Yale '62 - A Conversation with Jeffrey Loria

"A Conversation with Jeffrey Loria"

Jeffrey Loria (New York, NY)
speaks with Al Chambers (Ann Arbor, MI)

Chambers: I'd like to start just where you would expect — talking about the excitement of winning the World Series. What does it mean to you?

Loria: Well, it was a very special season for us in Florida. We had an opportunity to put together an exciting baseball team and help the fans of South Florida reconnect with baseball. I have always maintained that South Florida is a very important market, the gateway to Latin America. Baseball is not something to be overlooked. It brought the community together and enriched people's lives. Most importantly, I got to see the faces of kids, young children that were just plentiful all summer. This translates into a new generation of baseball fans.

What happened before with the Marlins we obviously had nothing to do with. We had to bottom out last year after we came in and then start all over again. We obviously did a good job.

Chambers: What are your fondest memories of the 2003 season and the successful run through the playoffs and World Series?

Loria: My first memory is of the season starting and my thinking that we had a very talented team. But something was missing so I decided we needed to make a change. The decision to hire Jack McKeon as manager was a very important one. When we first interviewed Jack, everyone thought I was nuts for considering hiring a 72-year old man. But he had a history of turning things around and my feeling was that it didn't matter if he was 72 or 92 or 152. He was a productive member of society, and I wanted to give him the chance that he was looking for. We thought Jack would be a powerful energizer. He is a no nonsense guy who told the players to leave their stats and their egos at the door. The guys looked at him that first Sunday morning and thought, who is this old man? Well, they soon learned that he was a pretty tough customer. He managed to get the most out of these young guys who were floundering.

After that, I think one of my most fond memories was bringing up Dontrelle Willis up from Double A when many other people thought he needed more time. We didn't have more time. We wanted to see what he could do. And then we decided to bring up 20-year old Miguel Cabrera. I managed to convince my general manager and manager to try him in the outfield because his bat was so good. In his first game in the bottom of the12th inning, he became one of three players in recorded baseball history to hit a walk off home run as his first major league hit.

Chambers: What now for the Marlins? In the era of high player salaries and free agency, can you keep the team together?

Loria: First of all, we still are celebrating the victory and the way it is helping to bring the community together. We are working out the details for a team visit to the White House at the invitation of President Bush, as has happened with previous World Series winning teams.

There will be time to sort everything out, but I'll just say that we are not going to dismantle the team like the owner of the 1997 Marlins world champions did. Having said that, the realities of the situation make it impossible to keep all of our players who are free agents or subject to arbitration. To do so would significantly increase our payroll to more than $80 million and that would be irresponsible. Baseball is a tough business and management has to be responsible. We will have to make choices and we will do so. Our intent will be to field a strong team for 2004 that again can contend for the championship.

Chambers: Why do you have such a great interest in baseball? Why do you love the game?

Loria: I've always loved the game. I've had a passion for the game since I was a child, since my father first took me to Yankee Stadium when I was eight or nine years old. I grew up in the city and played some in high school. Once something gets in your blood, it never goes away. I know that it never went away for me.

Chambers: Baseball is called America's pastime. Is it strong or weak? Are you worried about its future?

Loria: I think this year and this playoff series showed how immensely powerful this game is, what a magnet it is. The ratings were certainly pretty strong. Everywhere we went, people were very excited about baseball. The Commissioner told me that there was a tremendous reinvigoration of baseball around the country. I am glad that we could be a part of it.

Chambers: How do your interests in baseball and in art go together? And how do they separate?

Loria: I spent 40 years of my post-Yale career being an art dealer. But in the late 80's and early 90's, I decided I wanted to follow my love of baseball as well. So I bought a minor league Triple-A team in Oklahoma City that was affiliated with the Texas Rangers at that time. Now President Bush, then General Manager of the Texas Rangers, and I spent some time together. I loved the game. I saw a lot about what I like. One of the things that became apparent to me then, before I started pursuing buying a major league team, was that both the art world and the baseball world are about putting things together.

Whether you are building an art collection or a baseball team, it is all about making things work, having them fit together, work well together, look good together. Whether you are looking at pictures on a wall or players on a field, it is always for me about quality and trying to make the highest level of quality. Of course the difference is that artists don't get injured as often as baseball players do. But in both cases, you are dealing with people of immense talent and it is getting that talent out of them and onto either the canvas or onto the field. It is very similar for me.

Chambers: From something I read, I gather that you are regarded as an early identifier of several of the great 20th century artists.

Loria: No, that's not true, Al. I spent most of my career dealing in masters — major artists of the 20th century. They were established artists long before I came along. I did not discover any artists. I dealt as a private dealer for my entire career. I never really wanted to have a gallery or have shows. It worked that way. In a sense I was very private. Of course I am not private anymore because a baseball team makes you very public. I deal with major works by very well established artists - paintings, sculptures, works on paper. I try to acquire them privately.

Chambers: Who are some of your favorite artists at this point?

