Marlins will explore relocation

Marlins will explore relocation

MIAMI -- A little more than two years after celebrating the second World Series championship in franchise history, the Florida Marlins' future in South Florida is very much in jeopardy.

The club has been set back financially by several unsuccessful bids to secure a new stadium, and on Tuesday, team president David Samson formally announced that the franchise has requested and received permission from Major League Baseball to explore relocation.

"Baseball is no longer assured of staying in [South] Florida," Samson said.

Samson said the Commissioner's office fully understood and expected the Marlins' request.

"We've worked with three different ownership groups in an effort to get a stadium in South Florida," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's president and COO. "The Marlins have won two world championships, it's time for them to get a stadium done."

"There are no more deadlines," Samson said. "No more fake deadlines. No more real deadlines. This is about the Florida Marlins trying to save its franchise. We need a place to play after 2010, and we don't have one. Right now, the earliest [the team can be] opening a stadium is 2010. So we really don't have any wiggle room left. Discussions will begin in earnest."

Speaking on behalf of team owner Jeffrey Loria, who is returning from a trip to Europe, Samson did not rule out the Marlins completing a stadium deal with Miami-Dade County in a location near its current home, Dolphins Stadium.

Samson added that Loria will not sell the club, even though some in Miami have shown interest in buying the team.

"Jeffrey will never sell this franchise -- ever," Samson said. "He will not sell it to any other local owners because he is the local owner of this franchise. Jeffrey Loria is our biggest season-ticket holder. Jeffrey Loria is our biggest sponsor. He's our biggest supporter with the checks he's written for this franchise."

As of now, the Marlins are entertaining calls from other markets. Samson didn't mention any specific cities or areas, but he noted that the places that expressed interest when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington are likely candidates.

Las Vegas, northern New Jersey, Portland, Ore., Monterrey, Mexico, and Northern Virginia are likely choices.

"There are a lot of places that want us," Samson said. "They are lining up."

Stadium issues have plagued the Marlins since their inaugural season in 1993. The organization has had three owners, all of whom made pushes for a baseball-only facility.

In their comparatively short MLB tenure, the Marlins have called Dolphins Stadium, primarily a football facility, their only home. The stadium is controlled by Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga, who was the original Marlins owner.

Huizenga put together a World Series championship club in 1997 but then sold the team to John Henry, who is currently an owner of the Boston Red Sox.

Loria, formerly the owner of the Montreal Expos, purchased the Marlins in February 2002. Inheriting a spacious stadium in muggy and rainy South Florida, the Marlins became an improbable success story by winning the 2003 World Series.

The Marlins had hoped that the support and enthusiasm created by their second title would engender the political and public support to finalize funding for a 38,000-seat retractable-roof stadium next to the Orange Bowl in Miami.

"We've been very disappointed with the apparent unwillingness of the community to get a stadium," DuPuy said. "Our goal is to have baseball thrive in South Florida. We believe the community can support a team. The time has come to get some finality in the process."

After working several years with Miami-Dade County and City of Miami officials, Marlins officials have declared that the Orange Bowl project is now dead.

"The World Series helped our process along, and it maybe even expedited it a bit," Samson said. "But winning the World Series alone was not going to cure what ailed the Florida Marlins."

A crushing blow to the Orange Bowl site came in May, when the Florida Legislature rejected a $60 million sales tax rebate that would have completed the project.

"We were very close, and the state of Florida decided that they wanted to go in a different direction," Samson said. "It was really that simple. It was a story told here many times before, under previous owners. That's what elected officials do. They make decisions for the voters."

Even after that major setback, the Marlins kept negotiating with Miami officials to bridge the gap. Recently, there was friction between the team and city officials, and Samson maintains that the Marlins will not negotiate with the city.

The door is open with Miami-Dade County officials, though. The Marlins' most realistic option in South Florida is working out a deal with Huizenga and the county to put a retractable-roof stadium close to Dolphins Stadium.

DuPuy noted that South Florida can still save the franchise, but it is time for some resolution.

"The team hasn't packed up," he said. "This is another step in the process."

Samson said the Marlins had been willing to commit $212 million -- plus overrun costs -- toward the $385 million Orange Bowl project.

With roughly a $73 million gap, what went wrong?

Samson says that as of October, city of Miami officials believed the Marlins didn't have the funds to cover their end. Samson notes that if the team failed to meet its obligation, the team was ready to sign a lien that would have allowed the city of Miami to assume ownership in case of defaulted payments.

"For the record, we were prepared to contribute the fourth largest financial commitment by a baseball team for a new baseball-only facility," Loria said in a letter presented to the media and read by Samson. "This contribution would have been through up-front payments and annual rent.

"Unfortunately, here we are, four years after purchasing the Marlins, with no new stadium and no sure prospects on the horizon for such a facility."

The Marlins have a lease with Dolphins Stadium through 2007.

"The Marlins cannot compete at the Major League level without a new facility," DuPuy said. "They have one of the wost leases in the league."

The Marlins' entire deal with Dolphins Stadium runs out after the 2010 season.

"I will tell you now, unequivocally, that we will not sign an extension, even if it is offered, to continue to play in this building," Samson said. "We simply must play in a baseball-only stadium."

Samson insists that a retractable roof is essential because of the extreme heat and unpredictable rain patterns in South Florida.

The team contends that the uncomfortable conditions are a big reason the club ranked 28 out of 30 teams in home attendance despite the team's three straight winning seasons, including a championship season.

"Jeffrey Loria spent over $12 million in developing a stadium -- drawings, designs, working on the financing," Samson said. "A huge commitment before a penny of public money had been spent. It became clear sometime in October that the City of Miami had no intention of doing a deal with the Florida Marlins. Their politicians made a similar choice. This was a little more difficult for me to understand, because we had gone far down the line.

"The elected and appointed officials decided that they didn't like ownership; they didn't think we didn't have money. They just decided to go in a different direction. We are very pragmatic. That's their decision. We respect it. All decisions have consequences that all of us have in our everyday lives. There will be no deal with the City of Miami."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.