SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
After the Marlins’ salary-dumping trade with Toronto, several politicians who always opposed the deal ranted on local airwaves.
But with the community still outraged, we sought a different perspective last week from the other side: former Miami-Dade County manager George Burgess – who negotiated the stadium deal – and the commissioners who voted for it. They discussed their regrets, the Marlins’ future, and why they never asked for more contractual assurances from the team. Some of their feedback:
### I polled eight of the nine Miami-Dade County commissioners who voted in favor of the new stadium in March 2009; the ninth, Rebeca Sosa, was on a cruise last week. Though all were disappointed and some furious with the payroll-slashing, only two (Javier Souto, Natasha Seijas) said they would have voted against the ballpark if they knew the Marlins would slash payroll to this extent. Another, Audrey Edmonson, said she “may have voted differently.”
That probably would have been enough to kill the stadium, because with all 13 commissioners in attendance, nine “yes” votes were needed to pass several aspects of the deal.
“This ownership group is a disgrace. I regret supporting it,” Souto said, adding he originally voted yes because his constituents in his district like baseball and wanted the ballpark and he thought it would create jobs.
“I told [former Miami-Dade County mayor] Alex Penelas years ago when I met Jeffrey Loria: ‘This guy only cares about the money, not us, not the county, not the people.’ There were so many promises about all the things that would be happening around the stadium, in Little Havana, and I haven’t seen anything.
“This was a convoluted, complicated deal that Burgess concocted and only he understood. He promised us it was the best deal…. Now, we’re close to a total boycott of the team. The best thing that could happen is for this ownership group to get the hell out of here for the good of the community.”
### Burgess, who spent countless hours crafting the deal, insisted in retrospect, there was nothing he would do differently. The Marlins are covering $120 million of the $634 million project, with the county financing $395 million through tourist taxes, and the city paying $119 million for garages.
“People are trying to connect the stadium deal with the [payroll slashing] and one has nothing to do with the other,” Burgess said. “I’m not making a conclusion on a multigenerational investment based on a decision on trading five players. The facility was not built for this owner – it was built for this community. Owners come and go.
“The 70/30 public/private [financing ratio] is comparable to other ballparks. We got a stadium built without any new taxes. This was as good a deal as you were going to get. The product we put there was a gorgeous facility.” Burgess said development around the stadium is “inevitable” but was not going to happen “overnight.”
### Several commissioners said Marlins president David Samson assured them orally that they would field a competitive team. But “competitive” was never defined, one commissioner said.
“We wanted to make sure they had enough revenue to bring in a quality product on the field,” said commissioner Dennis Moss, who voted yes. “That was part of the dialogue, basically promised to citizens.”
So why didn’t the county get this in writing? “You can’t assume payroll at an exact number,” Burgess said. “How are you going to do that for 40 years?”
But why didn’t the county push for the Marlins to assure – in writing – that they would have a payroll between, say, MLB’s 10th and 20th highest payrolls of any previous season?
“We can’t make management decisions for a professional franchise,” Burgess responded. “I’m not sure that would make a lot of sense.”
Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who voted for the stadium, said asking for such an assurance wasn’t realistic because “payroll doesn’t guarantee you a winning season. And I imagine they wouldn’t have guaranteed it.”
### Regrets? Among the commissioners who supported the stadium, Moss said: “We probably needed to be more involved in the negotiations. We should have asked more questions and gotten more details.”
Barbara Jordan, who also voted yes, said: “What I regret is we didn’t have all the information relative to finances. If we did, I certainly would have demanded the Marlins put in more.”
Said Dorrin Rolle: “We made decisions based on erroneous [financial] information. If they wanted our money, we should have insisted to see their records. Or we should have said no…. You come to us for public money and then do this? It’s embarrassing.”
### After the stadium was approved, deadspin.com obtained leaked documents showing the Marlins made $48 million in 2008 and 2009. So why didn’t the county push harder to see the Marlins’ books?
“We pushed hard, and it wasn’t going to happen,” Burgess said. “Private businesses rarely open their books. We were able to figure out everything we needed to know to make a decision. The deadspin.com report did not prove… they were swimming in money.”
Burgess said he strongly believes the Marlins were losing money before that two-year sample size.
### Barreiro called Samson after the trade to seek an explanation. “It definitely concerns me,” Barriero said. “They have an obligation to field a competitive team. “David Samson told me they would have a competitive team.”
Would he still support the stadium if he had it to do over? “I still believe there has to be a substantial amount of public funding for a venue,” he said. “Could we have negotiated $50 million more, or whatever the number is? Monday morning quarterbacking is not my thing.”
### Several would like to see Loria sell the team. “He should because he has not respected the community,” said Seijas, no longer in office. “I have respect for Samson because he stood there and negotiated step by step. Loria showed up once. I don’t think he’s a very nice man. This is a slap in the face to the community.”
### Burgess still believes if the stadium had not been built, “the real likelihood is there would have been contraction or relocation because it wasn’t viable in the other facility.”
He said he doesn’t feel deceived by the Marlins’ cost-cutting. But “as a fan, I don’t like it remotely. I thought it was not a way to build a fan base. If you don’t have a product fans will enjoy, their business will not succeed. They need to do what they need to do to field a quality product and win games. Period.”
### FYI: On the city side, former Mayor Manny Diaz, a strong stadium advocate, declined to comment about his views on the project, in retrospect. Former city manager Pete Hernandez said during negotiations, “there was never any discussion about the product on the field” or payroll. Regrettably.
### Despite his up-and-down play, the Dolphins have told people that keeping impending free agent Jake Long remains a high priority.... Though the Dolphins have made offers to some impending free agents (including Brian Hartline), they oddly have not made one to Randy Starks, a key piece of their defensive line. "Still waiting," he said. "I would like to stay."
### The Dolphins have attempted only 30 passes that have traveled in the air 20 yards or more – in the bottom six of the league and well below many others, such as the Ravens (70), Colts (69) and even the Jets (44). Brian Hartline suggests that must change: “Throwing deep is something I hope we go back to… We’re still in need of a couple more playmakers to step up consistently.”
### An associate of LeBron James said a report about the Lakers pursuing him in 2014, and James possibly being receptive, “came out of left field and no one is taking it seriously. I would be surprised if that happened. He’s happy here.” But a return to Cleveland later in his career isn’t considered out of the question by his associates.
### UM is finalizing a 2013 home football game against Savannah State, which was 1-10 and lost 84-0 to Oklahoma State and 55-0 to FSU. Home games against UF and FAU and a road game at USF are also scheduled. UM is philosophically trying to move toward an easier non-conference schedule.
### UM, which has about 15 scholarships to offer, now has oral commitments from 11 after receiving one Saturday night from Alex Figueroa, a 6-3 linebacker who graduated from a Virginia high school earlier this year but wasn't heavily recruited at the time because of academic problems. He planned to play at Fork Union Prep this season but couldn't because of a torn labrum. He reportedly had no other offers, besides UM, as of last week.
### The Marlins have had conversations with the representation for multi-position players Jeff Keppinger (.325, 9 homers, 40 RBI for Tampa) and Ryan Raburn (.171 last year but .256, 14, 49 for Detroit in 2011). Raburn would be more affordable, and the Marlins are among several teams in the mix. Talks will continue at the winter meetings next week.