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Toxic Jock Syndrome

Jonathan Postal

Hank Goldberg has been called many names throughout his 26-year career hosting talk radio in South Florida: heel, sorehead, jerk, cretin, to cite just a few of the epithets his listeners, rivals, and even some admirers use to describe the 64-year-old radio personality.

But since his early days at WIOD-AM (610) in the late Seventies, where he spent fifteen years before joining rival station WQAM (560) in 1992, South Florida sports fans have come to know Goldberg as simply "The Hammer." It's a moniker dreamed up by fellow talk-show host and sports journalist Joe Zagacki, who was impressed with Goldberg's propensity to lose his temper with callers and wallop them with insults. "I guess it had something to do with my on-air demeanor," Goldberg acknowledged during a recent interview. "I'd just come in when [current CNN host] Larry King left WIOD. Before he left, Larry told me to never suffer the fools. Unless they had something significant to say, he advised me, just get rid of 'em. Well, I didn't have a great bedside manner in getting rid of 'em, so Zagacki started calling me 'The Hammer.' It stuck."

Yet Henry Edward Goldberg offers South Florida sports fans more than tired talk-radio shtick. Yes, he badgers, goads, and provokes his audience, but he's also a brainy journalist who backs up his on-air diatribes with hard facts and a good deal of common sense. That credibility has allowed the Newark, New Jersey native to forge lasting relationships with local sports icons and political power brokers alike, including former Miami Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson and Miami City Manager Joe Arriola. At the same time, Goldberg's not afraid to criticize those in either sector, and he's certainly not necessarily the home team's cheerleader. His talk show doubles as a bully pulpit against arrogance and subterfuge by sports franchise owners. In 1996, for example, he blasted the public referendum that led to the construction of the American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat. Team owner Micky Arison covered the construction costs, but a deal with Miami-Dade County (the land beneath the arena is publicly owned) called for scarce tourism tax dollars to pay for the maintenance and operations of the Triple A. Alex Penelas, who was running to become the county's first executive mayor, capitalized on public outcry against the deal and won the election that October, just a month before the referendum. But behind the scenes, he was negotiating with Arison for a better deal; scant days before the arena vote, he reversed his position and urged voters to back the facility. To this day, Goldberg criticizes Arison for pumping $3.7 million into promoting the confusing ballot question, in which a "no" vote actually approved use of public funds for the new arena. And to this day, he calls Penelas a "lying little weasel" for switching sides.

Then in 1997, Goldberg ran into trouble with the management at WQAM, which broadcasts the Florida Marlins' games. He'd been criticizing then-team owner Wayne Huizenga of misleading the public about the franchise's finances; it got him suspended for two weeks from his 3:00-7:00 p.m. weekday talk show. Nonetheless, when he returned to work, he refused to sign a pledge not to criticize the Marlins or their management.

For the past ten months, Goldberg has come out swinging against efforts by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to build a publicly funded stadium with an estimated price tag of $325 million next door to Miami's Orange Bowl. The Marlins began negotiations with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County during the team's successful World Series run last September. County officials agreed to help the Marlins by contributing -- again -- tourism tax dollars to the construction of a new stadium. The City of Miami agreed to contribute public land and offered two city-owned sites: the Miami Arena in downtown or the Orange Bowl in Little Havana.

Initially the Marlins rejected the Orange Bowl site, but when no other municipality stepped forward to offer public land, Loria and team president David Samson accepted the city's offer. In early May the Marlins, the city, and the county agreed to a deal-in-principle to build the baseball stadium, along with an estimated $32 million parking garage. The city and the county will be contributing $148 million in public land and tourism tax proceeds to the project. The Marlins have pledged $157 million, $127 million of that financed through a county bond that the Marlins will pay back through a long-term lease with the county, which will own the stadium. The bond will be covered by the stadium's future revenues. To cover the balance, the Marlins want to secure a $30 million sales tax break from the state legislature. According to the preliminary deal, the city and the Marlins have also agreed to finance the construction of the garage by issuing a bond financed with the garage's future parking revenues.

