- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2007

This winter’s free agent class could include Andruw Jones, Ichiro and, of course, a certain Gotham City third baseman.

But the biggest fish — pun intended — in the Class of 2008 should be the Florida Marlins. Another request for financial help on a new stadium was rebuffed Friday when the state Senate shot down a $60 million subsidy proposal.

Six times this decade the Marlins have drafted proposals to fund a new stadium. Six times the organization has failed to secure the financial support. This most recent proposal had the team, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade county contributing $460 million of the $490 million needed to construct a new field fitted with a retractable roof. The extra $30 million would have come from bonds backed by the aforementioned $60 million in state money.

Now, the Senate also couldn’t find money to help expand a low-cost children’s health care program. If that is true, then those state legislators are not in the wrong here. Even though Florida’s new governor, Charlie Crist, once was a lawyer for minor league baseball and wants to keep the Marlins in Miami, it is about time for them to find a new home.

Whether public funding for new stadiums is a worthy cause or socially irresponsible is up for debate every time a sports franchise goes looking with its hands out. It is clearly not going to work in this situation, but even if it did, it apparently would come at the expense of something more worthy.

Maybe Jeffrey Loria will take a cue from Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux and realize the best way to force people into action is to pack up the moving vans and get the engines humming. Maybe there is an 11th hour savior on the horizon in Miami, but the overwhelming question is … why?

Not only are there clearly economic issues in the way of a new stadium, but will the franchise really be able to thrive with fancy new digs in that market? Let’s face it — Miami is a terrible sports town. The Marlins, Panthers and Heat have all had serious problems finding fans to fill their buildings.

Sure the Marlins filled Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphin Stadium during their two World Series runs, but more often than not their crowds are Expos-esque. Seriously, if that city can’t support a team that has won two World Series in the past 10 years, does it deserve one?

The Marlins likely will be stuck in Miami until their lease runs out in 2010, but it is time for them to leave. The sooner, the better. Other cities should line up for this franchise, which boasts one of the greatest collections of young talent in baseball.

This franchise has one of the truly marketable figures in the sport in Dontrelle Willis and a precocious superstar in Miguel Cabrera (though both could be traded by the time another city welcomes the team home). There also is plenty of depth in the system, so just when it is time for Scott Olsen and Anibal Sanchez to earn millions, there will be guys like Chris Volstad and Sean West waiting.

It is a group of players many cities would embrace and successfully support in ways Miami has not. Think anybody in this town would have rather had the Marlins instead of the Expos?

That’s a pretty safe bet.

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