Mariner, Jonathan 1954(?)–
Jonathan Mariner 1954(?)–
Jonathan Mariner holds one of professional baseball’s most influential executive posts. As senior vice president and chief financial officer within the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB) headquarters in New York City, Mariner oversees the league’s bank accounts and keeps an eye on the finances of its 30 teams. Mariner, a former executive with the Florida Marlins franchise, is the first African American to hold the job in MLB history.
Born around 1954, Mariner grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, on Gurley Street near the city’s airport. After his 1972 graduation from Lake Taylor High School, he entered the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, but then decided against a military career and transferred to the University of Virginia. He earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1976, an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1978, and passed the certified public accountant licensing exam in 1980. His first job was with MCI Communications as a financial analyst. In 1985 he relocated to Miami, Florida, when the truck leasing and rental firm Ryder offered him a job inside its corporate offices there. He and his wife had already begun a family and would eventually have three sons.
Mariner moved on from Ryder, and by the early 1990s he held an executive post with the powerful Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. When he read an article in the local newspaper about the coming of the Florida Marlins, a new baseball team franchise for Miami, he was intrigued by the mention that two positions in its front offices had not yet been filled: one for vice president of community relations, another for vice president of finance and administration. Given his background in promoting tourism in the South Florida area, he thought he would be a good fit for the community relations job—though he knew little about baseball. “I couldn’t name five baseball players at the time,” he told Tom Singer in an article published on the MLB official website.
Mariner was surprised when the Marlins offered him the finance job in early 1992. During the interview process, the C.P.A. was even asked if he minded writing large checks. “I can accept the fact that these guys make a lot of money,” he recalled in an interview with Virginian Pilot writer Tom Robinson. “I’ve seen a lot of zeros in my life.” He became the first African American to hold the position with an MLB franchise
Born c. 1954; married Mildred; children: Brian, Matthew, Phillip. Education: University of Virginia, BS, 1976; Harvard University School of Business, MBA, 1978; certified public accountant license, 1980.
Career: MCI Communications, Washington, DC, senior financial analyst; held similar post with Ryder Truck Rentals, Miami, FL, after 1985; rose to executive job with the Greater Miami (Florida) Convention and Visitors Bureau, early 1990s; Florida Marlins, Miami, executive vice president and chief financial officer, 1992–2000; Charter Schools USA, executive vice president and chief operating officer, 2000–02; Major League Baseball, New York, NY, senior vice president and chief financial officer, 2002–.
Memberships: University of Virginia, Mclntire School of Commerce. advisory board member.
Addresses: Office —Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, 245 Park Ave., 31st FI., New York, NY 10167.
team. Mariner was one of just over 20 African-American executives or department heads inside MLB front offices, at a time when athletes, fans, and pundits alike were beginning to notice the disparity in racial makeup between those on the playing field and those who were in front office positions. Later that year, the Rev. Jesse Jackson asserted that there were no blacks in executive posts in professional baseball, and was criticized by a Florida newspaper for overlooking Mariner.
The Marlins took the field in 1994, and three seasons later won the World Series. Mariner was forced to miss out on his twenty-fifth high school reunion back in Norfolk because of the celebration. Team owner H. Wayne Huizenga, the Blockbuster Video mogul, also kept Mariner busy serving as chief financial officer for another team he owned, the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League, and Mariner also supervised the finances of the Marlins’ Pro Player Stadium. But the job was a tough one. Because of certain bank agreements over revenues, the Marlins were losing money. After it became apparent that payroll costs would escalate the team’s losses to $30 million during the same year the team won the series, Huizenga put the team on the auction block, though his faith in Mariner’s fiscal abilities remained undiminished. Before the for-sale news was made public, Mariner told Robinson at the Virginian Pilot that Huizenga “pulled me aside and told me, depending upon who the new owners are, that it would be my choice to stay or come join him and do some other things.” Mariner admitted that his Marlins post would be a hard one to follow: “There are very few jobs that give you the kind of thrill you get from winning the World Series,” he told the newspaper.
When a Boca Raton financier, John W. Henry, bought the team, Mariner indeed stayed on. Henry also put Mariner in charge of finding the means to build a new 43,000-seat baseball stadium, to help put an end to the Marlins’ financial drain. But the issue devolved into a contentious political quagmire in South Florida and finally, in April of 2000, Florida Governor Jeb Bush rejected a proposed tax on cruise ships that would have helped finance a new Marlins playing field. A private financing plan was dismissed a few months later, and Mariner announced his resignation midway through the 2000 baseball season. After October of that year, he accepted a position as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Charter Schools USA. Then early in 2002 he was made the first black senior vice president and chief financial officer of Major League Baseball.
Mariner’s job has entailed meeting with team owners and executives to discuss the teams’ balance sheets. He also serves as banker for the MLB Central Fund, a line of credit available to money-losing teams. The $1.3 billion loan pool is backed by the League’s lucrative national television contract, and has been somewhat controversial, explained Business Week Online writer Mark Hyman. “Over the years, even well-heeled owners have had trouble resisting what amounts to a blank check to pay for everything from new stadiums to free-agent pitchers,” Hyman noted. “MLB won’t say which teams arranged credit using the loan pool or how they’ve used the money. What league execs will say is that as of last month, 20 franchises are borrowers, and of that number, all but one are mortgaged to the pool’s borrowing limit of $75 million.” Whether or not teams are losing money is also at issue, and there are wide disparities in resources among the franchises—the 1999 New York Yankees, for example, had a payroll of $88 million, in contrast to the Marlins’ paltry $17.5 million.
Mariner’s heightened public profile and responsibilities caused Sports Illustrated to rank him as No. 11 on its 2003 list of the 101 most influential minorities in sports. He trailed just behind Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, and fellow MLB executive Jimmie Lee Solomon. Mariner, who holds a black belt in shaolin kung fu, commutes from his home in Davie, Florida, to the commissioner’s office in New York City. He has also traveled back to Norfolk to speak with students at his former school about his career. “I talked primarily about making a special effort to define who they are, to not let others define who they are or what they’re going to be,” Mariner told the Virginian Pilot’s Robinson. “I never had great plans, other than whatever I do, I want to do it to the best of my ability.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 9, 2000, p. E5.
Ebony, May 2003, p. 12.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, May 7, 2001.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 31, 1999.
Sports Illustrated, May 5, 2003, p. 14, p. 38.
Virginian Pilot, May 23, 1992, p. C1; November 4, 1997, p. C1.
“A Force Play by Baseball’s Bankers?” Business Week Online, www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/aug2002/nf20020826_0112.htm (May 24, 2003).
“Mariner: MLB’s Money Man,” MLB, http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mlb/news/mlb_news.jsp?ymd=20030514&content_id=319840&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp (May 23, 2003).