Loria: I would say Miro, Henry Moore, Picasso and Leger, artists that I have had a great interest in through my career. And also, of course, Lichtenstein, Giacometti, Marini and Maillol.

Chambers: Why do you think that people, and particularly wealthy people are so keen on collecting fine art?

Loria: I don't know. I have never given much thought to that. First of all, of course, they are the ones who can afford it, by definition. Often people who are extremely wealthy have the benefits of education, whether it is a Yale education or another education and become familiar with subjects like great art. The same way I did, going through Yale and taking all those art history courses and eventually majoring in it. So if you have any kind of fascination and the ability to acquire them at whatever level they are available, when you can, I guess that is why people buy them.

Chambers: I am glad you mentioned Yale because that was going to be my next question. What are some important memories from Yale and how did Yale direct you or guide you to what you have ended up doing?

Loria: I often give a tremendous amount of credit to the University for guiding me in my life and the passions that I have had about art. The courses that I took whether it was Day One in Vincent Scully's course or with George Hamilton on Modern Art or others that I took. I was very inspired by those courses. It opened my eyes to things I had never seen. I was a young man coming from New York who had rarely seen art except occasionally at a museum that my mother would drag me to, probably against my wishes.

But once you are on your own, you become a little more responsible and if you have the resources that a Yale can offer, you learn. It was an eye opener for me. I went to Yale to be a pre-med student but I couldn't stand Zoology. But I discovered art history. The major in Art History was the foundation for my career.

Chambers: Did you like Yale?

Loria: I loved it. I loved every moment of it. The birth of my daughter, going to Yale and winning a World Series are probably the three most important things that ever happened to me.

Chambers: Let's talk about your daughter going to Yale. How does that feel to you in terms of your association with Yale?

Loria: I wanted her to be able to benefit from and share some of the experiences I had had in maturing and growing. I started talking about Yale when she was three days old. I didn't think she was going to go to Yale, she seemed to have her heart set on another school. But she did go, and I am so glad. She is pursuing another avenue of interest with her study of psychology. She is now in a very competitive and hard doctoral program in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University. Her interest is not in the art world although she knows a tremendous number of artists and people in the art world. And she is not interested in being an executive with a baseball team.

Samantha is following her own footsteps and her own career, and I have tremendous respect for the direction she has taken of wanting to do things for kids who are less fortunate than she is. I guess that is what Yale teaches you, to go out there and give of yourself to worlds you wouldn't have thought about before you got to Yale. I have heard Rick Levin talk in his freshman and graduation addresses about going out into the world and doing good things. Samantha is that kind of a person.

Chambers: How directly have you been connected with Yale?

Loria: Since I graduated, I have been involved with Yale in many ways. I was President of the Yale Basketball Association for many years trying to get them on a good economic footing, which we did. I have given many works of art to the University's Museum. I gave a major Roy Lichtenstein sculpture, which sits at the foot of Science Hill. I donated that in honor of the new President, Rick Levin, shortly after he came in ten years ago.

Chambers: You gave it to Yale at that time and for that reason?

Loria: Yes.

Chambers: He is doing quite a job, I think.

Loria: Oh, he is wonderful and you can quote me. He has been the perfect captain for that ship. I saw him doing that for a year or two and that is when I gave the sculpture. I have done quiet things for the University. I don't like to make a big fuss about what I do.

Chambers: You've mentioned private and quiet a couple of times?

Loria: No more.

Chambers: Is that a problem for you? What was your satisfaction in being private or quiet?

Loria: No satisfaction. That is just the way I always have been. Gone about my work, done what I wanted to do. Done my business, done my charitable things, done lots of things that most people don't know about and that I don't really want to talk about, because that takes away from the ability to do it again. I am not a person who stands up on soapbox and shouts about what he does.

Chambers: But do you have concern that the baseball achievement may challenge that?

Loria: No, not really, it doesn't challenge that, but a lot of people come up and speak to me. So far all of it has been nice comments. I think that is because the team performed so professionally and so well. There were no rivalries like the Yankees and Red Sox where people get angry with players.

Chambers: But it is so personal, like the television camera being on you all the time during the games or on every twitch that the pitcher or the batter makes.

Loria: It is okay. You either have to accept it or not do it. And I've accepted it. It's fine.

Chambers: What next? Do you have additional goals or hopes?

Loria: No, it would be nice to repeat this at some point in the future. It would be nice to see my child complete her degree and go on and do great things in the world or exciting or interesting things. I would like to do something special for Yale and we are now talking about it. It is too early to discuss the specifics, but it is something special that needs to be done for Yale.

Aside from that, no, like all of us trying to get to the next decade. Whether it is doing something in a community like South Florida or doing something for Yale, it is about the necessity to give back. I like to give back. I have said many times that Yale was one of the reasons that I have been so fortunate in my life. I find the need and the desire to want to give back to the University as often as possible.

I'll tell you something, Al, every time I go back up to Yale and get near Exit 47, I get a little emotional because I know I am getting close to the campus. I had a wonderful time there and a great experience and it brings back great memories for me all of the time.