 

When the stadium subject comes up on Goldberg's radio show, as it often does, he rattles off the reasons the public should not pay, from the Marlins' perilous financial situation to the team's failure to hire a lobbyist in Tallahassee who could have helped secure its request for a tax break. The latter criticism prompted Samson to call in to Goldberg's show to rebut the charges.

New Times recently asked Goldberg to talk about the proposed stadium, as well as the public financing of professional sports facilities and local sports in general. The interview took place at the popular sports restaurant Shula's Steak 2 in Miami Lakes, where Goldberg had just finished taping a segment for an ESPN Classic channel tribute to the legendary coach. Goldberg has been a fixture with ESPN since 1992, when the cable network hired him as a pro-football reporter on the network's NFL show. If he was weary from a recent trip to Baltimore to cover the Preakness Stakes for ESPN, he didn't show it. He bantered easily, and as usual, minced no words.

New Times: The proposal to build the Florida Marlins a baseball stadium calls for the City of Miami to contribute $28 million through the possible sale of the Miami Arena and Miami-Dade County to contribute $120 million through tourist-related taxes.

The Marlins are supposed to contribute $20 million up front, before construction; $10 million from a ticket surcharge; and pay another $127 million over the life of a 32-year lease with the county, which will own the stadium. The Marlins hope to secure $30 million from the state legislature to make up the shortfall. And that doesn't include the $32 million for the parking garage. On your radio show, you say this is a bad deal for the public. Why?

Hank Goldberg: I know some of the people who are involved in the negotiations pretty well. I talk to them regularly to see what's going on. My contacts at the city, county, and state level have been very skeptical about this deal.

I really believe the reason they've gotten this far is so the Marlins can't say that the city and the county didn't try to help them. I just don't think it's going to get done. One reason is that the deal is based on futures. There's no real money right now. I dare anybody to find me one real cent of money in that deal. The Marlins don't have the money to put up $20 million. The tourist tax money is all based on projections. They don't have state money yet. And I haven't seen a blueprint for the stadium.

To assume you're going to get $30 million from the state to go toward a baseball stadium, when there could be serious needs around the state because of what is going on in the world today, is just something I don't understand. What happens if this latest scare that al Qaeda is planning another attack pans out, and the price of gasoline goes to three dollars a gallon? People aren't going to go anywhere. People are already scared.... And where are the Marlins going to get the $20 million they're supposed to contribute before construction? They're not a moneymaking proposition to start with. By the way, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria still owes Major League Baseball $30 million the league loaned him to get the franchise here. So if they break ground on a baseball stadium, add another $30 million to the tab. That issue never comes up.

If everything else falls into place, and the Marlins don't have the $30 million from the state, Florida Marlins president Dave Samson has said the team could still break ground before spring training begins next year. Is that being realistic, and honest with the public?

How is that going to happen? Who's going to pay for it? You think construction firms are going to take on that job on the Marlins' word? I've been told off the record that even County Manager George Burgess is skeptical that this stadium will happen. I think the city and county have gone through this, quite frankly, just as a drill.

What's your opinion of the Marlins' argument that they need a new stadium where they can have complete control over revenues, so they can afford to field a competitive team like the one that won last year's World Series?

Well, they started the season drawing 30,000 people to games. But have you seen what their attendance has been the last couple of weeks? They're averaging anywhere from 6000 to 12,000 people.

 

What makes them think that anybody is going to go to a stadium at the Orange Bowl 82 times a year? It's one thing to drive in on Saturdays for the University of Miami football games, but this whole stadium deal has been poorly thought out, down to its location. And I also think the Marlins' price estimate is $200 million short of what it's really going to cost to build it. The stadium built for the San Diego Padres came in at $474 million.

The Marlins have pointed to the baseball stadium in Houston, which came in at $360 million, as a model for their plans. But that stadium broke ground in 1998. The cost of construction is much higher than it was then. They can't build a stadium for $325 million in today's marketplace. You can't even buy concrete right now. The whole estimated cost in itself is a scam.

Do you see a future for the Marlins in South Florida?

