Power to the Pudge!

As of press time, the World Series is tied at 1-1. No matter what happens, it's clear the Marlins have had their best year since they won the 1997 World Series. Fans know this phenomenal achievement can mean only one thing: It's time for Marlins management to trade away the team's most talented players for a profit.

This is an unspoken rule but a time-honored tradition. Every time a player has an exceptionally good season, the front office trades him. Their logic is that these top players, as soon as they get the chance, demand ridiculous sums of money to stay with the team. Ergo they must be traded for less-good players who command less money but who will, with luck, develop into very good players -- and then be traded. The profit that accrues from this clubhouse merry-go-round is then placed at the disposal of the team owner, whoever that happens to be at any given time.

Forget for a moment that great players, even though they're expensive, make for winning teams that attract paying crowds to ballparks. That sort of logic simply does not compute for people rich enough to own Major League Baseball franchises -- at least not for those characters who've held the Marlins' reins. From the lovable H. Wayne Huizenga, who began the practice by selling off everyone he could lay his hands on after the '97 World Series championship, to current owner Jeffrey Loria, who kept the tradition alive last year when he traded Cliff Floyd to Montreal and Ryan Dempster to the Reds, spiraling the team into a losing streak, the owners just can't be trusted.

The Marlins' current roster poses a different kind of challenge for the typical tightwad owner. Why? Because the majority of players are on one-year contracts. "It makes them want to play harder," Loria told the press.

Loria squeaked by this year on a measly $52 million payroll. That could leap to $90 million next season if he's willing to pay what it takes to keep the team together. Only Juan Pierre and Jeff Conine are under contract for 2004.

That scraping sound you hear is Loria sharpening his butcher knife.

Note to Dontrelle Willis, Mike Lowell, Ugueth Urbina, Josh Beckett, Pudge Rodriguez, Luis Castillo, Derrek Lee, Brad Penny, Miguel Cabrera, Chad Fox, Juan Encarnacion, Alex Gonzalez, and the rest of the squad: I think I speak for the entire community when I say we don't want to lose you guys.

So it's time to break this dysfunctional cycle. The only way to do that is through direct action. Cut Loria out of the loop. Go directly to the players. Cash money. If the people of Miami-Dade County, the most cynical on the planet when it comes to government and politicians, can vote to raise taxes for improved public transportation -- to the tune of seventeen billion dollars -- then surely we can do something similar for our Marlins.

When it comes to finding ways to make people pay, there's no better model than local government. What we need is a tax mechanism that will create a dedicated income stream from the public to the players, a guaranteed source of funding that a guy like Pudge Rodriguez (at age 32 mature enough to want some security) could count on for years to come. Call it the People's Pudge Fund (PPF).

Money raised from PPF taxes (see below) must not be entrusted to government officials, conniving politicians, or greedy tycoons like Loria. Just as public confidence in the transportation tax was bolstered by an independent board of trustees, so too all PPF funds will be administered by a board created by the people through a countywide vote. (Okay, we'll let Broward in on this one. But forget Palm Beach.) Among an infinite range of possible tax targets are these:

Court-ordered ticket purchases (misdemeanors): Instead of sentencing defendants to community service, misdemeanor and traffic courts would require offenders to buy Marlins tickets in numbers proportionate to the crime -- and actually attend the games. I know the games are sold out now, but just wait. Loria would get none of this income; it would flow directly to the PPF Trust. Assuming a minimum of ten tickets for, say, double parking, and a maximum of a hundred for petty larceny, court records suggest annual estimated revenues of $4.8 million.

Partner with the Miccosukees to build an Indian casino atop the Miami Circle. What says "Honor Thy Ancestors" more than slots? Fifty percent split with the PPF. Preliminary estimates: $30 million per year.

Hummer surcharge: Anyone who lives in the Florida flatlands and thinks it's a good idea to purchase a mile-per-gallon military vehicle designed to conquer mountains probably won't even know there's a special fee attached to their annual auto registration. Make it $2000. Estimated annual revenue: $1.7 million.

Federal asset-seizure participation: With South Florida being the money-laundering capital of the nation, the feds have been in the habit of hauling truckloads of confiscated cash out to the Federal Reserve regional office in Doral and simply burning it. Not anymore. U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez, no doubt eager for some good PR, quickly agreed to donate fifteen percent of all seized cash over the next ten years. What a guy. Revenue estimate: $28.8 million per year.

Hip-hop subsidy: This was Luther Campbell's idea. He says there are plenty of Marlins fans among the growing number of successful hip-hop artists and record labels in Miami. Uncle Luke thinks he can get his pals to set aside two percent of revenue. That may not sound like much, but if Trick Daddy can stay out of jail long enough to finish another CD, chances are good we'll hit Luke's goal: $1.5 million per year.

Ecstasy bulk sales tax: Seems like a difficult one to collect, but I've been assured by a couple of lollipop-sucking, water-chugging Marlins fans who move copious amounts of E each month that it can easily be done at the wholesale level. Come on, South Florida made you guys! Given that approximately one in four Miami-Dade and Broward residents rolls at least ten times a year, the proposed tax (a reasonable 3.5 percent) could bring in enough to keep Miguel Cabrera in town for the next decade. Estimated annual revenues: $4.25 million.

Market-specific fundraisers: Next month an estimated 50,000 activists will be coming to town to peacefully voice their opposition to the creation of a hemispheric trade pact. Most will be from cooler climes and not accustomed to our humid tropical air, especially in November. Preliminary polling by Miami's own Bendixen & Associates indicates they would gladly pay a value-added tax on refreshing water balloons sold by PPF-sanctioned vendors. Assuming a police response worthy of Miami's reputation, revenues could be substantial. Estimate: $250,000.

Let's see, that adds up to $71.3 million. It's no Yankees payroll, but it'll keep us in the ballpark. Go Fish.


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