Good-bye, cubs. Good-bye, inevitably, Red Sox. And for Fox, good-bye easy, feel-good World Series story line. So the network has tried casting Jeffrey Loria as the beneficent New York art dealer turned savior of major-league baseball in South Florida.
Too bad the notion draws derisive hoots from people who’ve tangled with the secretive, tempestuous 62-year-old. “When we see glowing things about Loria, a lot of us are ready to throw up,” says a veteran New York private art dealer. Baseball associates are equally scalding. In 1989, Loria, with former Yankees great Bobby Murcer as the local-boy front man, bought the minor-league Oklahoma City 89ers. Loria eventually stopped speaking to Murcer. His former partners in the Montreal Expos are suing Loria for fraud. As Florida Marlins owner, he’s tried to save money by slashing the fish mascot’s salary in half.
Loria comes by his baseball passion honestly enough: He was an All-City second-baseman at Stuyvesant. After graduating from Yale, Loria worked for Sears, acquiring original paintings and drawings that were then resold as the Vincent Price Collection. Though he’s never opened a gallery, Loria became a man of wealth and taste by dealing Henry Moore sculptures and backing the painter Larry Rivers.
“Jeffrey is a genuinely nice person,” one former business associate says. “But he struggles with the fact that he’s not given as much respect in life as he feels he deserves. Baseball is his stage.” A Yankees-season-ticket holder for more than twenty years, Loria once had an intermediary deliver a bid for minority ownership to George Steinbrenner. The Boss said no thanks.
When the Yankees first visited Loria’s Expos, the new owner quizzed TV operatives about the best place to sit for the cameras. Two years ago, through a series of baroque transactions, Loria swapped ownership of the Expos for control of the woebegone Marlins. This time, the cameras are finally seeking out Jeffrey Loria.