In 1968, 34 years before he would become the owner of the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, Jeffrey H. Loria published his second book — What's it All About, Charlie Brown? The book is a philosophical look at life through the lens of the Charles Schultz comic strip, which is just too appropriate considering that the businessman and art collector has turned the organization into a cartoon parody of a sports franchise.
Like so many cels featuring Lucy pulling that football away right as Charlie is about to kick it, you have to feel that it's an apt metaphor every time Loria hires a new field manager to guide his baseball team.
In the wake of the team's firing of manager Ozzie Guillen — the team's seventh managerial change since Loria bought the team in 2002 — it must be pointed out that the Marlins and Loria are thoroughly reaping what they've sowed. Guillen's acumen and dedication were thoroughly questionable throughout his year in South Beach, but those were the questionable qualities that the team knowlingly took on when they bought the outspoken former shortstop from the White Sox.
The Marlins' failures — including Guillen, himself — aren't Guillen's, but Loria's.
Over the years, not only did Loria force out World Series-winning manager Jack McKeon (only to welcome him back as an interim in 2011 in Billy Martin-like fashion) but he also fired Joe Girardi after the conclusion of the 2006 season — a campaign for which he won the Manager of the Year award — and Girardi's successor, Fredi Gonzalez, who had won Manager of the Year himself in 2008.
Consider that for a second: In a span of four years, Loria fired not one, but two managers recognized as being at the top of their class. Both Girardi and Gonzalez, of course, have gone on to have successful tenures with the Yankees and Braves, respectively.
Girardi's firing was particularly embarrassing, and it's actually kind of amazing he didn't get canned sooner. During an Aug. 2006 game, Loria was heckling home plate umpire Larry Vanover, who warned the Marlins' field staff. Girardi and his bench coach asked Loria to stop, and the owner's reaction was so angry that he reportedly had to be talked out of immediately firing Girardi.
Gonzalez, too, has had words for Loria, if only after his dismissal. Just last month, Gonzalez made it very clear how he felt about his former boss.
"There's not a manager dead or alive that Jeffrey thinks is good enough," Gonzalez told the Miami Herald. "Not Connie Mack, not anyone. Stick
with someone. Give guys opportunities. But he likes to make changes. As
long as he owns the team, he makes the decisions. In his mind, they're
the right ones."
Whether or not Gonzalez was right to throw himself into the middle of a public spat for no apparent reason is debatable, but his comments speak volumes. Gonzalez's words aren't just the thoughts of one man. At this point, they're thoroughly representative of the public perception of an owner who's viewed as the biggest egomaniac east of Jerry Jones and the most out of touch since Marge Schott.
It's almost never a good idea to engage in pop psychology when analyzing sports, but considering it was Loria's decision alone to erect the eyesore of a "home run feature" that sits in center field of Marlins Park — universally loathed by fans and baseball people alike — it's almost impossible not to. Like Loria, the statue is garish, loud and simply flies in the face of good sense.
In short, almost all of the Marlins' failures — both on the field and as a business — are squarely on Loria. It was his unwavering faith that the team's new ballpark in Little Havana would raise the Marlins' profile and fan experience enough to pay for a boatload of overpriced talent which would vaunt the team back into contention. Neither has turned out to be the case, and Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell have already been jettisoned in what is more or less an admission that the team's strategy flatly didn't work.
Larry Beinfest may retain the title of the team's general manager, but it's clearly Loria actually calling the shots. Whether it be his silly assumption that hiring Guillen would endear the team to the local Hispanic population, or that taking on about $200 million in contracts in a single offseason and raising the 2012 payroll by nearly $70 million was ever a good idea, Loria's ineptitude among Major League Baseball owners is currently unrivaled.
And this, of course, is to say nothing of the fact that, after interest is compounded, Miami-Dade County will be on the hook for about $2.4 billion (yes, billion) to pay for the Marlins' 80 percent publicly-funded stadium — more or less a gallery for Loria's actual art, and a showcase for the parody performance art he's turned his team into. But hey, procuring public funds in a city that has one of the highest poverty rates in the country might be the only slick baseball-related business decision that Loria's ever made — going back to the days when he almost singlehandedly doomed baseball in Montreal.
Like the water jets, psychedlic colors and spinning fish beyond center field at his stadium, Loria is impossible to ignore. And, like that statue, everyone is probably wishing Loria would just go away.
For a man who has made such a project of rebuilding the Marlins franchise, the best move he could possibly make is removing himself from the equation.
Photo via Twitter/@NOTJEFFREYLORIA