Wayne Huizenga, South Florida Sports Icon and Entrepreneur, Dies and Leaves a Mixed Legacy

Wayne Huizenga with his wife Marti (right), who died in January 2017.
Wayne Huizenga with his wife Marti (right), who died in January 2017. State Archives of Florida / Roy Erickson
H. Wayne Huizenga, the man who brought both hockey and baseball to South Florida — and who made three Fortune 500 companies — is dead of cancer at 80.

Huizenga once dreamed of bringing a giant sports complex to West Miami-Dade that would house all of the teams he owned — the Marlins, Panthers, and Dolphins. 

His Marlins won a world championship just five years after forming. He became the first of three owners to have a fire sale in which all the great Marlins players were sold for cheap. That was 1998. Jeffrey Loria, who did further damage to baseball in South Florida, also sold off players more than once. Loria was worse: He hustled taxpayers for a stadium and left the team in such a hole that new owners including Yankees great Derek Jeter were forced to sell off players again.

In the corporate world more than in baseball, Huizenga had a huge affect. His millions were largely earned at Waste Management Inc., a company about which Greenpeace wrote in 1991: "To create an empire, the company has mixed business acumen and foresight with strong doses of deception, corruption, and monopolism." The San Diego District Attorney's Office seconded this impression in a 1992 report that reviewed WMI's history of environmental problems and alleged public corruption — including everything from bribery to death threats. (Waste Management, of course, denied those reports.)

At his death, Huizenga will be lionized as one of the men who made South Florida — particularly Fort Lauderdale. And he should be. But both his gifts to this community and his history are a mixed bag. That should not be forgotten in all of the paeans to his greatness.

New Times writer Steve Almond, in a 1994 unauthorized biography of Huizenga, described the business magnate thusly: "A college dropout and the product of a broken home, [he] rose to become the King Midas of South Florida. His formula for success? A dash of hard work and perseverance, and a lot of hitting below the belt."

Huizenga's business career began in the early 1960s when he beat up a competitor named Millwood and twisted his testicles, according to a lawsuit. Millwood won $1,000 in damages, according to Almond's story. After forming Waste Management, Huizenga built Blockbuster, a video rental business that became the dominant member of its community. The growth was extraordinary. In 1989, the Wall Street brokerage house Bear Stearns issued a report alleging Blockbuster's growth was "due to dubious merger accounting" and other ploys intended to artificially inflate the company's net worth.

Later, Huizenga left Blockbuster and moved to AutoNation. His family members became some of South Florida's most important citizens, and he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. He also gave millions to Nova Southeastern University, whose business school bears his name.

Fort Lauderdale is filled with monuments to Huizenga, whose wife died last year, and it should be. But we shouldn't forget that the man who gave us so much was also a shark. That, perhaps, says a lot about South Florida.
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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse