Owners apparently cannot stoop too low

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We accept as a matter of quasi-religious orthodoxy around here, as well as of raw geography, that the teams represented by the best owners in sports and the worst owners in sports are separated by exactly two blocks of General Robinson Street.

Without trying to sound quasi-irreligious then, and despite the several metric tons of rhetorical criticism this space has loaded onto the Nuttings through the years, I've never really considered the Pirates' owners the complete antithesis of the Rooneys, nor the worst owners on the map.

They're close.

But worst is most always a subjective place, and there are plenty of high profile failures running professional sports franchises in the soft light of only fitful national scrutiny, failures who have gone far below the Nutting standard of general incompetence -- Michael Jordan comes to mind with those Charlotte Bobcats, Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals, James Dolan of the New York Knicks and Rangers, among others.

As it happens, the race to the bottom of feckless and even shameless ownership got a jolt of disgusting clarity this past week from South Florida, where the Miami Marlins filled a good-sized private jet with high-salaried stars and pointed it toward Canada, expecting not much more than a bucket of live bait in return.

Off to Toronto are pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck, effective multi-purpose man Emilio Bonafacio, and $181 million in financial liability.

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud "Bud" Selig was still reviewing the deal at the weekend but was expecting it to go through, probably because he has so rarely done anything but bend over backwards for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, going back to the days when Loria was doing his diabolical best to dismantle a once-proud Montreal Expos franchise.

The Marlins, of course, have done this kind of thing before, in 1997 after winning the World Series and in 2003 after doing it again, both times on the rickety small-market-team-without-a-stadium-solution platform. This time it's a slightly harder sell, inasmuch as Florida taxpayers have just forked over some $400 million for Loria's $600 million-plus stadium that opened in April.

So the public's money goes into Loria's pocket, as has too much of baseball's revenue sharing money, for which the Marlins actually got sanctioned after the kind of commissioner's examination you would think could convict the Pirates on identical charges.

Fearing that everyone their proposed 12-player trade to dismantle the ballclub didn't fully insult everyone it should have insulted, Marlins president David Samson answered a question about betrayal for a Florida talk radio audience like this:

"I think people should feel betrayed by the fact we were losing so much. I would think they wouldn't want us to stand pat and keep losing. We don't want to be one of those teams that for 20 years doesn't win 81 games."

Why, of whom could he be speaking?

Besides which, where does Samson get off implying that there's more than one such team?

There's only one, sir. Accept no substitutes.

Oh yes, it was insults all around in this matter, not the least of which got dealt by the Blue Jays, who sent all those prospects to Miami for all that talent and all that salary. While they were working on that, the Jays were getting ready to sign steroid-disgraced former Giant Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal for $16 million.

Message to players and youngsters all over baseball: Cheating pays.

Bud didn't say he was reviewing that, I noticed.

The Marlins have figured out a way to lose 100 times next summer, and they'll be doing it for a fleeing fan base that's already figured out ways to avoid the new stadium, even on nights when the manager isn't complimenting Fidel Castro.

Ozzie Guillen is gone, but those comments still echo. All of this makes it hard to determine Loria's end game. Is he trying to destroy still another franchise so that Bud will put him in charge of a third struggling entity?

Don't you dare look at Pittsburgh, Mr. Commissioner.

Compared to Loria, Bob Nutting is, well, not Loria.

You won't find Bob Nutting unloading five players making $181 million, even if it's only because he's never been willing to pay half that for an entire roster.

For the moment, it appears Loria is trying much harder to avoid winning than even Bob Nutting, but as Giancarlo Stanton, Miami's sole remaining star, told Hall of Famer Peter Gammons this past week, "I can take losing if everyone here is trying to win, but if I'm losing and not everyone here is trying to win, that's not fair."

Stanton probably wasn't expecting to be heard in Pittsburgh, but that's a pretty chilling observation for everyone at the wrong end of General Robinson Street.

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