Taking a first look at the Miami Marlins, you can't help but get the feeling that this is a team which never paid its dues. They've won the World Series twice, after all, and will be entering their 20th year of existence next season. That looks like the beginnings of a good, winning team. But that's where you get overtaken by one of those "look closer" moments. Not only have the Miami Marlins won the World Series twice, they've also never lost a single playoff series! Isn't that awesome?
It perhaps sounds awesome. But the thing about the playoffs is that they tend to culminate in the World Series, also known as baseball's championship. So if the Miami Marlins have won the World Series twice and never lost a playoff series, that can only mean one thing: The Marlins have only ever been to the playoffs twice. Both times were as a wild card team.
The Marlins have something of an odd history. It was back in 1990 when the gears started to roll in the creation of an MLB franchise for Miami, when the CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment bought a share of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, as well as a very large interest in their home field, Joe Robbie Stadium. That CEO, Wayne Huizenga, immediately got to work gunning for a baseball team. MLB had made an announcement earlier that it was going to expand the National League by two teams, and it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that one of them would be placed in Florida. The only question about that was if the newly-created team would end up in Orlando, Tampa Bay, or Miami. Miami ponied up $95 million as an expansion fee and won the team, even though Tampa Bay already had a park and Orlando was running on a family tourism platform. One of the names considered early on was the Florida Flamingos.
The team's first signing was a 16-year-old Dominican pitcher named Clemente Nunez, followed by a 1992 draft pick in catcher Charles Johnson from the University of Miami. Later in 1992, team president Carl Barger collapsed and died at the baseball winter meetings. In order to honor him, the Marlins later took the unusual step of retiring the number five for Barger's favorite ballplayer, Joe DiMaggio. The first manager of the Marlins was a former catcher named Rene Lachemann, whose previous experience as a manager was with the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers, and who was a third base coach for the Oakland Athletics when he was hired. In the team's first season, it was Gary Sheffield and Bryan Harvey who were the first All-Star selections for the Florida Marlins, but Jeff Conine eventually emerged as the crowd favorite. Conine earned the nickname Mr. Marlin because he developed a significant playing career with the team which included both World Series titles. The Marlins finished their first year five games out of last, just in front of the New York Mets.
Hey, they were an expansion club, so underperformance could be expected for at least a few years. In the ensuing follow-up seasons, they finished last, then next-to-last again. In 1996, the pitching rotation emerged as a bright spot with a 3.95 ERA, third in the National League. Although it wasn't enough to keep the team from a losing overall record, it did propel a significant improvement, and they finished 80-82, good for third place. Newcomer Kevin Brown went 17-11 with an amazing 1.89 ERA. On May 11, Al Leiter pitched a no-hitter. Having a good thing going, the team hired Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Jim Leyland in 1997, then splurged. For 1997, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, and Alex Fernandez were all signed to ridiculous free agent contracts. Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich were added at the trade deadline. Charles Johnson set a record by playing in 123 games without making any errors, and Luis Castillo and Edgar Renteria created a double play knockout punch. The Marlins went 92-70, got into the playoffs via wild card, swept the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, and beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS to win the first Pennant after just four years in the league.
The Marlins were the underdog in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. They overcame the odds and drew the Series out to seven games. It was a classic Series, and in the seventh game, Cleveland carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, when the Indians sent their dangerous closer Jose Mesa out to win the whole damn thing. Mesa was a flamethrower at his best, but he also had a bit of a habit of spacing out. He gave up the tying run, and when the game carried into extra innings, the Indians blew their chance at their first World Series title since 1948 at the bottom of the eleventh. The Florida Marlins set a record by being the team to win the World Series earliest in its existence. They had been around for just four years by that point. A record like that will stand for decades... Wait, editor's message... What do you MEAN that record has since been broken?... Okay, I've just received word that in 1998, some MLB team called the Arizona Diamondbacks started playing and that they were champions in 2001, three years after materializing. Who the hell are the Arizona Diamondbacks, anyway?... Wait, editor's message... Apparently they're some team I reviewed recently. Hm. I don't remember that.
