Your Box Seat At Private Dinner That Sells County A Ballpark
Written by Michael Lewis on April 12, 2007
By Michael Lewis
News flash: Florida Marlins say they won’t take stadium site county wants them to have at Orange Bowl, must have downtown site commissioners already rejected. Team president says he will persuade commissioners one by one, in private.
Wouldn’t you just love to be inside 13 secret huddles between our Miami-Dade County commissioners and Marlins President David Samson? Can’t you just imagine the discussions, and the promises?
They might sound something like this. Listen…
Commissioner Fulano: "Mr. Samson, thank you for inviting me to this dinner. The caviar was great, the steak and lobster are delicious, and the wine is perfect."
Mr. Samson: "It’s the least we can do for you, my friend. When the stadium is open, we’ll do a lot more for you, believe me."
Fulano: "I don’t want to seem overly curious, but what exactly did you have in mind?"
Samson: "For starters, remember that opening night at the performing-arts center when you didn’t get front-row seats or the best table at the banquet afterwards? Well, that’s not going to happen at the new ballpark. Why, you’ll have front-row seats at all 81 home games every year, as will your children and their children after them. Dinner, of course, will be in the luxury boxes — and that ain’t peanuts and Crackerjack. And you’ll fly on the team plane to all the road games."
Fulano: "Sounds good, but I have to keep my commission seat, you know."
Samson: "No problem. The team doesn’t have the money to make campaign contributions, but I’ll bet our players will remember your campaign each year at contract time. They’ll show up at your fundraisers, too. And we’ll make sure all the stadium workers come from your district alone, so the voters are going to just love you."
Fulano: "OK, but how am I going to explain giving away $80 million in county land and then having to buy other land for the children’s courthouse that was going to go on the site? And what do I tell voters about the half-billion dollars going into ballpark construction when the county has so many pressing needs?"
Samson: "Tell ’em the county already owns the land so it’s really free and the money is all going to come from someone else, like tourists. What do they care?"
Fulano: "But why do you have to have the downtown site? Haven’t you told us over and over that you’d be happy anywhere in the county?"
Samson: "That was then, this is now."
Fulano: "But what if you change your mind again to something we can’t possibly accept? After all, part of your proposal to us is that if a deal falls through for any reason, we have to pay you for everything you’ve spent over the years to persuade us to build you a stadium. That will be millions and millions."
Samson: "How else do you think I’ll have enough money to pay for this dinner?"
Fulano: "If you’re so short of cash, where would the money come from if the stadium overshot budget like the performing-arts center, which came in at triple what we were told? After all, the Marlins will be running construction from beginning to end. There’s no way the county can control spending, so the team is promising to pay any overruns — but where’s the money?"
Samson: "Hey, what do you care? You’ll be at all the games in the front row. Don’t worry about it. If the county has to pay in the end, well, it’s not your money, is it?"
Fulano: "Well, I’m still not sure …"
Samson: "OK, OK. I didn’t tell you everything. I can’t put it in writing or make it public now, of course, but once the whole commission approves the deal, we plan to name the new ballpark Fulano Stadium."
Fulano: "You’ve got my vote, my friend. It’s been a fine dinner indeed. Now, here’s the waiter with the bill."
Samson: "I’m a little short. Can you pick this one up?"