The Miami Marlins, typically considered the most miserly and dysfunctional franchise in North American sports, made history on Wednesday, signing star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton to an unprecedented 13-year, $325 million contract extension which rocked the baseball world.
The deal, back-loaded to help Miami add talent in the short term, includes an opt-out clause following the 2019 season, and will ultimately pay Stanton more money than any athlete in the history of professional US sports before it’s expiry in 2027.
“Giancarlo Stanton is a unique player whose natural gifts and talent are unparalleled in this sport,” said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. “Over the past five years, he’s given so much to the Marlins organisation, the city of Miami, and especially to his adoring fans. He’s been committed to our community and we’re excited to return the favour.”
A Manhattan art dealer, Loria purchased the Marlins in 2002, and has since presided over a controversial boom-or-bust culture, with the team bouncing between World Championships and prolonged slumps in the National League cellar, by way of spiteful and impromptu fire sales of prominent players.
In 2003, the Marlins emerged victorious from a pulsating World Series with the New York Yankees, only to see young, talented building blocks, namely Josh Beckett, Derrek Lee, Carl Pavano, Ivan Rodriguez, Brad Penny, and Carlos Delgado, traded or dumped in free agency in the ensuing months. Loria thought prohibitive the cost of maintaining these players during prime years, and, instead, effectively built a revolving door at Sun Life Stadium, with the traditional powerhouses of baseball ever keen to pick the finest apples from the Florida tree.
Somewhat painfully, Marlin fans had seen it all before. Just six years earlier, in 1997, the team’s fourth year in existence, legendary manager Jim Leyland coaxed a world title from a ragtag bunch of scrappers headlined by Kevin Brown, Edgar Renteria, Moises Alou and Gary Sheffield. So jubilant was then-owner Wayne Huizenga, he decided to celebrate by blowing up the entire team over the next year or so.
Star closer Robb Nen was shipped to San Francisco; Alou carted to Houston; ace Brown ferried to San Diego. Soon thereafter, Sheffield was traded to the Dodgers for a package involving Mike Piazza, who, despite hovering on a path towards catching immortality, would play only five games as a Marlin before being dealt to the Mets two months after arrival. For good measure, Huizenga sent World Series hero Renteria to the Cardinals for a moderate return, capping the mother of all fire sales.
In succeeding such a strongly disliked, polarising owner at the Marlins’ helm, one would’ve thought Jeffrey Loria had a strong foundation from which to build, a clear set of guidelines to act as reference. However, with internal meddling, public politicking and a general aversion to consistency, Loria managed to be even more disliked than his predecessor. In fact, many consider him the worst owner currently involved in professional sports.
That reputation came to a head in 2012 when, after again spending big in the hope of attracting large crowds to the newly-built Marlins Park, Loria, ever the capricious chameleon, embarked on yet another fire sale, perhaps the most vicious, unwarranted and damaging one yet. Big free agent acquisitions, such as Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle, were traded in the embryonic stages of lengthy contracts; veteran leaders, such as Emilio Bonifacio and Omar Infante, were effectively ditched; and burgeoning stars developed by the Marlins’ exemplary system, such as Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez, were unceremoniously disposed of.
Loria’s latest fire sale left very little talent on the Marlins’ Major League roster, except for one man with a movie star physique and an omnipotent swing.
One man, with two names: Mike Stanton, who had recently changed his name to Giancarlo.
A big kid from California, Stanton made his Major League debut in 2010, hitting long and towering home runs right from the start. He managed 22 in his debut campaign, and is yet to fall below that plateau, launching 34 in 2011, 37 in 2012, 24 in 2013 and, somewhat remarkably in this age of offensive oppression, 37 last year to lead the National League.
Giancarlo has 154 career home runs at the age of 25, and through just 634 career games. He was the tenth youngest player to reach 100 career round-trippers, and the third youngest active player to hit 150, following Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. By comparison, Barry Bonds required 28 years on the planet to reach 150 dingers. Babe Ruth himself was 26 when he launched number 150.
Thus, it becomes clear that Giancarlo Stanton is a once-in-a-generation gift to baseball; a genuine superstar capable of breaking records, inspiring journalistic hyperbole, and making people dream.
Even the Miami Marlins, this bastion of knee-jerk fatalism, deemed him indispensable in the end.
Even Jeffrey Loria, this nihilistic maverick, had no desire to become Harry Frazee, trading away a history-altering building block.
Even Giancarlo Stanton, this even-keeled genius, could not resist acquiescing to the largest monetary commitment ever made by one sports team to one sportsman.
“This is a big day for us,” said the two-time All-Star. “We’re going to start pushing forward here. This is one step to some building blocks we need. We’ve had some bumps in the road, but that’s baseball. It takes time and patience. We’re moving in the right direction.”
“This is for the city of Miami, this is for new-found confidence and trust. Starting with me and my teammates and the front office here, we’re all agreed we need a winning environment, a winning city, and this is one building block toward a better future and a new way of life down here in Miami.”
Whether it works remains to be seen. No matter what, the entire world is watching.