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Remember: never believe a thing a team says about its finances

Nov 19, 2012, 1:30 PM EDT

Jeffrey Loria AP

Dan Le Batard has a takedown of the Marlins which pretty much squares with my view of things too.  This passage piqued my interest, however:

The Marlins last offseason were like a gluttonous fat man at the all-you-can-eat buffet, stacking the plate with his eyes and appetite without regard to practicality or the oncoming food coma. The team overspent assuming we’d fill the ballpark, which we didn’t, and that meant losing about $40 million in that calamity of a season. Even though management didn’t have to serial-killer slash the payroll, there were going to have to be cuts, so the team decided to take a wrecking ball to the blueprint and just start again.

I’m not sure what the source is for that $40 million loss, but it is worth remembering as we enter free agent season that a baseball team’s claims of profit and/or loss are almost always pure science fiction when compared to the numbers that are reported for most other types of businesses.

Baseball accounting is profoundly opaque, and the only glimpses we ever see into the finances of a baseball team are either wither accidental or are partial-truths released by the team in order to further some specific end such as either proving or disputing that the owners are broke, depending on whichever story suits their purposes at the time.  And even then, we almost never get much above the bottom line number (Team X lost $Y last year). A number which tells us nothing about how much the ownership group extracted from the team above the line.

For example, we’ve learned in the last year that Jeff Loria at one time and may still pay himself an annual salary of some $10 million. And that there is a team “managing general partner” called Double Play Company which takes $8.5 million more. Oh, Double Play Company is owned by Loria and its president is Marlins team president David Samson.  Do other teams have that kind of setup? Don’t know! Because no one ever gets to see the finances of baseball teams! Indeed, teams and the league go to great lengths to avoid ever having to release their finances to the public, be it under pressure from politicians, in the course of litigation or anything else. They DO NOT want you to see the books, folks.

So call me crazy or call me paranoid, but I will never take a team’s statement about its profits or losses unless and until they show me the books to prove it. And that goes for the $40 million-losing Marlins too.

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