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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Rieber: Miserly Marlins make Mets look like spendthrifts

Carlos Beltran will collect his last paycheck from

Carlos Beltran will collect his last paycheck from the Mets next year; in the meantime, the Mets don't have much flexibility to spend. Credit: AP

The Mets get beat up for a lot of transgressions around here, and rightfully so. They are a .500 team with a huge payroll. They have a huge credibility gap with their devoted fans, who see little reason to have faith in the front office's decision-making abilities.

Not sure what we mean? Two words: Oliver Perez. Two more: Luis Castillo.

But we're pretty sure Mets fans have had it better than Florida Marlins fans.

Did you see the stories over the last few days about the revenue-sharing money the Marlins, the Mets' NL East rivals and last night's opponent at Citi Field, have been stuffing in their pockets?

According to Marlins financial documents unearthed by the website, Florida in 2008 and 2009 made a combined profit of just under $50 million. That's while having the lowest payroll in baseball in each of those seasons.

Can you imagine the outcry around here if the Mets were caught pocketing their revenues instead of spending on players? The Mets get crushed already for not spending enough, even though they had a $132.7-million payroll on Opening Day, fifth highest in the major leagues.

Despite their payroll, the Mets somehow manage to seem cheap. It's a constant complaint from their fans. But there's no hard proof that owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon aren't at least trying to field a championship team. It's the execution that has been lacking.

The truth about the Mets is that until unwieldy contracts such as the ones happily enjoyed by Perez, Castillo and Carlos Beltran come off the books following next season, the team will be limited in how much it can pay new players. Those three, unless traded, will be cashing Mets checks worth a combined $36.5 million in 2011.

The Marlins' payroll at the start of this season was $55.6 million. Florida came into Citi Field last night with a 62-61 record. The Mets, with about 21/2 times the payroll, were 62-62.

So money doesn't buy you baseball success any more than it can buy you love. But not spending it when you have it can only buy you trouble - if it comes out. The Marlins, though, are more concerned with the leaking of the financial data. Team president David Samson called it "a crime" Monday.

What the Marlins - and other franchises, including the Pittsburgh Pirates - are doing by turning the team into a piggy bank for their owners is a sports crime of the highest order.

That's because a baseball team is more than just a business. It's a public trust, especially when public money is used to build new stadiums. If it were just a business, 27,136 people wouldn't have shown up on a rainy and dreary night to watch two gasping teams play last night at Citi Field.

Samson said the Marlins had to keep the $50 million to help pay for their new ballpark, which is scheduled to open in 2012. The Marlins are paying $155 million of the cost of building the $515-million stadium in Miami's Little Havana area.

Guess who is paying for the rest? Right. Miami-area taxpayers. "We always made our decisions based on the long-term viability of the franchise," Samson said.

Funny, a pretty successful baseball owner around here never talked about "the long-term viability of the franchise."

Yes, the late George Steinbrenner had a ton of faults. But unwillingness to spend was not one of them.

The Yankees announced Tuesday that a monument to Steinbrenner will be unveiled at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 20.

It's better than a monument to greed, which is what some other baseball owners deserve.

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