Anyway, after the World Series victory, the Marlins held a fire sale, because that was obviously the best way to ensure a repeat. Apparently the team was claiming financial losses. Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield, Jim Eisenreich, and Manuel Barrios were all traded by May 1998. The trading did yield a little bit of talent in Derrek Lee and AJ Burnett. Mike Piazza was also acquired in those trades, but the Marlins traded him to the New York Mets by midseason, so he's a bit of a write-off in Marlins lore. 1998 ultimately saw the Marlins go from World Series Champions to the worst record in the league and the worst record in their history, 54-108. Jim Leyland resigned after the season. The Marlins were sold in 1999 to John Henry. They also finished with the league's worst record again, although they did end up drafting Josh Beckett and becoming the first MLB team to use instant replay, which was used to reverse a call, a home run which was changed to a double. Those visionaries running MLB decided the umpire were themselves in error by using instant replay, so it wasn't used again for another decade.
The Marlins were finally climbing back toward respectability by 2000, finishing third that year. In 2001, John Henry sold the Marlins to former Montreal Expos owner Jeffery Loria, and thus Henry went on to buy the Boston Red Sox. Loria brought the entire management and coaching staff of the Expos to the Florida Marlins with him, and it must have helped. In 2002, the Marlins finished with the second best record in their history, 79-83, even though it was yet another losing season. For the 2003 season, they loaded up again by grabbing ten-time Golden Glove winning catcher Ivan Rodriguez and speedy outfielder Juan Pierre. They struggled early on in the season, but the call-up of Dontrelle Willis helped carry the team as Willis went 11-2 in his first 17 starts. Ultimately the Marlins finished ten games behind the Braves, captured the wild card, and upended the defending NL Champion San Francisco Giants in the NLDS.
The 2003 NLCS was one of the most famous in history. The Marlins were playing against the Chicago Cubs, who were threatening to win their first Pennant since 1945. The Cubs even rushed out to a 3-1 lead in the series, but Beckett managed to kep the Marlins in it with a full game shutout in game five. In game six, the Cubs led 3-0 into the eighth inning behind an array of blazing fastballs and dazzling breaking balls from pitcher Mark Prior. Unfortunately, Prior was also on the mound for a bit too long and everyone knew it except Cubs manager Dusty Baker. The Marlins began taking advantage of Prior's fatigue and started to rally. Luis Castillo hit a routine foul into left which former Marlin Moises Alou went after. At the same time, a spectator named Steve Bartman also reached for it, and he was the one who caught it. Fans were so pissed at Bartman that he had to be given a Police escort out of the stadium. Alou claimed he was sure he would catch the ball, even though in photos his arm is at least a solid foot away from it. Years later, he admitted he never had a shot at it, and then took THAT back months later, saying he didn't remember ever saying that and if he did, it was to make Bartman feel better. The most important play of the inning came soon afterward, when Alex Gonzalez erred on a routine grounder which could have been an inning-ending double play. It wasn't until then that Baker realized that hey, you know, maybe Mark Prior might be starting to get a wee bit fatigued. Prior was replaced by Kyle Farnsworth, whose first move was to intentionally walk Mike Lowell. On the outside, this wasn't such a bad move, since Lowell won a Silver Slugger that year, but the intentional walk also loaded the bases. Jeff Conine then hit a sacrifice fly which put the Marlins in the lead for good. Florida came back to close the series, winning their second Pennant and a chance to go to the World Series and get slaughtered by the New York Yankees.
The Yankees were playing in their sixth World Series in eight years. They had a record of 101-61 and no holes. They were also coming off a climactic duel of their very own against their powerful archrivals, the Boston Red Sox. It was the Yankees who were naturally favored, but the Series turned into a pitchers' duel which the Marlins won in six games. They were just better when it counted, although the the Yankees' rotation featured David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte and gave a valiant effort. In ten years, the Florida Marlins were now two-time champions.
The new Marlins manager, Jack McKeon, was proving to be the Marlins' best manager so far when he finished 2004 with an 83-79 record which was the team's third winning record in history. That was pretty good considering that after winning the World Series, they held another fire sale. Derrek Lee was off, and became a mainstay with the Cubs and one of their best and most popular players. Ivan Rodriguez left through free agency because in his zest to find a new challenge, he decided trying to turn the hapless Detroit Tigers around was a worthy cause. Their third base coach, Ozzie Guillen, also left to manage the Chicago White Sox, the team he had once played for, anchoring at shortstop for many years. After 2004, All-Stars Carl Pavano and Armando Benitez left. Although Carlos Delgado was an addition and high expectations were projected onto the Marlins for 2005, the Marlins finished fourth. To be fair, though, the AL East was unusually competitive that year. The Marlins had four All-Stars and a record of 83-79 in a division in which the last place team, the Washington Nationals, went 81-81.
