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The Miami Meltdown

I am of the opinion that things generally happen for a reason. The bigger the thing, the more likely the reasoning. Today I happened across an article about the Miami Marlins being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for their sweetheart stadium deal with Miami-Dade County. Considering the moves the Marlins were looking to make this offseason and the people they were messing with, the timing of this investigation comes as no surprise to me.

In Los Angeles, Frank McCourt is in the process of selling the Los Angeles Dodgers (possibly to a group headed by Magic Johnson). The scandalous way he ran the team, funnelling millions of dollars of revenue away for his own interests while leaving the club barely able to meet payroll, finally drew attention from the league, but not from the Feds. Baseball has a special layer of exemption that goes beyond their monopoly-exempt status granted by Congress during darker financial times. The same way that police won't step on the field to arrest Ndamukong Suh for stomping on a player, the Feds won't step in to investigate poor financial practices because it expects that Baseball itself is going to handle potential problems, with a greater level of interest, and in a more appropriate manner.

The League has a wide range of powers to investigate and even take control of franchises if it deems that a club has problems that threaten league play. It's like condominiums - you own it, but the association can kick you out if you're a nuisance to the building. The league sent in an army of pencilnecks to set Frank McCourt straight, but there hasn't been the same question of impropriety concerning the Marlins. As far as baseball is concerned this is just business as usual, and considering the Commissioner's historical involvement in the Marlin franchise, federal intervention probably wouldn't be the first choice if there were a problem. If you've been participating in the Book Club you're aware of how Selig has been involved in blackmailing communities into building new stadiums. They don't want attention drawn to that.

But someone sent the Feds in. They didn't come to this decision on their own, they were pushed into this decision from outside forces. The Marlins are not the only sports franchise to ever be the beneficiary of a sweet stadium deal. The article points out that the San Francisco Giants are the only franchise to privately build a new stadium in the last 50 years, the rest have mostly been at taxpayer expense. And the local politics have rarely been unanimous. There are always councilmen and county executives and mayors and governors that roll up their cuffs and wade into the fray with their opinions on how taxpayer money should be spent, and in the end the franchise almost always gets its way, with a new building they didn't pay for.

So having the SEC show up on Miami's doorstep is out of the ordinary. Considering the breach of standard and the consequences to the ballclub for doing so, there are really only two reasons why this would happen now. First, the Marlins could have done something that was egregiously shady for even the stadium financing process, something overt and disgusting and profitable in excess of historical deals. If this were the case I think we would have seen more in the press about it before the SEC stepped in. The SEC is more about practices than crime scenes; if people are threatened the FBI shows up, if everyone is a little too happy then the SEC takes notice. But there isn't anything on the surface that distinguishes this deal from dozens of others, in my opinion.

The second reason is that the timing is exactly what is needed to prevent major stars from committing to playing in Miami. Well, not everyone, of course. I mean, if you're getting offered a free agent contract for three years at good money to play for them, you're not going to turn it down just because some accountant from an agency didn't like how the stadium was built. A contract is a contract, and the investigation might not be done in three years.

But let's say your contract was going to run somewhere from eight to ten years. Maybe you're not just looking for a ton of money, but also thinking about your legacy. Do you want to be the biggest star on a club that is in the press every day for suspected criminal activity?

Yeah, this is starting to sound a little conspiratorial, but you'll forgive me if I question peoples' motives when the money being thrown around starts to exceed $200 million, in addition to the pride involved. I've seen some guts of some public relations plans that have made me question our political process. I know that the right amount of money will buy you a segment on 60 Minutes. And I have a strong suspicion that the SEC didn't just wake up this morning and decide that there might be a financial crime being committed somewhere in Miami-Dade. Someone with enough influence made a phone call, with a promise, and made this happen. Passan is a journalist, and to his credit does not draw the strings together without evidence, but he leaves them there for people to see the possible cause.

And the fallout will be that big names might not land in Miami. In fact, competing offers can be thrown out in some cases because of the turnoff. Pujols is much more likely today to land in Chicago or St. Louis than Miami, and the Cardinals probably don't need to raise their offer now. Reyes might start answering the Mets' phone calls. With a potential suitor out of the running, Fielder might not wait for Pujols to sign. Oswalt & Buehrle could avoid Miami. Beltran and Rollins might look elsewhere.

And the timing is perfect - just before the winter meetings begin. Miami was looking to make a splash, but someone beat them to the punch.

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