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Jeffrey H. Loria
- School Yale University
Loria owned the Oklahoma City 89ers from 1989 to 1993. An art dealer based in New York City, he was close to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who supported his plans to enter the ranks of baseball owners. He lost out on a bid for the Baltimore Orioles in 1994, but bought a 24 percent stake in the Montreal Expos in December, 1999. Originally quite popular with the locals, he quickly turned just about everyone against him when he torpedoed well-advanced plans to build a new ballpark in downtown Montreal, QC, rescinded broadcasting contracts because he considered that they were not lucrative enough, making the team invisible in the local media, and forced questionable trades on his baseball staff. For example, he acquired pitcher Hideki Irabu from the Yankees for three top prospects, and then lobbied for the signing of free agent Graeme Lloyd, who turned out to be injured and unable to pitch at all in his first season. He also forced the firing of manager Felipe Alou in 2001 and his replacement by his friend, Jeff Torborg. He eventually ended up with 94 percent of the team shares after maneuvers that included cash calls and other moves to dilute his co-owners' stake. The other partners launched a lawsuit against him under a statute normally used for organized crime prosecutions, but were unable to convince judges to award damages, even though documents produced in court clearly indicated that they had been misled and manipulated by Loria.
After the 2001 season, Commissioner Bud Selig proposed to contract the Expos, as well as the Minnesota Twins, with Loria set to receive a financial windfall in exchange. The plan was stopped by a lawsuit started by local authorities in Minnesota. Thwarted in his original plan, Loria instead sold the Expos to the other Major League Baseball owners as part of a deal to purchase the Florida Marlins from John Henry for $158.5 million.
The move to Florida was in effect a stripping down of all of the Expos' valuable assets, including the major league team's coaching staff, its well-respected scouting department, and even its spring training facility in Jupiter, FL. The Expos were left as wards of MLB with a shell organization, and would take a decade to recover from the rape. In Miami, Loria presided over a team that won a completely unexpected World Series after catching fire when they got rid of manager Torborg, who was ironically a Loria protégé, in the middle of the 2003 season. In another sad irony, they were neck-and-neck with the Expos for the wild card spot heading into September, but MLB prevented the Expos from making any moves to strengthen the team for the stretch drive, and the Marlins pulled away easily from their out-manned rivals. The Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series with many fans holding their noses as the two principal owners - Loria and Steinbrenner - were behind many of the uglier shenanigans that had tarnished MLB over the previous decade.
After the World Series title, Loria did spend a bit of money over the next couple of seasons, signing some free agents such as 1B Carlos Delgado, but the team did not return to the postseason. Loria by then was busy negotiating with Miami authorities on the construction of a new ballpark in downtown Miami. He succeeded in extracting a huge financial commitment towards new digs, and began dismantling the Championship team in 2005, in what was the second great Marlins fire sale, after the one that had followed the team's first Championship in 1997. The Marlins did receive some talent in the various trades they pulled, most notably SS Hanley Ramirez, and under rookie manager Joe Girardi exceeded expectations in 2006, showing promise that they would soon again be competitive. However, Girardi clashed with Loria and resigned after the season, starting an unending merry-go-round of managers. The team stalled around .500 for a few years, but seemed in position to take a huge step forward in 2012, the season they became known as the Miami Marlins and moved into state-of-the-art Marlins Park. There was finally some positive buzz around the team. Loria hired former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to be his skipper, and splurged on free agents, signing Ps Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell and SS Jose Reyes to huge contracts. They started the season well, although Guillen quickly lost favor with a large part of the fan base by praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an interview. But soon, the Marlins began to fall in the standings, ending up in last place; recriminations came from all corners, including between Guillen and Bell and Guillen and Loria. A number of veteran players were traded away, starting with Ramirez, and another thorough house-cleaning followed the season.
In what quickly became known as the third great Marlins fire sale, Loria in turn fired Guillen to replace him with rookie manager Mike Redmond, traded away Bell, and then in one fell swoop, sent five veterans to the Toronto Blue Jays in a single trade, including Reyes and Buehrle, ace P Josh Johnson, and C John Buck, an earlier free agent signing. The Marlins were left with a roster full of unknown quantities, and a fan base feeling swindled and bitter once again. Realizing he may be facing a season of empty seats in his new ballpark, Loria took out a full-page add in several south Florida newspapers in late February, but his attempt to build back bridges was not too successful, as he spent most of the 809-word announcement berating the media, fans and players for their negative attitude towards his moves. Attendance at the team's mid-winter fan fest was abysmal, as were advance ticket sales for the season, while everyone was predicting a season of pain and gnashing of teeth for the young team. Indeed the Marlins lost 100 games in 2013, but improved significantly in 2014. In his typical hot-and-cold management style, Loria decided that it was time again to invest in players, and he signed star OF Giancarlo Stanton, whom everyone had been expected to be traded for prospects as soon as he became too expensive, to a huge long-term contract before the 2015 season, making him the centerpiece of the team for the foreseeable future. He also gave GM Dan Jennings the latitude to make some trades and sign some players in order to surround Stanton with a better crew, and as a result a group of solid major league players including 2B Dee Gordon, 3B Martin Prado, P Mat Latos and an aging Ichiro Suzuki joined the Marlins that season. However, when the team started the year poorly, Loria stepped over Jennings' head on May 17th to order the firing of manager Redmond and bench coach Rob Leary. He then made another head-scratching move when he appointed Jennings, with no managerial or coaching experience at any professional level, as the team's new field manager. Jennings was not up to the additional responsibilities and was in turn fired at the end of the season. Loria then worked his Yankees connections again to bring in Don Mattingly as his team's new manager for 2016, a move that, for once was welcomed by fans and observers. However, that season ended in tragedy with the death of emerging superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident in late September.
Loria's shenanigans surrounding the construction of Marlins Park soured relations with state of Florida legislators to the breaking point. He was widely accused of having swindled the state for millions towards the cost of the ballpark while failing to hold his end of the deal - investing over the long term to build a competitive ball club. As a result, the state was now unwilling to be any of assistance in resolving the ballpark issues of Florida's other major league team, the Tampa Bay Rays, as they did not want the state's taxpayers to be taken for a ride again.
In early 2017, news stories began circulating that Loria was looking to sell the Marlins and had lined up a potential New York-based buyer. The rumored sales price was a whopping $1.6 billion - quite a return on his original $12 million investment in the Montreal Expos, or the $158 million he spent to buy the Marlins in 2002. The presumed buyer was a group including Joshua Kushner, brother of President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and their father, real estate mogul Charles Kushner. Loria himself was close to the new president, having had business contacts with him for three decades. Loria was in fact rumored to be a candidate for the job of United States Ambassador to France. Both of these rumors proved unfounded, as the proposed purchase fell apart. On August 11th, however, the Miami Herald reported that a deal had been struck with a group headed by New York businessman Bruce Sherman to purchase the team for $1.2 billion; the group also included two very well-known figures from the sporting world, Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan. The sale was approved by major league owners on September 27th, pending finalization of the sale in the next few days. Thus ended the reign of probably the most controversial owner in the major leagues since the days of Charlie O. Finley.
Loria's nephew David Samson was later Marlins President after holding a top front office position with the Expos.
- Danny Gallagher: "Loria lost interest early" in Remembering the Montreal Expos, Scoop Press, Toronto, ON, 2005, pp. 237-240.
- Barry Jackson: "Loria agrees to sell Miami Marlins to Sherman and Jeter, source says", The Miami Herald, August 11, 2017. 
- A.J. Perez: "Marlins mum on potential sale, but suitors lurk - including Trump connection", USA Today Sports, February 9, 2017. 
- Steven Wine: "Loria has preliminary agreement to sell Marlins", Associated Press, February 9, 2017. 
|John Henry||Jeffrey Loria