner Micky Arison.
The price tag is a staggering $1.3 billion, according to The Miami Herald. So you hope the unnamed investors in this group have crazy money. Because they’ll need it, considering what they’re inheriting beyond the price tag.
The hefty payroll has nine players guaranteed $95 million for 2018. That’s important, because the last thing the new owners can do is step in and sell off players. The depleted minor league system, too, will take money and years to rebuild.
Loria also recently gave some in the front office long-term deals, a source said, as a manner of thanking them – and making the new owners pay for that thanks either by keeping them or buying them out. Talk about a nice going-away present.
Hopefully, the prospective owners also understand why Loria was so disliked. Because many South Florida fans really don’t understand what’s at the root of it all.
He didn’t win.
It’s that simple. People give other reasons, of course. The lying about losing money (as Deadspin’s leaked documents showed). The pillaging of public money for a stadium (blame Miami-Dade politicians for that). The inability to make good decisions (Ozzie Guillen, Dan Jennings …).
Loria won it all in 2003. But that World Series is a distant memory considering the tsunami of blunders since then. His real problem was he never changed his narrative from a public-swindling loser in the way other sports owners have.
No? Consider Bob Kraft. He once announced he was moving the New England Patriots to Connecticut. He demanded a publicly built stadium. He was denounced and criticized at that time. But Kraft got his stadium in Foxboro, Mass., and won more than anyone after that. He changed the narrative around him.
Buying the Marlins will be met with a honeymoon of happiness in South Florida, if Bush and Jeter in fact close the deal. But the only way to make that feeling stay around is to win.
When he officially leaves, Loria will have delivered three important things to South Florida. The first was the World Series, which showed how big baseball can be here. The second was the stadium, which secured baseball’s future here no matter how much controversy it arrived with.
The third thing Loria will give South Florida is his departure. That’s the track we’re on now. And let’s hope Bush and Jeter understand what’s at work here. Any joy of them arriving isn’t so much a public approval of their standing. It’s more happiness at Loria leaving.