Tens of thousands of baseball fans, officials, and journalists have arrived in Miami today for one reason: to see the worst owner in professional sports for themselves. The internet swelled this weekend with think pieces about garbage can Jeffrey Loria — and that was before his walking frat-boy smirk of a team president, David Samson, rudely disinvited the mayor from an event yesterday.
So how could Loria further embarrass Major League Baseball before the All-Star Game tomorrow? Well, here's a hell of a good way: by taking a fan to court to try to seize his property.
That's exactly what the Miami Marlins owner is doing, according to court records obtained by New Times. Loria's team is suing a fan named Kenneth Sack in Broward County to take a $725,000 building he owns in Oakland Park — all as part of the same ugly dispute that has led the team to sue at least nine season ticketholders and luxury-suite owners since 2003.
It's almost unheard-of for professional sports teams to sue their own fans. Going even further to ask a judge to seize a fan's property is the sort of supremely petty move that only Loria's regime could cook up.
"I don't understand why Major League Baseball continues to allow Jeffrey Loria to behave like this," says Daniel Rose, an attorney representing another former season ticketholder locked in a legal battle with the team. "At the end of the day, what is the motive to go after fans like this? It just shows their greed and a complete lack of respect for their fan base."
The Marlins' rash of lawsuits against their own fans stems from season ticket packages sold in 2012 for the first year of the team's new Little Havana stadium (whose building was a ridiculously terrible deal that will cost taxpayers $2 billion and led to the county mayor being recalled). The team asked fans to sign contracts for three or four years' worth of season tickets, sweetened with promises like pre- and postgame buffets and private parking.
But many longtime fans say that when the team tanked on the field and attendance sagged during that inaugural season in Marlins Park, the Fish reneged on those promises. The parking spaces and private entrances disappeared, and the buffet was stocked with crappy panini night after night, they say.
"I didn't want my money back or anything, but I said, 'Please give me back the stuff you promised,'" longtime fan Mickey Axelband told New Times last year. "The answer I got back was basically, 'Yeah, we know we took it all away, but tough shit.'"
Many fans like Axelband and Sack decided not to honor their written commitment to buy more season tickets. Across professional sports, fans often decide to walk away from long-term season-ticket promises — nearly every other team decides not to endure the public-relations nightmare of waging legal fights against the fans who support their club (not to mention the taxpayers who built the stadium).
But the Marlins aren't an ordinary team. And Loria has repeatedly made it clear that he couldn't care less what his team's fans think about him. So beginning in 2013, the Marlins began suing anyone who walked away after the first round of season tickets.
Like Axelband, Sack signed a four-year contract for season tickets in 2012 at $16,200 per ticket for a total price of $129,6000. Sack, who lives in Colorado but has a home in Palm Beach, paid the full $32,400 for the first season but then wanted to walk away. The team sued him in December 2014 for the remaining $97,200.
Sack argued the team had failed to live up to its side of the bargain. The "Marlins failed to honor its commitments," his attorney said in a November 2015 filing. (Neither Sack nor his attorney returned messages from New Times to comment on this story.)
In January, the team won a judgment against Sack for the full $97,200, but his attorney appealed because the lawyer had missed key hearings and filings after suffering a heart attack and spending months in the hospital. That civil case remains open.
But in the meantime, the team has used that judgment to try to nab a building owned by Sack. On March 12, the Marlins initiated a foreclosure proceeding for a commercial building Sack owns in Oakland Park, arguing that they can seize the property to fulfill the $97,200 he owes them; they ask the judge to appoint a receiver so they can begin collecting rent from the location. (Oddly, county property appraisers say the building at 5090 N. Dixie Hwy. is actually worth $725,000.)
Kenneth Chase, the D.C.-based attorney representing the Marlins in the lawsuits, declined to comment for this story. A spokesperson for the Marlins didn't immediately respond to a message from New Times.
It bears repeating, as MLB turns its eyes to Little Havana for tonight's Home Run Derby and tomorrow's All-Star Game, that the city has utterly rejected Loria and his team. Despite the gorgeous new home park, the Fish are dead last in attendance in the National League. As of this morning, more than 1,000 tickets remain for sale for the All-Star Game.
Loria is deep into negotiations to sell the team, though he will almost certainly wait until after this season ends to sign on the dotted line. Why? This is the final year in which he would have to share 5 percent of the profits with the taxpayers he bilked to get his ballpark.
The Marlins have so deeply ruined the relationship with their fans that it's a fair question whether professional baseball can ever recover in Miami. For now, be warned: Don't sign any contracts with the Fish unless you're ready for them to come after your property if things go sour.
"I'm baffled why Major League Baseball is just sitting back with their heads in the sand while Jeffrey Loria treats his own fans like this," Rose says.
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