In a coup for the "truth is stranger than fiction" tag, an investment group led by former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush has reportedly won the bidding to buy the Miami Marlins at a cost of $1.3 billion, beating out competing offers by at least two other family members of Republican presidents or presidential nominees: a Tom Glavine–Tagg Romney group and a Kushner family bid that stalled in February.
But while being a professional athlete and having rich family members is a good way to get rich yourself, neither Jeter nor Bush likely has $1.3 billion lying around to spend on a baseball team, particularly considering how much of Jeter’s salary over the years allegedly was spent on gift baskets. Jeter and Bush are in reality merely the public faces of a larger investment group in which Bush will reportedly serve as the designated control person and in which Jeter will play a public role.
Athletes owning pro sports teams can either be very good (Mario Lemieux rescued the Penguins from bankruptcy and the team has won two Stanley Cups since) or very bad (the less said about Michael Jordan as an owner, the better). Jeb Bush’s brother, former president George W. Bush, was a minority owner of the Texas Rangers from 1989 to 1998 and the team’s managing partner from 1989 to 1994, during which time the Rangers were fine, I guess. (George H.W. Bush is an Astros fan.)
Those mixed results aside, Jeter and Bush can’t be worse than the outgoing Jeffrey Loria, whose name has become synonymous with sleaze and corruption in sports circles after he was a key figure in the Expos’ departure from Montreal and then tore down the Marlins’ 2003 World Series team, soaked Miami-Dade County taxpayers for a half-billion-dollar ballpark that will cost more than twice that in the long run, and since then made a single half-hearted attempt to contend in 2012 — an attempt that he abandoned after only one season.
Eighteen years ago, Loria bought 24 percent of the Expos for $12 million, and over the next three years bought more and more shares, bringing his total stake in the club to 94 percent. In 2002, Marlins owner John Henry sold the Marlins to Loria for $158.5 million and put together an investment group that to this day owns the Boston Red Sox. As part of the deal, Loria sold the Expos back to MLB for $120 million, plus a no-interest loan of $38.5 million, the difference in value between the Expos and Marlins.
Assuming the price of the Expos stayed constant between 1999 and 2002, 94 percent of the club would’ve cost Loria a total of $47 million, which we’ll round up to an even $50 million to be generous, and take into account inflation and how an asset like a ballclub, even one in crisis, appreciates in value over time. That means that Loria is now selling the Marlins for 26 times what he paid for a controlling stake in the Expos, having sucked the city and franchise dry, leaving behind a backmarker big league club with the worst farm system in baseball. Meanwhile, MLB is suppressing amateur signing bonuses across the board and writing veteran big league free agents out of the game in the name of cost savings. So odious was Loria that his replacement by the billionth New York retiree to move to South Florida and the fourth-most successful politician in the Bush family is being greeted with hosannas. A smarter society would look at these circumstances and correct them, rather than blaming Loria for exploiting it so successfully.
But the free market, such as it is, continues on the longest winning streak in baseball history, much to the peril of its opponents: players, fans, and the public at large.