Go Marlins!

Wayne Huizenga can't seem to dispose of his baseball team -- so New Times stepped up to the plate

To the reporters gathered before him, Wayne Huizenga appeared to be not so much a billionaire sports mogul as a man shouldering an enormous burden. Head bowed, palms upturned in a sort of half-shrug, Huizenga announced that his Florida Marlins were for sale. The ball club will lose $30 million this year, Huizenga asserted, and in good conscience he couldn't continue to subsidize the team. "When it comes to the Marlins," he added in a meek mea culpa, "we have not been good businessmen."

Perhaps shaky math skills are to blame. Huizenga apparently forgot to factor into his calculations the lucrative benefits of broadcasting Marlins games on SportsChannel Florida, of which he owns 70 percent. And even though the team pays two million dollars in rent each year, Huizenga himself receives those dollars as the owner of Pro Player Stadium.

Sort of like robbing Wayne to pay, well, Wayne.
Those who've heard Huizenga's sob stories before -- remember the one about his Florida Panthers hockey team losing a million dollars a month? -- can't help but wonder if this is just another feint. After all, the Panthers ploy won Huizenga a new ice palace in swingin' Sunrise. Might he now be dome-shopping? Does he have visions of Pro Player Stadium as the world's largest no-haggle used-car lot? Or does he simply refuse to own a team that no longer wears those cool teal caps?

Whatever the motive, Huizenga announced at his June press conference that he wants the team to stay in South Florida. But his civic-mindedness is not shared by his monied local brethren, who have shown a decided reluctance to buy a team that's purportedly venting $30 million a year. The only homey to voice ownership interest is Marlins president Don Smiley, a man privy to the team's supposedly crimson bottom line. With Smiley reportedly many, many dollars shy of the team's estimated $135 million purchase price, it seems that if Wayne really wants to sell, he's going to have to find an outsider. Huizenga's platitudes to the contrary, that will most likely mean moving the Marlins to a new locale.

As Wayne has said he wants no part of any municipal matchmaking games, we at New Times decided to play for him. Unsolicited -- and at absolutely no expense to his impoverished team -- we formed a group called the Marlins Relocation Search Committee with the sole aim of hooking up a team desperate for competent ownership with a city burning to erect a Jumbotron.

On official Search Committee stationery (with matching envelopes!), we sent letters to the mayors of 100 cities across North America. Cities such as Joliet, Illinois; Spokane, Washington; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Wilmington, Delaware; even Waco, Texas.

When the mayors opened their certified letters, this is what they saw: "The Florida Marlins baseball team is for sale. We have been empowered to gauge interest in the team's relocation. Preliminary demographic data indicates that [your city] can support a Major League Baseball franchise. Obviously, further research is necessary. And we need your help. Please tell us why your city and/or region would be the ideal home for the Marlins. Written responses are preferred, and promptness is requested. Due to the sensitive nature of this search, please do not alert your local media at this time."

We braced ourselves for the inevitable rejection letters -- after all, if Huizenga can't turn a profit, who can? But luckily for us, a major league sports team is what well-dressed cities are wearing these days. In the past three years, a half-dozen major pro franchises have moved to fashionable new towns. Bidding for these clubs, which carry with them the all-important "big league" label, has become a sport unto itself.

A mere two days after we sent out the letters, our answering machine lit up with a message. "Hello, this is Mayor Cianci, C-I-A-N-C-I, from Providence," a voice announced. "I'd like to talk to someone from the Relocation Search Committee."

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Jr., is the kind of politician South Floridians would not only appreciate but probably vote for as well. Although the chain-smoking and toupeed mayor stands only five feet seven inches tall, he is a charismatic titan. First elected in 1974, his administration has been racked by political scandals and allegations of corruption. Cianci himself was indicted, convicted, and forced to resign from office for extinguishing a lighted cigarette in the eye of a man he believed was sleeping with his estranged wife.

After his five-year suspended prison sentence expired, a humbled Cianci won back the mayor's office in 1991. One reason for his popularity is his tireless push to raise Providence's image, especially as it compares to Boston, which lies less than an hour's drive away. Our letter evidently probed a deep-seated inferiority nerve: When we returned Cianci's phone messages (he called twice), he did everything but offer to purchase the Marlins himself.

MAYOR CIANCI: Basically, we are interested. Very interested. Would you like us to come down there and make a presentation in person, or do you want us to send you a packet with all the good news about Providence? However you want to do this, that's fine with me.

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