Samson reflects on season, looks to future
Marlins president expounds on Loria's mission to evaluate entire organization
MIAMI -- The 2012 season for the Miami Marlins has been an artistic dichotomy. They opened a beautiful new state-of-the-art ballpark on the site of the old Orange Bowl in Little Havana that has forever changed the baseball experience in South Florida and will certainly stand the test of time.But on the field, the Marlins are one of a number of teams that didn't reach preseason expectations. Owner Jeffrey Loria told the media on the field before a recent game at Marlins Park that he's in full evaluation mode to determine what happened. "Let me tell you something -- I thought this team was a contender this year, so we have to figure out what went wrong and how to rectify it, but I don't have any specifics," Loria said. "I've asked our guys to look, come back with recommendations and go from there. We can't really make those evaluations until the season is over or close to being over." David Samson, the team's president, sat down with MLB.com and, in an exclusive interview, extrapolated on Loria's comments. "I think the wheels came off the wagon and there was no one to help put them back on," Samson said. MLB.com: How have you weathered this season? Samson: I'm healthy. My son loves me -- sometimes. It was good on April 4, when the first pitch was Strike 1. I think from that moment on, on the field, it's been downhill. MLB.com: What do you think happened? Samson: It just spiraled on us. We could just never get into a rhythm in April. And then May came, we were falsely under the impression that we were that good. But internally we knew that we were winning games in a non-sustainable way. And then June happened, and what we thought was true became true. MLB.com: So when you say "the wheels came off the wagon and there was no one to help put them back on," who's responsible for that? Samson: Everybody, everybody. The front office, the coaching staff, the players. Everybody. We're all in this together. We're a team. Nobody could do it, from the 25th man to me. We were just not able to get the team back on track. The best part of the year is that Marlins Park has been a success. People love it. I don't know if you got a chance to walk around the ballpark, but people are very happy. MLB.com: I did. I walked the entire ballpark. The one thing that struck me is how much better the ballpark presents itself aesthetically in person than it does on TV. Samson: Thank you. And that really is the saving grace of the season for me. The ballpark will last forever. Long after we're gone. And this bad season will be a memory in February. I'm looking forward to Spring Training. MLB.com: So what do you like about the way the ballpark played out? Samson: I think the fans took advantage of all the experiences. They walk around and they see a real baseball game. In years past, if we were out of the race, we'd have 2,000, 3,000 people at a game. Now we're drawing 25,000. Do I wish we were drawing 35,000? Sure. But when you're drawing in the 20s this time of year in the position we're in, new ballpark or not, you can't complain.
We're the last of the new ballparks. We knew the honeymoon would be five innings. It turned out the honeymoon was a single pitch. But we were not surprised by the length of the honeymoon, because we expected it. We built a ballpark to be sustainable -- to keep fans interested year after year after year, not just for a month.MLB.com: That must give you some solace considering that the play on the field doesn't reflect this facility. Samson: Everything started off strangely. The logo got leaked, and people went crazy. They said, "Change the logo. It's the worst logo ever. You guys are a disgrace." Meanwhile, our merchandise sells all over the world.
From the first game, everybody said, "Parking is terrible. It'll take forever to get in and out." And now people realize they can come and go at the old Orange Bowl, and there's no problem. There are different roads. Different ways to go. It's almost like people were expecting problems, and the ballpark outperformed everybody's expectations. People just had to learn.MLB.com: So how do you fix it moving forward in baseball operations? Samson: You know, it's a strange game. You make moves that you think are right. You make evaluations. Sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong, and that's the nature of the game. I still have a great belief in everybody who works for us that we can make better decisions to put together a team that plays better together.
