I find him in the basement of a Miami baseball stadium. He is sitting at a desk, in a cloud of cigar smoke, talking on the phone.
“So you’ll take him?” The Dump Man says into the receiver. “Great. I’ll send over the paperwork …uh-huh …ciao.”
He hangs up the phone.
“We just dumped Kevin Brown,” he says, crossing a name off a list.
“Kevin Brown?” I say. “The ace of the Marlins?”
“You got it.”
“The guy who helped win the World Series?”
“The one and only.”
“But why would you dump Kevin Brown? He’s a local hero. He’s a champion.”
“And . . .” The Dump Man says, tapping his pencil on the desk.
“And he makes $4.8 million a year.”
“So?” I say.
“So.” The Dump Man shrugs. “He gotta go.”
I should have known. That is The Dump Man’s job. They call him when teams want to unload talent and reduce payrolls. They used him in San Diego, years ago, with the Padres. They used him in Montreal with the Expos. They say Dump Man can clear a locker room faster than classical music.
“Now,” he says, checking his list, “who can I find to take Bobby Bonilla . .
Like it or not, fans took bait
Already The Dump Man has unloaded Marlins stars such as bullpen ace Robb Nen, sent to San Francisco; centerfielder Devon White, sent to Arizona; first baseman Jeff Conine, sent to Kansas City; and outfielder Moises Alou, maybe the brightest star of the World Series, sent to Houston. All this happened in the last two months.
All were traded for less expensive prospects.
“How could you dump Moises Alou?” I ask. “He hit those big home runs in the Series.”
“And . . .” The Dump Man says.
“And he made $4.5 million.”
“But they love him here! Didn’t you see those signs at the stadium? ‘Holy Moises!’ Or ‘Moises, take us to the Promised Land.’ “
He leans forward. “I’ll tell you a secret. I gave the Astros a package deal for those signs. Good price. Next to nothing.”
“You’re so kind,” I mumble.
“What can I tell you?” he says, grinning.
Marlins fans don’t know what to think of The Dump Man. Two months ago, they celebrated their first World Series. Parades. Parties.
Then, owner Wayne Huizenga, who signed the $89-million worth of talent to help win the title, declared that his team wasn’t making enough money, even with the championship. He put it up for sale. And in one of those “it’s not personal, it’s business” moves, he decided to clear the roster of the high-priced talent he had previously purchased, demanding that the team payroll go from $54 million to $20 million.
That’s like saying the president should go from the White House to Motel 6.
Which is where The Dump Man came in. So far he has unloaded $24 million of star player contracts in exchange for 11 minor leaguers, who are making minimum salaries.
“I love these minor league guys,” he says. “You give ’em a tuna fish sandwich and a room at the Holiday Inn, they’re in heaven.
“Now, if I could only get rid of Gary Sheffield.”
“Gary Sheffield?” I say. “But he’s got seniority. He’s got tradition.”
“And . . .” The Dump Man says.
“Don’t tell me. He makes $6 million a year?”
The Dump Man shrugs. “He gotta go.”
Reunion will be one to remember
By the time the world champion Marlins return next season, fans will not recognize them. There will be no point in a flag-raising ceremony, unless they fly in the former players from out of state. In addition to Brown, Alou, White, Conine and Nen, the Marlins also have traded Tony Saunders and lost Darren Daulton in the expansion draft. If they have their way, they will unload Bonilla, Sheffield, Al Leiter and Dennis Cook, too. That would represent another $15 million in savings.
“From your mouth to God’s ears,” The Dump Man says.
I ask how he got into this line of work.
“Well, I was the saver in the family,” he says. “My older brother, Phil, he’s in acquisitions.”
“Yeah. He signs players for ridiculous salaries. He was working here a few years ago. Does a lot of work with the Yankees.”
“Wait a minute,” I say. “Your brother throws money at free agents, and you trade them away?”
“Same as when we were kids,” he says. “I always had to clean up his mess.”
“But what about fan loyalty?” I ask. “How can people embrace a team when the players only stay long enough to win a title, then disband?”
“Save your sob stories,” the Dump Man says. “None of these folks was paying for this talent to come in. Why should they complain when it leaves? It’s business. Strictly business. Get over it.”
I watch him work. He picks up the phone and blows a cloud of cigar smoke. I want to say that he is everything wrong about sports. I want to say that once upon a time, fans and players felt an affinity for one another, they lived in the same town, they shared a civic pride and championships pulled them together, not apart.
I want to say this, but I realize I am wasting my breath. The Dump Man is a gun for hire, like pretty much everyone in baseball today.
“Hello, New York?” he says into the phone as I walk away, “let’s talk Bobby Bonilla. Boy, have I got a deal for you . . .”
Mitch Albom will sign copies of his new book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” 7-8 tonight, Smith’s Books, Devonshire Mall, Windsor; 7-8 p.m. Thursday, B. Dalton, Eastland Mall, Harper Woods; and 7:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Borders, Flint. To leave a message for Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.