Jeffrey Loria – The Real Life Rachel Phelps?
by Asher B. Chancey
October 3, 2006
By now we should all be familiar with the classic baseball movie Major League
For those of you who have not seen the movie, go rent it right now, watch it, and then come back. I’ll wait.
On second thought, let me just sum it up instead: The owner of the Cleveland Indians dies. He leaves the team to his wife, Rachel Phelps, a former stripper. Rachel hates Cleveland, and wants to relocate the team to Miami. She hopes to do this by taking advantage of a clause in the team’s lease which states that if attendance dips below a certain point, she can get out of the lease.
So, Rachel Phelps proceeds to get rid of all the talented players on the team, and hires a manager who is currently working at “Tire World.” She then invites only rookies with no major league experience and old, past-their-prime retreads to spring training. While the plan is initially a smash success, it ultimately backfires. The players learn of her plan, which inspires them to play like all-stars after a miserable start, and in the end they come together to make the playoffs.
Happy ending for everyone, of course, except for Rachel Phelps.
Just a few moments earlier, you may have heard, the Florida Marlins fired Joe Girardi after just one seasons as manager of the club. This move comes as a surprise to no one, as Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and General Manager Larry Beinfest never saw eye to eye with Girardi. Girardi evidently knew that he would be terminated several weeks ago.
Speaking with the press after Girardi's firing became official, Beinfest stated that “Joe is not returning because it was not a good fit . . . We felt that Joe was not able to integrate himself into the inner workings of this organization.” Beinfest was also quoted as saying, that the firing was related to a “breakdown in the way the organization was operating.”
Hmm. Let’s back up a step or two shall we?
As you may recall, this past off-season the Florida Marlins shipped out almost every single one of their regular starters, save Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. After losing manager Jack McKeon, who only two years earlier led the Marlins to their second World Series title in six years, the Marlins traded away or failed to re-sign Juan Pierre, Carlos Delgado, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, Juan Encarnacion, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo, A.J. Burnett, and Todd Jones. In the place of these players, the Marlins spring training roster featured names like Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Miek Jacobs, Josh Willingham, Wes Helms, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Amezaga, Miguel Olivo, Scott Olsen, Ricky Nolasco, Joe Borchard, and Joe Borowski. A bunch of rookies and re-treads. When all was said and done, the Marlins emerged with a 2006 team salary of $15 million, easily the lowest in baseball.
In the place of Jack McKeon, a veteran manager with a couple of Manager of the Year Awards and a World Series title, the Marlins hired Joe Girardi, a newcomer who had never managed before and who had only retired from playing baseball two seasons earlier.
Of course, what the 2006 Florida Marlins did has become part of baseball folklore. Humorously, the Marlins season almost mirrors perfectly the Cleveland Indians season in Major League
. The Marlins got off to a horrendous start, going 11-31 to fall 20 games under .500 by May 21st. Then, things started to click for Girardi’s team - rookies started to play like veterans, re-treads had career years, and the Marlins came all the way back to reach the .500 mark on August 29th at 66-66. The Marlins run was exciting while it lasted. Unlike Major League
’s Cleveland Indians, the Marlins did not make the playoffs. On September 21st, they were 76-77 with nine games to play, but would drop seven of their last nine. Still, what the team accomplished was remarkable. With a 78-84 record, the Marlins won about 30 more games than a lot of people thought they would. The team features no fewer than six legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates. And next year would only appear to be brighter than this one.
So why on earth would Joe Girardi not be part of this bright future? Not only did Joe Girardi go 78-84 with this seemingly terrible team, but after May 21st the team went 68-52. Girardi is the overwhelming favorite for Manager of the Year. Why wouldn’t this performance be good enough to merit his return in 2007? It is puzzling.
It is puzzling indeed, and the missing piece to the puzzle is Jeffrey Loria.
Recall that the Marlins play in Dolphin Stadium. Dolphin Stadium, formerly Pro Player Stadium, formerly Joe Robbie Stadium, has been the home of the Marlins since their inception, and they have been unhappy with it almost from the moment they debuted in 1993. Dolphin Stadium also houses the Miami Dolphins, which makes it one of the last dual purpose baseball-football stadiums in major professional sports. The Marlins’ attendance has never been particularly high despite their two World Championships, and the Marlins have regularly threatened to leave Miami. As recently as May 15th, 2006, the Marlins were seriously attempting to secure plans to move to San Antonio. And 2006 marks the fifth time in six years that the Florida legislature has declined to committ money to the Marlins to build a new stadium, despite the fact that the Marlins' ownership and Dade County have both agreed to pay most of the money needed to finance a new home.
