Updated at: 11/14/2012 7:35 PM
By TIM DAHLBERG
People in Miami had begun to wise up about the time their new baseball stadium was being completed and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wanted them to shell out $10,980 for some wine so he and his buddies could celebrate.
That wasn’t all. The team also wanted taxpayers to buy office furniture, drapes and even fabric for pillow covers before public officials decided they had already spent enough.
By then, of course, it was too late. The stadium was ready and they were on the hook for about 80 percent of the $634 million it cost to build.
Imagine what fools they must feel like now.
They’ve got their barely used stadium, complete with a $2 million psychedelic home run thingy and fish swimming behind home plate. Some may even find it attractive in a baseball- meets-tropical-lounge-show sort of way.
Unfortunately, there’s no longer a real major league team to put in it.
Barring some sort of action by baseball commissioner Bud Selig _ not likely _ the Marlins will ship what is left of the team Loria trotted out on opening day to the Toronto Blue Jays. His thank you to the citizens of Miami-Dade County ended with a salary dump that would be stunning if only the Marlins weren’t so practiced in the art of dumping salary.
No more Jose Reyes or Josh Johnson. Bye-bye Mark Buehrle. They cost money, serious money that Loria would rather keep stuffed inside his deep pockets.
Think of it this way: The $150 million Loria will save with the trade could pay off his share of the new ballpark, with money left over.
If only the people of South Florida could be so lucky; they’ll be stuck paying the other $500 million for years.
They’re outraged, and they’re not alone. Giancarlo Stanton still works for cheap so he remains a Marlin, but the budding superstar knows a fire sale when he sees one.
"Alright, I’m (mad)!!! Plain & Simple," he tweeted shortly after the news broke.
No one can blame Loria for trying to tweak the team of underachievers he assembled last winter with a goal of making a big splash in the new ballpark. During the course of one offseason he brought in a new manager, nearly doubled the team’s payroll and trotted out new uniforms.
On opening day he even hired Muhammad Ali to take a victory lap around the field in a golf cart with him.
"We have a glorious new ballpark, and we want to be good," Loria declared. "We want to win."
The words sure sounded good. The new Marlins looked good, too, until about the time manager Ozzie Guillen praised Fidel Castro and things started going downhill fast.
They ended up finishing last in their division, but not before Loria sent Hanley Ramirez and some other talent packing. The message then was he was giving up on the season; the message now is even clearer.
"If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going to figure it out for you," Loria told reporters Wednesday in Chicago at baseball’s owner meetings.
It’s nothing new for Loria, who spent the better part of the last decade trying to squeeze a profit out of the Marlins. According to the Miami Herald, the Marlins got more from Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing than the team paid for player salaries for at least two years. At the time, Loria was crying poor while trying to get Miami-Dade to pick up most of the tab for the new ballpark.
Meanwhile, Forbes estimated earlier this year that the Marlins were worth $450 million _ $300 million more than Loria paid for them 10 years ago.
If Selig had anything on his agenda other than making owners as much money as possible, he would step in. That doesn’t mean vetoing the trade, but it does mean taking a stand for baseball fans in Miami.
The Marlins project to have an opening day payroll of about $34 million, barely more than what the New York Yankees will pay Alex Rodriguez next season. It would be their lowest since 2008, and well below the $59.5 million Oakland payroll that was the lowest in the majors last season.
If Selig ordered the Marlins to double that payroll next season, he could say he was acting in the best interests of baseball. That is, ordering Loria to spend enough money to put a competitive team on the field.
It’s the least Selig could do after all the work that went into making sure Loria got his tricked-out new stadium. It would give fans reasons to hope, and reasons to come back.
Then again, maybe Loria has a plan of his own. Maybe he’s going to use the money he’s saving to sign free agent Josh Hamilton, add a few pitchers and make a run for the playoffs.
Maybe this was all some necessary tidying up to get the house in order for some new stars in Miami.
And maybe this time the wine will be on him.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)