The Mercy Rule

Miami Blues

By David Roth

It’s natural and logical, if also often a bummer, that the owners of American sports teams reflect the cities in which those teams play. Where English Premier League soccer is the province of the global elite—multibillionaires who only take a break from arbitrage/oligarching/hunting white tigers to fly to some bleak British city and dourly watch their teams play to a tie in the rain—American sports teams get the owners they more or less deserve. This means the Los Angeles Clippers get the poisonous orange chardonnay-and-Cialis cocktail that is Donald Sterling, and the Pittsburgh Steelers get the mostly menschy, throwback Rooney family. New York, big, multitudes-containing city that it is, can support baseball teams run by both steak-mouthed new-money crass-buckets like the Steinbrenners and doofy, doomed, sentimental local losers like the Wilpons. The Miami (née Florida) Marlins, quite appropriately, get Jeffrey Loria, a relentlessly avaricious and self-congratulatory former art dealer who is both the most obnoxious owner in pro sports and the ideal owner for a Major League Baseball team in Miami. In a city that’s best defined by either Pitbull farting beefily into a strip-club banquette or a coke-eyed Russian billionaire’s kid screaming unbidden profanities at a Haitian valet, Loria somehow manages to unite this city’s diverse, multi-layered loathsomenesses.

In some ways, the Miami Marlins are Florida—overleveraged, overbuilt, and cruising blithely towards foreclosure while being ruled by a clownish, childish, tone-deaf, permanent cadre of special-needs elites. Less metaphorically, they’re a fucking bummer. As an organization, the Marlins have made a habit of building and buying terrific big league rosters, and then tearing them down completely once they’ve won a championship. This is not necessarily an appealing thing to watch, and it hasn’t helped build a fan base in a city whose population is already generally more inclined to sit in some an air-conditioned lounge (named Couch or the Ribbondale or FUKK) full of sunglasses-clad Bruno Mars impersonators and wan models than go to a baseball game.

After gulling the city of Miami and state of Florida to pick up nearly $500 million in construction costs for the team’s gaudy pastel stadium—brashly eminent-domain’ed into the middle of Miami’s Little Havana—and then bragging about ripping off taxpayers to an assembly of local elites, the Marlins appeared to be in buy mode, spending $191 million on three pretty decent players in the 2011 offseason. But after a few rough months to open this year's campaign, the team began its latest teardown, trading nearly every trade-able player for cheaper, generally less competent replacements. On Tuesday night, when the Marlins dealt two of their three best hitters, and two best starting pitchers, to the Toronto Blue Jays for a passel of prospects and humps, they completed it. The prospects, though heralded, were not all of Toronto’s best; the humps include a knuckleheaded shortstop who got in trouble last year for wearing eye black patches that had the words “You are a faggot” written on them in ungrammatical Spanish, and a guy who’s considered  by some to be the worst player in baseball.

No fantasy baseball commissioner would allow such a trade to become official, but baseball’s real commissioner, Bud Selig, will almost certainly sign off on it sometime soon. This will be a drag for a bunch of reasons, only a few of them having to do with baseball. The response to the trade—numerous baseball commentators calling it a disgrace, The Nation’s Dave Zirin arguing for it as grounds for Loria’s arrest, Grantland’s Jonah Keri making with the weary slow-clap—was telling in its unanimity, though. Loria’s most recent fire sale was so unmistakably predatory, unconscionable, craven, and small that literally no one missed it.

It’s easy, and not really wrong, to note how unsurprising it is that all this is happening in Florida. This is the state with insurance fraud and narcotics as its top industries, the state that takes a month to count its votes every election and still doesn’t necessarily get it right, the state literally governed by a man who, as a CEO, received the largest fine the government has ever handed down for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. There’s no better place for a team owner to so proudly and publicly flout the longstanding social compact between team and community—which is nothing more than the basic idea that, in exchange for fans’ devotion and dollars, team owners will try their level best to give those fans something fun to watch.

That compact is not doing so well at the moment, as sports fans have maybe noticed during the recent spate of lockouts caused by brazen Rand-tard executive power plays. If the idea that sports plutocrats owe anything at all to the communities that support them is indeed on the way out, there’s no better or more appropriate place for it to spend its sad last moments than Miami. The weather’s nice, at least.

@David_J_Roth

Previously - Chris Berman Will Decide Our Nation's Fate

Comments