It's hard to build a team. There's a quality a winning team has. It's hard to put your fingers on what it takes to achieve that. I'm confident we'll keep trying. That I know for sure. We're going to play with pieces of this team. But I still believe we have makings of a good team. You talk about building a team around Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton. Those are two pieces that are hard to find. You need two other pieces at a minimum to be superb in your lineup. We just didn't get that this year. Hopefully next year it will change.MLB.com: Why did you feel like it was time to get Hanley Ramirez out of here? Samson: We just realized we couldn't win with him. It was that simple. MLB.com: Was there any particular reason? Samson: Hah. I could write a book. Let's see. A picture gets painted. Was there a last stroke of the picture? Maybe losing those [two] games in Chicago after the All-Star break [amid trade rumors that Ramirez was being shipped to Boston]. I thought that was the last stroke of the picture, but the picture hadn't been clear before that moment. MLB.com: And how has manager Ozzie Guillen played out in all this? Samson: I think he's had a disappointing season. I think [that's the way he feels] in his mind, too. It just didn't turn out the way we thought it would when we drew it up. That's how life goes sometimes. We never could get our legs under us. MLB.com: There has been some dysfunction in other organizations this year with teams that haven't played up to expectations. Has any of that happened here? Samson: I'm not a big believer in that. Are you talking about front-office dysfunction? Are you talking about ownership? Are you talking about players not liking each other? There are all sorts of things that happen over the course of a year. I don't think any issues that would occur between upper management and field management would cause Gaby [Sanchez] to hit .215 and Logan [Morrison] to hit .230 and Hanley to hit .240. I just don't believe in that. I really don't. I think that when players take the field, they don't care about managers, they don't care about owners, they don't care about presidents or GMs. They're out there doing the best they can to win up to their ability. We evaluate what their ability should be, and when they're not performing to it, we're the ones who are wrong. It has nothing to do with any potential dysfunctions in my mind. Hanley Ramirez? He could care less about me, [president of baseball operations] Larry [Beinfest], Jeffrey, Ozzie. And I'm not saying this just about Hanley. He's out there just trying to hit. I think there's a lot that goes into it. To win, a lot of things have got to go right. You have to hit it right. You have to have players who overperform. And we just did not have any players who overperformed. In 2003, when we won it all, we had seven players who overperformed. In '05, when we had a better team and we didn't make the playoffs, we had seven players who underperformed. And that's what we have this year, too. MLB.com: Add the injuries to guys like Stanton, and that didn't help. Samson: You count on what a team will look like day in and day out. When we traded for Carlos Lee, it was July 4. We wanted to show the team on the field, "Let's go. Let's try this. Maybe another hitter in there with Hanley and Giancarlo will help." And Giancarlo gets hurt the next day. We just could never get it rolling. MLB.com: So you evaluated your manager, how about your front office? Samson: I can't imagine being in the game without Larry. I've been together with Larry for 13 seasons. I mean, I just can't imagine it. We have a collaborative process, and we have really talented people. We have a great owner, who really gets involved and enjoys it and counts on his people, too. But he's been around long enough to have his own opinions, which is great. I think that the more discussions you have on moves, the better. But it's hard when everyone is wrong on certain things. Then you're going to lose games. MLB.com: So despite the Twitter buzz out there, is Larry's job safe? Samson: I think Jeffrey said it right. He's looking at everyone after every season. He looks at all of us -- as he should. He's the owner. It's his job to evaluate all of us. We don't think about that, though. We just go out and do our jobs every single day. It's getting this ballpark. It took us many extra years. You don't worry about how you're being evaluated. You just go out and keep working. And that's what Larry does. He doesn't focus on that stuff. There's a lot behind the scenes that goes on: Running a Minor League operation, a Major League operation, budgets. All kinds of stuff that's part of his job that he does every day. MLB.com: So, to sum it up, the ballpark, for the long term, has been a great accomplishment. Samson: Absolutely. MLB.com: For the short term, you'll turn the page on this year's ballclub as soon as the season is over. Samson: You have to. That's the nature of baseball. What you can't do over is a ballpark. When you build a ballpark, it's here and it stays. With a team that doesn't do well, what is Spring Training, five months away? That's nothing. In a real-world company, they plan three or four years out. We're five months away from a new beginning.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.