In baseball it's 3 strikes and you're out. Fans of the Miami Marlins must be wishing it was so easy to get billionaire Jeff Loria out.
The long-time owner of the Miami Marlins has been embroiled in scandal for years, but it's his latest move of suing 9 of his own fans, that has the baseball owners up in arms.
To fully understand just why local newspapers call Loria "The worst owner in professional sports" you have to start at the beginning - with a $2 billion defrauding of the tax payers.
Way back in 2010, Loria and his team's president David Samson, approached Miami-Dade county with plans to build a new, state-of-the-art stadium in Little Havana. The gorgeous property was to cost a whopping $645 million and be funded, in part, by the people of Miami-Dade county.
Samson asked for money to be ponied up by the government. He claimed that the baseball team barely broke even, and needed help to compete with bigger markets like New York, Boston and Texas.
Mayor Carlos Alvarez agreed, and signed the contract, despite stiff opposition. The city agreed to finance 75% of the cost of the stadium, meaning the team only chipped in about $155 million. The contract also stated that all cash generated from ticket sales, concession sales and naming rights went to the team, and the team alone.
Alvarez pushed through the deal without having a referendum, meaning the people of Miami were on the hook without having a say. The mayor was eventually ousted in the largest ever recall of a local politician, with 88% voting for him to be removed from office.
Financial experts say the deal cost the city about $2.4 billion in lost revenue.
But that's not the worst of it.
The deal was bad enough, but remember how the team said it was barely breaking even? Well that's not actually true. Major League Baseball is a huge business, and they have procedures in place to help spread the money around to smaller markets.
Teams share multi-million dollar TV contracts and licensing money evenly. There's also a "luxury tax" for when big spenders (like the Yankees) go over the salary cap. This money is supposed to be used to help pay for top caliber players to play in small markets.
In 2010 the online magazine Deadspin revealed the truth about the Marlins. Loria and Samson had been pocketing the money supposed to be earned from these revenue sharing mechanisms, for the team, and not spending it on players.
It gets worse.
Before they pitched for a new stadium the Marlins went on a spending spree. Signing big name players they began to show the city and their fans that the Marlins were going to take a run at the World Series. After cashing in on the Stadium contract the Marlins made an appeal to fans. Sign up for season's tickets and watch your team compete with the best. The fans were promised free parking, unlimited food buffets before and after the game.
Thousands signed up, paying for the next season and promising, on paper, to buy tickets again for following seasons. This practice wasn't unique to Miami, but what happened after certainly was.
The team traded all their star players, and their hefty salaries, for peanuts. They slashed their payroll with the moves, and plummeted in the standings. They also revoked the parking and food privileges for season ticket holders.
As the team fell to the bottom of the standings, fans stopped showing up to games. Many season ticket holders refused to renew, despite their promises.
That's when Loria went too far.
As we mentioned, many other baseball teams have fans promise to buy tickets, but when they back out the team lets them. After all, no one wants to sue their own fans right?
Someone does, and that someone is Jeff Loria.
Since 2013 Loria has been suing season ticket holders that signed up for 4 years and backed out after 1 season of baseball.
In once case the team is even trying to seize property owned by a fan that's worth hundreds of thousands more than the money he had promised.
The Marlins owner is suing Kenneth Sack after he paid $32,400 up front for a season's worth of tickets and promised to remain a ticket holder for 3 more seasons. Loria says Sack owes him $97,200 for tickets to games that haven't been played yet. To make it even more laughable the billionaire launched a new lawsuit to take control of a property owned by Sack worth $725,000.
At least 8 other fans have been sued by Loria for the same reasons.
While the fans did technically sign up for several seasons, they say they weren't the first ones to breach the contract. Promised, in writing, to have parking and special entrances, they claim the spots and special zones either disappeared or never materialized in the first place. The gourmet meals promised amounted to tables of cold paninis game after game.
In January Loria actually won the court case against Sack, but it was appealed since Sack's lawyer suffered a heart attack and missed several key hearings. The appeal process is still ongoing.
Loria has put the Marlins up for sale. He's looking for $1.2 billion for a team that is at or neat the bottom of the standings and ticket sales. Part of the reason the team is so valuable is because of the brand new stadium that the tax-payers paid for.
New mayor Carlos Gimenez is angry.
"I would think he'll walk away with $500 million in his pocket," he said. "It sticks in my craw."
Fans may be eager to see Loria gone, but the chances of that are slim. Part of the agreement with the city states that if Loria sells the team before 2018 he'll owe the county of Miami-Dade 5% of the profits, so if he sells next here he'll make millions more.
Call it one last foul ball before baseball fans in Miami can finally move on.