LOS ANGELES – This weekend’s series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Miami Marlins matches last-place teams that took wildly divergent routes to the cellar.
New Dodgers ownership splurged for a star-studded roster and the highest payroll in baseball – a $230 million collection of talent that has produced the worst record in the National League West. And yet the Dodgers, despite a 13-21 record before Saturday’s game, lead the major leagues in attendance.
Meanwhile, after loading up on high-priced free agents to attract fans to his team’s new ballpark in 2012, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria gutted his roster by season’s end. The starless Marlins were 11-25 record prior to Saturday’s game, the worst record in the National League.
“New ballpark, new players, spent a lot of money and we just didn’t play well,” Larry Beinfest, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations, said this week. “It didn’t look like it was going to turn around so we made some tough decisions.”
The backlash in Miami has been predictable.
Marlins fans, irate at Loria, have stayed away from $634 million Marlins Park, which reportedly will cost taxpayers $2 billion over the next 40 years.
After drawing 2.2 million fans last season, the Marlins have averaged fewer than 19,000 a game, last in the N.L. Sales of season tickets reportedly dropped from 12,000 to 5,000. On Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported that the upper bowl of the stadium would be closed for some weeknight games.
Requests to interview Loria and team President David Samson, Loria’s stepson, for this story were declined through a representative of a public relations company.
As he watched players stretch before a game this week against the Padres in San Diego, Beinfest acknowledged the criticism that has been heaped upon the franchise.
“We understand some of the disdain right now,” he said.
During their inaugural season in 1993, the Florida Marlins drew 3 million fans to Joe Robbie Stadium. Before last season, they had eclipsed the 2 million mark only one other time – and that was 16 years ago. In 1997, a team led by manager Jim Leyland drew 2.4 million fans en route to winning the World Series.
The Marlins ranked last in the league in 2011, but hopes nevertheless were high for a team that changed its affiliation from Florida to Miami for the 2012 season.
With its retractable-roof, air-conditioned stadium set to open, the Marlins went on a spending spree, bringing in manager Ozzie Guillen and high-priced free agents such as shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.
But the Marlins stumbled on and off the field almost from the start. On the field, the Marlins failed to win consistently. In late July, the purge began: Pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante were traded to Detroit for prospects. A few days later, shortstop Hanley Ramirez was shipped to the Dodgers in a four-player deal.
The Marlins finished 69-93.
The housecleaning continued in late October, the Marlins trading Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A few days after Bell was traded, Guillen was fired. The team completed its salary dump in November, sending Reyes, Buehrle, pitcher Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and utility player Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for seven players, including four prospects.
Former Gonzaga University star Mike Redmond, the sixth Marlins manager in four years, played on the 1998 Marlins team that lost 108 games and was member of the 2003 World Series champions.
“All of that prepared me for this,” he said this week.
His relationship with ownership, he said, is good.
“I’ve had conversations with Jeffrey,” he said. “I mean, he’ll call me and sometimes we talk about baseball stuff, sometimes we don’t. Everything’s great.”