Here’s a pop quiz: What’s the only team in baseball to have never lost a playoff series? What team has never won its division but still been to the playoffs twice and won the World Series twice? What team is hated by pretty much every baseball fan on the planet for playing to the least deserving, most indifferent populace to have it shoved in their faces? What baseball team has the worst color combination you’ve ever seen? The Miami Marlins.
The story of the Marlins starts with Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation. Remember them? Well, their CEO was doing so well back then that he was able to buy 15 percent of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Major League Baseball had said a few months earlier that it wanted to expand, so the CEO decided he wanted a team. And he was in Miami; that baseball-less Miami was going to get a team was pretty much a given. Orlando and Tampa wanted teams too, but despite a spirited fight from Orlando, Miami got its team. (Tampa got one in a later expansion.) One early name the team considered was the Florida Flamingos, but the team instead decided to name itself after a pair of earlier minor league teams that had graced the area: They called themselves the Florida Marlins, taking the name of a pair of minor league teams called the Miami Marlins.
The first manager of the Marlins had experience as a manager. He was previously in charge of the Milwaukee Brewers (crap) and the Seattle Mariners (double crap). He was Rene Lachemann, a baseball lifer who had nonetheless been little more than a footnote. As you can probably imagine, the first few years of Florida Marlins baseball weren’t exactly rife with great highlights. Their first-ever Draft selection was catcher Charles Johnson, who actually proved to be a pretty solid pick. Johnson went on to an 11-year career in MLB. His batting statistics were mediocre, but he became a great defensive catcher who was invited to two All-Star games and won four Gold Gloves. The Marlins also picked up Jeff Conine in the Expansion Draft, who established himself as the first star of the team. The Marlins also grabbed Gary Sheffield and Bryan Harvey, who became the team’s first All-Star selections. Those really weren’t bad highlights for a team that took the field for the first time in 1993, but they still didn’t prevent the Marlins from finishing next-to-last that year, five games ahead of the New York Mets.
Things didn’t change a whole lot for the next couple of years, but 1996 did find a couple of bright spots: Their pitching staff posted 3.95 ERA – good enough for third place in the National League – behind newcomer Kevin Brown and Al Leiter pitching a no-hitter. Charles Johnson’s .995 fielding percentage led the league, and the Marlins went 80-82. The next season, they decided to make a handful of big changes, and you know what that means: Time to step the hell up and spend! The Marlins fired Lachemann and hired Jim Leyland in his place as manager. Then they went on a player-signing spree which included Bobby Bonilla at third base, Moises Alou in the outfield, and Alex Fernandez as a starting pitcher. Expectations in 1997 were naturally skyrocketing with a roster like that, and the Marlins really delivered. Kevin Brown pitched the team’s second no-hitter on June 10. Brown, Leiter, and Fernandez led the rotation while Robb Nen closed games, and the combination mowed down batters left and right. At the trade deadline, the Marlins grabbed Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich, a pair of veterans who had a real knack for finding clutch hits. Luis Castillo and Edgar Renteria were awesome when it came to making double plays.
The result of all that firepower? A Wild Card sport which was their thankless reward for finishing nine games behind the Atlanta Braves. Although Castillo was great at throwing out two baserunners in one play, he wasn’t doing much with his bat, so the Marlins replaced him with Craig Counsell just before the playoffs, and the Marlins came out flying. They swept the Giants, then they managed to beat the vaunted Braves in the NCS. That set the stage for a Fall Classic against the Cleveland Indians, who were starved for a title since 1948 but were a powerhouse at the time and two years removed from a Pennant. The Marlins were the underdogs, but they dragged the World Series out to seven games. In a classic seventh game, Indians close Jose Mesa spaced out on the mound in the last inning. That resulted in Counsell hitting a sacrifice into deep right field which was just enough to drive in a tying run from Alou. Two innings later, the Marlins scored one more run and walked off with a 3-2 victory and a 4-3 World Series victory.
So when you win the World Series, what’s the traditional way of celebrating? Why, you hold a fire sale because, even though you just won the fucking World Series, you still took a financial loss. At least that’s what the owner of the team claimed. Alou was sent to the Astros for Oscar Hernandez and Manuel Barrios. Then he traded Kevin Brown to the San Diego Padres for Derrek Lee – who was actually a really good pickup – and a couple of minor league players. The real deathblow came in May of 1998, when Bonilla, Sheffield, Johnson, Eisenreich, and Barrios were shipped to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. Piazza, of course, was an outstanding grab, or at least he would have been had he and Zeile both not been out by midseason. Yes, that’s right; for Zeile, Miami was just another stop on a 12-team, 16-year MLB tour of duty. Piazza became an undisputed leader and eventual legend for the New York Mets. Hey, though, Derrek Lee! And AJ Burnett!
