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Thursday, February 16, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Jeffrey Loria may be selling the Miami Marlins.


According to a report in Forbes, Loria — who reportedly is in line for an ambassadorship to France — has a deal to sell the franchise to a group that includes relatives of President Donald Trump for $1.6 billion.


AUDIO: Sports broadcaster Warner Wolf with Thom Loverro


That’s a pretty good return on the $12 million he used to get into the Major League Baseball owner’s club when he bought into the beleaguered Montreal Expos in 1999.

That was a cheaper admission ticket than the $173 million he nearly spent in 1993 to become owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

Loria went head-to-head with a lawyer named Peter Angelos in a hot Manhattan courtroom in August 1993 in a bidding war for the Orioles franchise, on the block as a result of the bankruptcy of owner Eli Jacobs.

Loria was a New York art dealer who owned the Class AAA Oklahoma City franchise (which he sold for a record $8 million for a minor league club at the time). Angelos had joined with Bill DeWitt (now owner of the St. Louis Cardinals), who initially, along with Larry Lucchino (who would go on to own the Boston Red Sox), had a deal to buy the Baltimore franchise for $140 million before the asset wound up in bankruptcy court.

Every time Angelos bid, Loria would come back and raise the stakes — 16 rounds of bidding. Finally, after Loria came in at $173 million — a record amount at the time for a baseball team — Angelos answered with $174 million, and Loria dropped out (the price was later adjusted to $173 million because Angelos was given a $1 million credit for legal work in drawing up the contract).

Loria resurfaced again in 1999 as the savior for the Expos. But he wound up the villain in Montreal, accused by fellow owners and investors of running what was left of the franchise into the ground.

That set the stage for the historic three franchise swap in 2002 that laid the groundwork for baseball’s return to Washington.

Loria’s fellow Major League Baseball owners purchased the Expos from him for $120 million. Loria, in turn, bought the Florida Marlins for $158 million, which allowed Marlins owner John Henry to join a group with Lucchino, the former Orioles president who had a deal in place in buy the Baltimore team, and former San Diego Padres owner Tom Werner, to buy the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and the team’s regional network for $700 million.

Major League Baseball would then move the Expos to Washington for the 2005 season and the next year sell the franchise to the Lerner family for $450 million.

So Jeffrey Loria’s resume as Marlins owner is connected to the history of baseball in both Baltimore and Washington. Fans in both towns should likely be grateful that he never wound up in either town, although Orioles fans might wonder if they had been better off with Loria than Angelos.

Neither one would likely be a popular choice, but at least Loria won a World Series with the Marlins 10 years later in 2003.

Yahoo Sports ran a column recently with the headline, “The glorious exit of Jeffrey Loria, the worst owner in sports,” which detailed how he systematically wrecked the Expos to relocate them and also how he misled and held up South Florida government officials for the $515 million ballpark that opened in 2012.

Needless to say, Loria is not well-liked.

I had a very different conversation with him one year after the Orioles bidding war.

He shared a story about the death of his sister and her husband in a plane crash eight months after the courtroom battle.

“It’s been a very difficult time for me,” Loria told me. “It has hurt me deeply. Perhaps not acquiring the Orioles turned out to be a good thing for me, because I would not have been able to give the club my attention, with what happened this spring,” he said. “They [his sister and her husband] left three boys behind, and the care for them has been a major weight on my shoulders.”

Loria recalled the courtroom battle. “It was an emotional experience,” he said. “At the time, it was the accumulation of all sorts of hopes and work that I had put forth.”

He also said he was ready to make another run at a major league franchise. “If something presents itself, I’d be interested in looking at it,” Loria said. “It’s in my blood now, and it won’t go away.”

At the time, Loria said he would like to own a franchise in the Northeast, and even mentioned Washington as an outside possibility “if there were a way to do it. They need to build a facility there.”

He also speculated on getting another shot at the Orioles. “There are a lot of baseball teams, and people do change their minds,” he said. “Who knows, Peter may decide he wants to sell the team.”

As we know, that didn’t happen, but Loria did get another shot. It may have been in his blood, but a lot of blood was spilled along the way, from Montreal to Miami. Fortunately for area baseball fans, none of it was in Baltimore or Washington.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.


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