When I talk about the Marlins' stadium on my show, I sometimes play the audio from the scene in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, when Richard Gere's character is asked, "Why are you here? Why did you enlist?" Gere responds: "Because I have nowhere else to go." That's the Marlins. They have nowhere else to go! Nobody wants them.

But you know what? I do see a future for them in South Florida -- if they had an intelligent plan and wanted to put a stadium in a place where it could work. To me, the most intelligent thing is to build right where they are. There's plenty of land there. It's an ideal location. And "South Florida," that's perfectly phrased. You're talking about South Florida, not just Miami. When you put something in the middle of downtown Miami, you really have eliminated a lot of South Florida.

Joe Robbie [Pro Player] is a very good stadium. But before Robbie [the original owner of the Dolphins and the stadium] started building, he did his homework. The Dolphins organization looked at their individual ticket sales and determined that a huge percentage of their fan base lived north of NE 125th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. It wasn't by accident that [Pro Player] was built where it is. That area is the center of the South Florida population.

Why would you put a business that depends on people from all over the region on the ass end of it? It makes no sense from a marketing standpoint or a strategic business standpoint. If the Marlins were a public company, the stockholders would be going crazy. It's nothing against that area [around the Orange Bowl]. Even the Office Depot Center in west Broward, where the Florida Panthers play -- people from Naples can drive there. It's only an hour and a half ride. They won't do it every day, but they'll do it occasionally.

You have to fill up a baseball stadium 82 times. There's so much that has to be done. But the Marlins went about it badly. Their Tallahassee effort was pathetic. They didn't hire a lobbyist until the last ten days. They went up there the last week, when the session was over. They showed up on a Monday, when all the bills had essentially been put to bed and the legislature had three days to vote on them. The Marlins weren't even going to get on the docket. I don't know if it was a charade or what. Maybe it was just the Marlins' naiveté.

So there are no outstanding offers from other cities to build the Marlins a stadium?

No. The Washington, D.C., area is focused on getting the Montreal Expos. The only other cities mentioned are Portland, Las Vegas -- which is not going to build a baseball stadium out in the desert -- Memphis, there's no stadium there either, or Puerto Rico, but no one can survive down there. There is no place for them to go.

Why can't the Marlins stay where they're at and work out a new lease deal with Wayne Huizenga, the current owner of the Miami Dolphins and Pro Player Stadium?

Well, Wayne wants them out of there, plain and simple. I'd heard that there were some very prominent local people who would consider buying the Marlins and building their own stadium, but I don't think it will happen. If I said the names, you'd recognize them. Ideally you'd bring together someone like Huizenga and his equivalent in Miami-Dade County; hypothetically speaking, let's say, [real estate developer] Armando Codina. Someone who had a passion for baseball, wanted to put money into it, build a stadium, and who could find the right location, the right property through real estate connections.

 

But that won't happen because of the parochialism between the counties in South Florida. And I don't think the Marlins have ever done a study to find out where they have the best chance to succeed. The land around Pro Player is such a logical place to build another stadium because there's so much available terrain out there.

There are so many better locations. But have the Marlins ever done a study to find out who would go to the Orange Bowl? Are people from Palm Beach going to go down there? Are people from Broward going to go down there? What are their chances that people from Little Havana are going to go there? One of the great presumptions is that because baseball is big in Cuba, the Cuban-American population is going to show up to Marlins games. I remember when [former Marlins pitcher and Cuban defector] Livan Hernandez was called up during the Marlins' pennant run in 1997. He pitched one day, and [Cuban-American teammate] Alex Fernandez was pitching the next day. The Marlins had 19,000 people for one game and 20,000 for the other. So excuse me, but where's the passion?

What's the worst local arena/stadium deal involving public funds?

The Office Depot Center in Broward County. At least Micky Arison paid for the construction of the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami. But Broward County will never see a penny out of that arena. The Panthers are doing so poorly, they might even fold.

