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Marlins’ Fortunes Continue to Sink

November 6, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ More than a month after ending the worst National League season since 1969, the Florida Marlins are still good for a laugh.

The fortunes of the franchise continue to sink, with ownership in limbo and efforts to sell the team deteriorating into a war of words between owner Wayne Huizenga and prospective buyer John Henry.

Huizenga, who transformed the franchise he founded from a World Series champion into a national laughingstock, has had the team on the market for 17 months and says he remains eager to sell.

Henry, weary of Huizenga’s gamesmanship in negotiations, this week declared the deal dead. Henry scheduled a news conference for Saturday, presumably to announce he’s withdrawing his $150 million offer.

But the commodities trader from Boca Raton also released a nine-paragraph statement Friday that left open possibilities.

``If Mr. Huizenga wants to conclude a deal which has been in essence complete for some time now, it will indeed conclude today, finally,″ Henry said in the statement.

On Thursday, Huizenga said a single issue involving television rights fees was holding up the sale, and he still hoped to complete it. But as an alternative, Huizenga proposed turning operations over to a board of directors that would include sports editors and county commissioners.

Guffaws greeted the suggestion.

``Should I start laughing now?″ Broward County Commissioner Norm Abramowitz said Friday. ``I laughed for 20 minutes when I first heard about it.″

That’s a common reaction to baseball’s most beleaguered ballclub.

With the ownership situation unsettled, the marketing plans and player payroll for 1999 have yet to be determined. That makes it difficult to sell tickets or sign free agents, although because of the Marlins’ financial troubles, general manager Dave Dombrowski never figured a high-priced acquisition would be affordable anyway.

``Regardless of who owns the team, we hadn’t planned on pursuing bigger-name free agent players,″ Dombrowski said. ``We’ll wait to see where the market goes, but we’re not going to be involved with the big guys.″

Marlins employees longing for stable ownership were stunned when the latest rift developed this week between multimillionaire Henry and billionaire Huizenga after months of negotiations.

Henry declared the deal dead Wednesday, complaining that Huizenga repeatedly changed the terms after they reached a handshake agreement Sept. 1. Huizenga responded Thursday at a hastily called news conference, where he accused Henry of negotiating with lies to the media.

Now it’s Henry’s move. At this point, the ill will between the two businessman may be insurmountable.

``To the best of my knowledge,″ Henry said in his statement Friday, ``this is the first time in all of my years of business that someone has attacked my integrity.″

Huizenga said he’ll search for another buyer if necessary. If he remains the owner in 1999, he proposes an eight-member board of directors that would run the team as a nonprofit operation and have access to the books. The panel would include three sports editors, three county commissioners, a Huizenga aide and a representative from the Marlins’ flagship radio station.

Even Dombrowski chuckled at the idea.

``I’d better watch what I say,″ he told a reporter. ``You could be my boss.″

Huizenga’s plan may be his way of lashing back at the media. Marlins fans consider him a villain who decimated the 1997 champions, and the once-popular Huizenga blames the media for his tarnished reputation.

``He’s saying, `Listen, suckers, if you think you can do so good, put your money where your mouth is,‴ Abramowitz said with a chuckle.

Marlins fans can only grin and bear it.

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