Recall also that Jeffrey Loria has a notorious history with Major League Baseball. Before he owned the Marlins, Loria first became a major league owner with the Montreal Expos. In the early part of this decade, the owner of the Marlins was a man by the name of John W. Henry. Henry still owned the Marlins when the Boston Red Sox were put up for sale. In a move which dirtied the hands of all involved, John W. Henry, Jeffrey Loria, and Major League Baseball connived a deal in which Henry would purchase the Red Sox, while simultaneously selling the Marlins to Loria. Major League Baseball would then buy Loria’s interest in the Expos, and take control of the struggling team. Since this transaction went down in 2001, the Marlins won a World Series in 2003 under Loria, the Red Sox won a World Series in 2004 under Henry, and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals have been fraught with dysfunction and chaos. The transaction between Loria, Henry, and Major League Baseball was so dirty that it became the subject of an anti-trust lawsuit by the former minority owners of the Expos. The move was bad for the Expos, and it was bad for baseball.
Thus, Jeffrey Loria is no stranger to dirty dealings and manipulation when it comes to his Major League Baseball franchises.
Back to Joe Girardi. All evidence indicates that Girardi’s relationship with Loria and Beinfest began to sour pretty much immediately after he joined the team, and it continued to sour despite the Marlins' remarkable turn around and playoff flirtation. In an on-the-field altercation on August 6th, Loria was jawing at the umpires from the stands when Girardi yelled at Loria from the dugout to cut it out. Evidently, Girardi had been telling his players not to jaw with the umpires, and he didn’t think the message packed the punch if the owner was going to go off on tirades from the stands. That was the day that word got out that Girardi was essentially out of a job.
What Joe Girardi and the Florida Marlins accomplished this season baffles the mind. Sure, the Marlins have a talented stock of rookies. And yes, the players that left the Marlins did not actually fare as well in 2006 as they had in years past. But every year franchises put together rosters with four, five, or even six times the payroll that the Marlins had in 2006 and fare worse than 78-84. Many teams haven’t put together a 68-52 run in years. The Marlins exceeded all feasible expectations this season. Our own Keith Glab may have been the only person in the country who looked at the Marlins roster in the pre-season and liked what he saw, and he only picked the team to go 77-85!
So why is Joe Girardi no longer the manager of the Marlins? It can only be because he failed to meet a different kind of expectation. The kind of expectation created by the likes of Rachel Phelps, and perhaps by the likes of Jeffrey Loria.
Let us consider again the reasons proffered for Girardi’s dismissal:
“Joe is not returning because it was not a good fit.”
“We felt that Joe was not able to integrate himself into the inner workings of this organization.”
The firing was related to a “breakdown in the way the organization was operating.”
I am not sure what, other than winning, makes someone a “good fit” or “integrates” one into the “inner workings” of an organization. I don’t know what going 78-84 with a $15 million dollar payroll does to create a “breakdown” in the way an organization operates.
Unless, of course, Joe Girardi wasn’t a “good fit” with the Marlins plan to draw very few fans and then move the team to San Antonio. Maybe the “inner workings” that Girardi couldn’t integrate himself into involved losing and leaving.
Jeffrey Loria knows all too well how baseball works and, more importantly, he knows what he can get away with. Loria built the 2006 Marlins to lose, and lose big. The Marlins don’t draw fans when they are winning, so Loria figured that a losing Marlins team would drive fans away in droves, and the paltry showing at the gate would be all the leverage he needed to get the Marlins out of Florida. But Joe Girardi and his team of rookies and re-treads had different plans, and the Marlins proved that they could play with anybody.
At the end of Major League
, when the Indians beat the Yankees to go to the playoffs, Rachel Phelps can only stare straight ahead in disbelief as the team she built to lose wins big.
Unfortunately for Joe Girardi, this isn’t Hollywood, and he’s out of a job.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Philadelphia, PA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org