But Miami-Dade County has more pink elephants. The county still has to pay the upkeep and maintenance for the American Airlines Arena. We still have the Miami Arena downtown, which, by the way, if they sell for $25 million, the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority will still have to repay $35 million in bonds. You also have the Homestead Baseball Complex and the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which are supposed to pay for themselves. There's also the Tennis Center at Crandon Park [site of the NASDAQ-100 Open] in Key Biscayne. That was built with public money, too. We're paying off a lot of public facilities. But I know the Office Depot Center is just a bomb. That was just another bad deal by a star-fucking commission.

Is that a problem in South Florida, star-fucking elected officials?

Well, when the team wins the World Series, they love to parade with the players and say, "This is my team! And I'm going to get them a stadium! Yeah!" And they're the big heroes that day. Alex Penelas is the worst. Penelas and [former Miami Heat president] Jay Cross bamboozled the public during the 1996 referendum to approve the American Airlines Arena. I mean, come on, the ballot language itself was misleading. If you voted no, it meant yes. And if you voted yes, it meant no. Penelas is such a little....

In general, do you think it is good public policy to use taxpayer money to build stadiums and arenas?

No. A stadium can pay for itself within twelve years if it is done right, according to a study I've read. Just take a look at San Francisco's baseball stadium. It pays for itself. It can take itself through naming rights and suite sales.

I think there are some areas you can dip into the public trough. For example, if they can help you with the land, that sort of thing. As far as bricks and mortars are concerned, why should sports franchise owners be treated differently from everybody else? Actually they are different from everyone else in that they pay their employees outrageous money.

I'm always shocked when people call in and think that owning a franchise is an entitlement. I love [Marlins third baseman] Mike Lowell. He's one of my favorite people. And I really root for Mike Lowell. But to use him as a hostage in a stadium situation so they could pay him eight million a year so the Marlins can keep him? Eight million dollars a year for an employee! I understand it's entertainment. But why should taxpayer money go for a business that pays its employees such an outrageous amount of money?

I love A-Rod [New York Yankee third baseman and Miami native Alex Rodriguez], too. I don't begrudge the fact that he's made $200 million in his career. If he can get it, he should do it. But don't come to me if you're the owner of a franchise who's paying Mike Lowell eight million a year and cry poverty. It's such a contradiction if you have an ounce of intelligence.

I had a guy call the show a couple of weeks ago who said he was for public money because he doesn't want to lose the Marlins. That's the whole thrust of it. No one wants to lose the team. I don't want to lose the team, either. I don't want to lose the clothing store I go to. That doesn't mean taxpayer money should keep the guy in business. What's the difference?

 


Goldberg discovered South Florida in the early Fifties, when he'd visit the Yankees' spring training facility in Fort Lauderdale with his father, the late Newark News sports columnist Hy Goldberg. Young Goldberg spent his days cavorting with some of the greatest players to don a Yankee uniform, giants such as Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, but his fondest memories, he said, were of sitting up in the broadcast booth to watch legendary Mel Allen, the "Voice of the New York Yankees," call the plays.

In 1966 Goldberg gave up the hustle of New York City for the laid-back shores of Miami. He'd quit his job as an account executive for an advertising agency and accepted a sales position with local television station WTVJ-4 (now WTVJ-6). Five days into the brutal Miami summer he began to rethink his decision. "It was the middle of June," Goldberg recalls. "It was so hot and humid that I asked myself what the hell I was doing here."

Before long, he soured on the sales job and was ready to head back north when an old friend offered him a job creating campaigns for a fledging advertising firm, plus a new car. "If he hadn't thrown in the car," Goldberg said, "I was outta there."

Even today, Goldberg, who has never married, still dabbles in advertising. He remains a consultant for Miami ad agency Beber Silverstein & Partners, where he once worked full-time, handling accounts for the Miami Herald and Miami-Dade County's tourism council. At Shula's, he addressed the marketing genius, or lack thereof, of the local teams; sports coverage in the Miami Herald; and the late Joe Robbie, original owner of the Miami Dolphins and irascible civic icon.

What sports franchise is doing the best job of creating excitement and maintaining a loyal fan base?

