Jeffrey Loria has published a memoir, From the Front Row: Reflections of a Major League Baseball Owner and Modern Art Dealer. I read all 400-something pages, about 25% of which are spent directly discussing his decade-and-a-half tenure as Marlins owner. If you rooted for the Fish during the Loria era, you’ll be completely unsurprised to hear that the book contains some outright lies and glosses over the franchise’s poor performance on the field. However, read all the way to the 27th chapter—titled “In Defense of Public Art”—and Loria rewards us with his earnest thoughts. The subject? “Homer,” the home run sculpture that conspicuously resided beyond Marlins Park’s left-center field wall for seven seasons.
“Through art, athlete and audience interacted in a hymn to victory,” Loria writes about the 70-foot-tall sculpture created by Red Grooms that debuted in 2012. But Loria sold the Marlins in 2017, and during the 2018-19 offseason, new CEO Derek Jeter received permission from Miami-Dade county to move it. Homer is now located outside the stadium. In defiance of its namesake, it no longer activates to celebrate the home team’s dingers.
The current site has “nothing to do with its original intent,” Loria laments.
The sculpture, with all of its delicately painted, detailed surfaces and its fragile mechanical elements, has been thrust from the climate-controlled, enclosed ballpark into Florida’s harsh outdoor elements, completely unprotected against wind, rain, humidity, and hurricanes. I have been part of the art world long enough to know what disasters will follow. This work of art was not designed to be dismantled, and it definitely was not designed to be moved into the elements beyond the enclosed protection of the stadium.
The county’s actions regarding Homer will almost certainly deter artists from submitting work for public places in the future. By moving the sculpture, the county has also declared that it isn’t bound by what it agreed to and that public art is no longer a public trust. Seen in this light, an artist’s work is consequently of no lasting value. Art is intended to live in perpetuity and to create a dialogue with changing opinions. By being placed outside the stadium, Homer is inappropriately located to perpetuate the intended dialogue.
The void where Homer used to be has been partially filled by AutoNation Alley. “From a distance, it appears like the façade of an aging battleship,” Loria writes mockingly.
Loria goes off the rails a bit after that. He has the gall to compare himself to an ancient Egyptian pharaoh:
New pharaohs who were determined to make a statement often did so by removing and even defacing the art and images produced under their predecessors. Unfortunately, this was Homer’s fate.
From what I could tell, the novelty of the sculpture wore off fairly quickly among Marlins fans. By the time Jeter arrived, it was more appreciated by opposing teams and their fans than the initial target audience. In fact, I didn't even know Loria’s memoir existed until New York Mets television announcer Gary Cohen mentioned it during his March 31 game broadcast in relation to his own fondness for Homer.
Here’s how Loria concludes this chapter of the book:
Homer will persist as a memory of what it once was, in the heart of the artist who created it, in the commentary of sports announcers, in the fans who enjoyed it, and even in the critics who despised it. Homer will be the subject of a continuing dialogue of changing opinions. But it no longer joins the fans celebrating in the stands for a shared moment of success and at the end of a victorious game. This beloved part of the community no longer can speak from its intended platform. It has become a ghostly shadow of a soul displaced. I certainly hope the team and baseball in Miami fare better than Homer in the long run.