-- When Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss died last week, it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to his place among the best owners in the history of sports.

Perhaps it's only fitting that the disastrous public reappearance of Jeffrey Loria renewed debate this week over who is the worst.

In the city of Miami, there is no debate. The Marlins owner is so reviled he might want to avoid going to his year-old stadium lest he find a mob ready to run him out of town.

His payroll is so low the team he will trot out opening day would have trouble competing in the Pacific Coast League, much less the National League.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are on the hook for a $634 million stadium that might have more tropical fish swimming around inside than fans in the stands.

If he's not the worst owner ever, it's only because there's a lot of competition for the title. The late owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, comes to mind, so does Robert Irsay, who fled Baltimore in the middle of the night and took the city's beloved NFL Colts with him.

But Loria is certainly in the top five.

His decision this week to embark on a public relations campaign to convince fans he was right to trade the team's top talent – Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, among others – because he wanted to make the Marlins better, reeked of arrogance. It didn't work mostly because Loria acted the way he always acts – like he's the smartest person in the room.

Maybe he is. This is a guy, after all, who parlayed a small investment in the Montreal Expos into ownership of a team and a new stadium in Miami.

He got handouts from Major League Baseball for years, and got lucky with a World Series winner a decade ago. Now he's got fans paying the freight – and rewarded them with a team so devoid of talent that the payroll is expected to be only $45 million this season, the lowest in baseball.

The trouble with smart people, though, is that sometimes they begin to believe their own press releases. That seems to be the case with Loria, who hired a high-powered PR firm to try to mend his image in South Florida and, more importantly, convince people they should spend more of their money at his ballpark.

The campaign began with his open letter to the citizens of Miami defending everything he's done and promising good times just around the next corner.

"We're in this together and I humbly ask that we start fresh, watch us mature quickly as a ball club, and root for the home team in 2013," Loria wrote.

That went over about as well as former manager Ozzie Guillen praising Fidel Castro in Little Havana last season. But it got worse when Loria met the press, not all of whom seemed to be on board with the idea that the Marlins need to make their owner more money before they can be competitive.

Asked at one point if he had pulled a con job on Miami residents, Loria bristled.

"A con job? I'm not even going to answer that," he said.

Actually, con job might be an understatement. He convinced local businessmen and politicians not only to build him a new ballpark, but guarantee him almost every dime generated from it.

He took on payroll because it was part of the deal to get the ballpark, but backloaded the contracts so he didn't risk much of his own money doing it.

Then he dumped the new players he signed before the year was over. True, they didn't perform as expected, but the contracts were structured in a way that sure seemed suspicious.

Now Loria is raking in more money from MLB's new television deals than he is paying players. He's guaranteed tens of millions in profits even if his team doesn't win 50 games. And if he's not the most popular person in South Florida, well, so what.

Loria won't even commit to signing the team's only remaining star. Giancarlo Stanton isn't eligible for arbitration, and Loria said he wants to see him play another year before deciding to pay him major money.

Apparently the 71 home runs Stanton hit during the last two years ago weren't convincing enough.

Fans are reacting to all this the only way they know how – by refusing to buy tickets to watch an inferior product. The pitch Loria made to get his new stadium was that baseball fans would come out in droves if they had a proper ballpark with a retractable roof. But the turnstile count last year was just 1.4 million, a million below expectations. This year will be even worse, with season ticket sales, so far, not even half the 12,000 sold for the inaugural season. Not even the lure of watching fish swimming in aquariums behind home plate seems to be helping.

One newspaper called Loria the most hated man in baseball, and with Frank McCourt no longer controlling the Dodgers and Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list, it's hard to argue with that.

No, Loria may not yet be the worst owner ever. But give him time and he may get there.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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  • Chone Figgins, Juan Pierre

    Miami Marlins non-roster invitee infielder Chone Figgins, right, talks to outfielder Juan Pierre after an at bat during the sixth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. The Marlins won 7-5. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Miami Marlins players stand outside of the dugout during the playing of the National Anthem before an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Mike Redmond, Matt Downs

    Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond, hand at left, and non-roster invitee infielder Matt Downs, hand at right, high-five as the team celebrates defeating the New York Mets 7-5 in an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Chone Figgins

    Miami Marlins non-roster invitee infielder Chone Figgins reacts after an at bat during the sixth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. The Marlins won 7-5. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Giancarlo Stanton

    Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton hits a solo home run off New York Mets pitcher Hansel Robles during the sixth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. The Marlins won 7-5. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Giancarlo Stanton, Hansel Robles

    Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, top, rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run off New York Mets pitcher Hansel Robles during the sixth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. The Marlins won 7-5. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, center, watches the ninth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. The Marlins won 7-5. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Ethan Sholes

    Ethan Sholes, of Boyton Beach, Fla., struggles to catch a foul ball during the sixth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game between the Miami Marlins and the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. The Marlins won 7-5. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Ricky Nolasco

    Miami Marlins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco throws a pitch during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Casey Kotchman, Placido Polanco

    Miami Marlins non-roster invitee Casey Kotchman, left, is congratulated by teammate Placido Polanco, center, after hitting a three-run home run off New York Mets relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Casey Kotchman

    Miami Marlins non-roster invitee Casey Kotchman hits a three-run home run off New York Mets relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Juan Pierre

    Miami Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre gestures after non-roster invitee Casey Kotchman hit a three-run home run during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Adeiny Hechavarria, Placido Polanco

    Miami Marlins infielders Adeiny Hechavarria (3) and Placido Polanco react after working on a play during a workout before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria reacts during a news conference outside of the team's spring training facility before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, center, talks during a news conference outside of the team's spring training facility before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria talks during a news conference outside of the team's spring training facility before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria arrives to a news conference outside of the team's spring training facility before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Perry Hill, Michael Brady, Adeiny Hechavarria

    Miami Marlins first base coach Perry Hill, center, gets caught in pickle with non-roster invitee pitcher Michael Brady (84) and infielder Adeiny Hechavarria during a workout before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Perry Hill

    Miami Marlins first base coach Perry Hill (7) talks to infielders during a workout before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Tino Martinez

    Miami Marlins hitting coach Tino Martinez hits a ground ball during a workout before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Mets, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria speaks to reporters, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in the Diamond Club at Marlins Park in Miami. Loria discussed the off-season payroll purge that made his team a baseball punch line around the country and even in South Florida. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Patrick Farrell) MAGS OUT

  • Jeffrey Loria

    Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria speaks to reporters, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in the Diamond Club at Marlins Park in Miami. Loria discussed the off-season payroll purge that made his team a baseball punch line around the country and even in South Florida. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Patrick Farrell) MAGS OUT

  • Joe Mahoney, Matt Pagnozzi

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  • Wade LeBlanc

    Miami Marlins pitcher Wade LeBlanc throws against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Gorky Hernandez

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  • Adeiny Hechavarria

    Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria reaches to field a ground ball hit by Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman during the fifth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. Freeman was out at first on the play. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Joe Mahoney

    Miami Marlins' Joe Mahoney, center, stretches with teammates before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Mike Redmond

    Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond walks onto the field for batting practice before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Mike Redmond, Fredi Gonzalez

    Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, left, talks with Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond, right, before an exhibition spring training baseball game Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Nate Eovaldi, Chuck Hernandez

    Miami Marlins starting pitcher Nate Eovaldi, right, talks to pitching coach Chuck Hernandez during a spring training baseball workout, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Juan Pierre, Joe Espada

    Miami Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, left, works on fly balls with third base coach Joe Espada during a spring training baseball workout, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Mike Redmond

    Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond pitches batting practice during a spring training baseball workout, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Nate Eovaldi

    Miami Marlins starting pitcher Nate Eovaldi throws during a spring training baseball workout, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jake Jefferies

    Miami Marlins non-roster invitee catcher Jake Jefferies throws to third during a spring training baseball workout, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Miami Marlins Photo Day

    JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 22: Logan Morrison #5 of the Miami Marlins poses for a photograph at spring training media photo day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 22, 2013 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

  • Rob Brantly

    Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly, left, hops off his feet while working on base running during spring training baseball, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeff Mathis, Rob Brantly

    Miami Marlins catchers Jeff Mathis, left, and Rob Brantly suit up as spectators look on during spring training baseball, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jeff Mathis, Rob Brantly

    Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly, right, sits next to catcher Jeff Mathis, left, while suiting up during spring training baseball, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jon Rauch

    Miami Marlins pitcher Jon Rauch throws a bullpen session during spring training baseball, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Ed Lucas

    Dirt flies as Miami Marlins non-roster invitee infielder Ed Lucas runs down the first base line during spring training baseball, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Jose Fernandez

    A ball is seen on the hand of Miami Marlins non-roster invitee pitcher Jose Fernandez as he throws a bullpen session during spring training baseball, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Chris Coghlan

    A blister is seen on the ankle of Miami Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan during the team's first full squad workout at spring training baseball, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)