Another player dump ensued, and the Marlins went right back to losing for another couple of seasons before going .500 in 2008. The next year, they were in the playoff chase, through September because of Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan and batting champion Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins have pretty much been grabbing and dumping players once their contracts got to be too much since then, and it hasn't been working. In 2012, they decided to try for a new identity. They got a new ballpark, changed their name officially to the Miami Marlins, and made another free agent splash. This time, they picked up Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and in a trade, Carlos Zambrano. They also picked up a new manager when they grabbed Buehrle's old manager with the White Sox in Ozzie Guillen. Unfortunately, Guillen is a loose cannon, and there is only one place on Earth where his fiery temper and foul mouth were a match for fans: Bridgeport, the neighborhood in Chicago's south side where the White Sox play. In addition, Showtime decided to close in on the Marlins for the second season of The Franchise, a reality TV show which follows the lives of players on a sports team. Although the team started fairly strong and set a team record for wins in a single month by winning 21 games in May, everyone knew this whole brew was a poisonous one. It wasn't very long before the newly-minted, new-identity Miami Marlins began playing like the walking disaster they were. On August 12, the only Opening Day starter still in the regular lineup was Reyes. Guillen was fired right after the season for, well, pretty much just for being Ozzie Guillen. Half the team got dumped again once the season was over.
An adopting fan should get used to dumps. That's pretty much the team history. This latest one was especially nasty, and the Marlins just may choose to design an implosion and rebuild from scratch. I think that's what they're already doing, in fact. Still, fans need to hang in there because this one is gonna take awhile to get through.
There are plenty of notable players who were Marlins at one time or another, but only two Hall of Famers: One is Tony Perez, who was inducted as a player but is on the Marlins' all-time roster only as a manager. The other is Andre Dawson, who only played for the Marlins in the last two years of his career after building an impressive resume with the Expos - who retired his number - and the Cubs, who still love him and probably should retired his number. The Marlins don't have any retired numbers outside of Jackie Robinson, who I tend to not count because his number is retired in the entire league. I mentioned earlier that number five was retired to honor the team's first president, Carl Barger, because Barger's favorite player was Joe DiMaggio. Upon moving to their new ballpark, they chose to take number five out of retirement and give Barger a plaque, which is a lot more appropriate, with all due respect to both Barger and DiMaggio. Jeff Conine SHOULD have his number retired. It's embarrassing the team hasn't honored him like that.
The source of Miami Marlins rivalries is naturally in their division, the NL East, which gives them the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals. Their divisional rivalry with the New York Mets is a bitter one because moving to Florida is a popular hobby in the northeast, and Mets fans turn up en masses at Marlins games when their team is in town. They have an interstate and interleague rivalry with the Tampa Bay Rays, a team a few years younger than the Marlins, having joined MLB in 1998 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. They also have something of a rivalry with the New York Yankees due to Spring Training arrangements in the Grapefruit League and the aforementioned number of northeastern fans moving to the area. It helps that the Marlins were also the last team to play against the Yankees in a World Series which took place at the old Yankee Stadium, as well as the last team to beat the Yankees in the World Series.
The Marlins have tepid support. Part of the reason a new stadium was built was because they managed to convince the city and state governments that a new home would draw fans. No one believes it. They are the first MLB team to have cheerleaders, with The Marlins Mermaids. That had an influence on other MLB teams with cheerleaders of their own. In 2008, they also debuted an all-man dance squad called The Marlins Manatees. Both were abandoned, and eventually replaced by a co-ed group of dancers called an energy squad. A lot of their on-field identity is through their fire sales, which isn't a good thing. Although on the upside, they have two World Series titles which came with very powerful and poignant moments which etched them into baseball memories for good. The first was game seven in the 1997 World Series, coming back to win at the bottom of the ninth against Jose Mesa. The other is of course the 2003 NLCS against the Cubs. 2003 was a hell of a postseason because it involved two of baseball's most tortured teams - the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs - and gave them a very real opportunity to face each other in a World Series which, had it happened, would have caused the apocalyptic cataclysm which is supposed to be coming in a few more days. Ultimately both of those teams were eliminated, and we got a rather anticlimactic World Series pitting the Marlins against the New York Yankees. I would have given two more fingers to see the Red Sox and Cubs play against each other in the World Series that year, and my two favorite teams are the Yankees and Chicago White Sox. (Which means that I hate the Red Sox and Cubs VERY passionately.)
It's incredible the Marlins have managed to avoid being nondescript, but they're noticeable for all the wrong reasons. Even one of the inarguably great moments in their history came at the denial of a storyline which would have been the best baseball has seen in decades. When you can say that about a team with so few other redeeming values, you can't give them anything else.