On a muggy and overcast late June evening, art dealer Jeffrey Loria sat at a window table overlooking home plate in Yankee Stadium’s exclusive Legends Suite Club. Loria was in a jovial mood. The Bronx Bombers were up 2-0 on the upstart Seattle Mariners. The dining room was busy and Loria, a regular at the stadium, chatted with the server, by name, and joked with the chefs at the lobster station, which he visited twice. While fine art and baseball rarely mix, they intersect in Loria, who made his name as a modern and contemporary art dealer—hobnobbing with Edward Hopper, Henry Moore, and Salvador Dalí, among others—before purchasing the Miami Marlins in 2002 and leading them to a World Series victory over the heavily favored Yankees the following year.
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Despite his high-profile baseball ownership, however, Loria seems to prefer the more behind-the-scenes nature of his earlier profession. “Art is a private business,” the 82-year-old entrepreneur told ARTnews at the game, a maxim he uses often. Dressed in a blue gingham shirt, black chinos, and a dark blue hooded rain jacket, it’s unlikely that anyone at Yankee Stadium recognized him. Loria may like it that way, but he did publish an autobiography, From the Front Row: Reflections of a Major League Baseball Owner and Modern Art Dealer, this past spring.
“Great ball players have much in common with great artists,” Loria writes in the introduction. “Both put their talents on the line, and neither is easily stifled by criticism.”
From the Front Row roughly follows Loria’s career from his acceptance to Yale University, where he studied art history under the renowned Vincent Scully, through his entrée into the shadowy, furtive art trade. How did he get his start? In 1960, the family of a Yale classmate turned a considerable profit selling their Texas dairy farm, and the fellow Ivy Leaguer looked to Loria, then only 20 years old, for advice on purchasing art with the proceeds. The two went on a buying trip to New York. It was enough to convince Loria that, with a little business know-how from the Columbia Business School, he could turn his art history knowledge into profit.
Baseball came later, at least professionally. An Upper East Side native, Loria went to his first ballgame at age 8 to see Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and the rest of the ’48 Yankees. Forty years later, he parlayed his success at art dealing into a stake in America’s beloved pastime. Loria wheeled and dealed, buying a minor league baseball team in Oklahoma in 1989 and then the now-defunct Montreal Expos a decade later. He flipped that into a purchase of the Marlins a few years thereafter, and sold the Marlins in 2017 for a hefty $1.2 billion.
The nimble octogenarian keeps up with what’s happening both on the field and in the art market, though he is tight-lipped about what deals he’s made and with whom. When asked if he still dabbled in art sales, the rigorousness of an Ivy League man peeked through his cheerful nature.
“Oh, I don’t dabble, I never dabble,” Loria said. “You either do it right or you don’t do it.”
Loria is still searching for major modern and contemporary works and, despite the apparent cooling of the market, oft-labeled “a correction,” he believes A+ artworks are out there so long as you know how to identify them.
“The market is a function of what the market offers,” he said, “it’s all about availability. The only time I’ve seen a market correction is when the material isn’t up to par.”
Loria’s reaction to last week’s lackluster London auctions, which followed similarly ho-hum New York sales a month earlier, and were bolstered significantly by the sale of Gustav Klimt’s Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan), from 1917–18, for a record-breaking $108 million, with fees: a shrug.
“When there are outstanding works, or even top-level works, the market responds because there are always more than two people chasing the same work,” he said. “Collectors, dealers, we are all in pursuit of quality.”
By the sixth inning, Loria left the cozy confines of the Legends Club for a closer seat, if not with the regular fans, at least a few rows back, above the Yankee’s dugout. It was befitting for a man who enjoys negotiating in the background to stay out of the front row. “This is how you get the best view. Back here you can see everything,” he said, looking around.
Like the art market—and artworks themselves—baseball, for Loria, is all about learning how to see. Is this a good player or a great one? Is that emerging artist’s work worth the investment? Perhaps the most important lesson Loria ever learned, he said, whether in business, baseball, art, or all three, came from his old mentor Scully at Yale. “Always use your eyes.”
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe came to the plate. “This guy, he’s young, but he’s good. Very good.” The next pitch, the 22-year-old rookie hit a resounding home run to deep left-center field, his tenth of the season, putting the Yankees up 4-0. A couple innings later and the home fans went home cheering. What can you say, the dealer has the eye.