The Heat is number one. They do the best job all around, in terms of marketing. They have some great young players they're building around. Three years down the road, the Heat is the organization I'd like to hang my hat on. I think Pat Riley is doing a great job in the front office. And I used to be one of those people who thought Riley the general manager had failed the coach. But they've done a good job drafting players like Caron Butler and Dwyane Wade, and signing Lamar Odom.

The Marlins have exciting young players, too, like Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera, but something is missing marketing-wise, and I think the fans are afraid to embrace the Marlins. In three years, who knows how many of their players will be back? Their entire pitching staff could all be gone in three years. Everybody is signed to one-year deals, and people don't trust the ownership.

At least Micky Arison isn't afraid to spend money. This year's Heat team really caught everybody's imagination with the playoff run and their eighteen-game unbeaten streak at home. The American Airlines Arena came alive. The Heat can build a great fan base around their young players.

Do you think the local sports media, specifically the Miami Herald, do a good job of covering local sports?

I don't think the Miami Herald does a good job of editing the sports pages. There are so many mistakes in it, mistakes in headlines. I can find one every day. Their day-to-day reporting is pale in comparison to the Sun-Sentinel. But I look at the entire Miami Herald as a declining product. One thing the Herald can still do is cover the big stories. And they still have a few gems, like Martin Merzer.

The Herald is so easy to dump on because its editorial point of view is usually off base. How can the Herald support the baseball stadium deal? They supported the American Airlines Arena deal. They let that boondoggle go through. And why? Because they're right up the street. It enhances the value of their property. How self-interested a thing is that?

I don't think the Miami Herald has been the same since the day Tony Ridder took over Knight-Ridder. When I used to work for Beber Silverstein & Partners, I used to go to editorial meetings to take notes for radio spots I ran about breaking stories. I always loved the newspaper business since my father was a sports columnist. And I loved being in the Herald newsroom. They had great people on the news side. But after Ridder took over, the paper seems to have less emphasis on their news product and more emphasis on doing business.

 

Why is Miami considered a fickle sports town?

I don't know if it's any different from other sports towns. Everybody talks about St. Louis as being a great baseball town, but their baseball stadium doesn't sell out every game unless they field a good team.

To be honest, for a couple of years, the Heat wasn't a good product and it was expensive to go to their games. I don't think people wanted to spend $80 a rattle to see a very lousy team play a very boring style of basketball, which is what the Heat was doing.

The one consistent franchise has been the Miami Dolphins. But we'll see. If the Dolphins don't do well this year, it's going to start hitting them in the pocketbook. When you think about it, Ricky Williams is a big star and a great running back, but if he doesn't have room to run, who do you want to pay to go see play on the Dolphins if they become an 8-8 team?

I used to think this was a lousy sports town because it was fickle and didn't support its teams very well. I've kind of turned around on that a little bit because of the cost to the consumer. They want to see something. And they're entitled to be a little more demanding. I'm not talking about the guy who sits on his ass on a couch. I'm talking about the people who are out there taking their hard-earned money to buy tickets. I think it's more incumbent on professional sports teams to put out a competitive product.

Having said that, I can't explain why the Marlins don't draw. I remember when [Pro Player] opened for baseball in 1993. I was working for WTVJ's Sunday-night sports show, and Wayne Huizenga took us out for a little tour. We stood out by center field and Wayne looked around and said, "Look at this place, you'd never know it was a football stadium." And then Huizenga sells the Marlins [in 1999] to John Henry, who starts referring to Pro Player as a football stadium as an excuse to get the public to build a baseball stadium. Then the media picked up on it and started calling Pro Player a football stadium converted into a baseball stadium.

When Joe Robbie built that stadium he had a vision that a World Series would be played there; he envisioned World Cup in his stadium. He wanted that stadium to serve as a multipurpose facility. For all the knocks Robbie gets, at least he had a vision. To me, Robbie was the Maurice Ferré of local sports. You may have agreed or disagreed with Ferré, but at least he had a vision. Joe was the same way, and his vision for his stadium included football and baseball. Hey, it's been good enough that it's had two World Series and nobody bitched.


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