The Florida Marlins had made history by becoming the youngest team to ever win the World Series, in terms of the time between creation and title. It took four years. (This record was eclipsed by the Arizona Diamondbacks just a few years later.) But with that 1997 title came even more history: In 1998, the Marlins became the only team to ever lose over 100 games the year after they won the World Series. And that wasn’t even in the light hundreds, either; they went 54-108 in 1998. Leyland was understandably pissed – he said at his press conference that he thought it was his job to win championships and that apparently the team ownership had different ideas – and jumped ship, walking out with two years left on his contract. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much to talk about that year.
In 1999, the Marlins drafted Josh Beckett and became the first team to use baseball’s new instant replay. During a game against the Cardinals, Cliff Floyd hit a ball to the top of the left field scoreboard. It was ruled a home run, but the umpire looked at a TV monitor and reversed the call, deciding it was a double. St. Louis won the game, MLB decided the umpire was wrong, and the was the last we ever heard about instant replay in baseball for the next decade. The Marlins posted the worst record in baseball in 1999, but you know what that meant: A high-ass Draft pick! That Draft pick was Adrian Gonzalez.Gonzalez agreed to terms with the Marlins the same day they drafted him. He then enjoyed a career through four different MLB teams which is ongoing, putting up great numbers the whole way, none of them for the Marlins because the team thought a wrist injury in 2003 – before his call-up – would hinder his ability to swing a baseball bat. Since the Marlins were only a six-year-old team by that point, it’s tough to say what was typical Marlins and what wasn’t, but that’s exactly the sort of shortsightedness which results in fans sighing the phrase, “typical (team name here).”
Well, at least the Marlins started to show a few flashes of life in 2000. They finished in third place behind a group of youngsters like Burnett, Brad Penny, and Preston Wilson, but it was still a losing season. Hell, the Marlins hadn’t had a winning season since winning the World Series. And they kept piling losing season on top of losing season… Until 2003. Before the season, the Marlins signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Pierre. They also called up Dontrelle Willis. One original Marlin who was lost in the fire sale after the World Series was Jeff Conine, and he was taken back from Baltimore by the Marlins again for 2003. The Marlins finally ran out to their second winning season ever. They finished ten games behind the Braves, capturing the Wild Card spot again. In the playoffs, they faced the San Francisco Giants again, beating them 3-1. In the NLCS, they faced the Chicago Cubs, looking to fight off the Billy Goat Curse, now in its 95th year. The Cubs managed to run out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Marlins managed to fight back and force a game six. In that game, Cubs pitcher Mark Prior stood atop the mound, stymieing the Marlins for eight magnificent innings before tiring out. Now, notice there that I never said he was removed; he was simply tired and NEEDED to be removed. That was apparent to everyone who wasn’t Cubs manager Dusty Baker. Although the Cubs were up 3-0 in the eighth inning, what ensued upon Baker’s mismanagement was one of baseball’s legendary fiascos. Luis Castillo hit a high foul toward left field, where Moises Alou – yes, the former Marlin – made a leap to grab it just as it fell into the hands of a Cubs fan. Now, Alou will tell you different, but anyone who’s seen the audience-angle shot of this scene knows Alou had no chance at this ball. The Cubs asked for a fan interference call which they didn’t get, Prior threw a wild pitch, and Alex Gonzalez made a fielding error which could have turned into a double play and ended the inning. By the time Dusty Baker grew his brain and pulled Prior, the Marlins had tied the game at 3-3. By the time the inning was over, the Marlins were up 8-3, and that score held up. The Marlins beat the dispirited Cubs in the seventh game, and won the Pennant.
The World Series put them up against the New York Yankees, and after two incredible LCS series, it was almost anticlimactic. Florida took the first game behind Brad Penny allowing two runs, then lost the next two to Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina before winning the next three to win the World Series in six games. Nothing to see here. 2004 started with a weird twist: The Marlins were expected to be good. And they were good, inasmuch as they were able to post the third winning record of their existence. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough, because they ended up missing the playoffs.
Fire sale time again! All-Stars Carl Pavano and Armando Benitez were left to walk in the offseason, and while the Marlins were still looking good enough to compete, they were just a couple of games over .500 when the All-Star break came. After collapsing in September, the Marlins stood at an 83-79 record, which was good enough to miss the playoffs. By 2006, the team was running like a low-end minor league club. They had the lowest payroll in baseball, and to manage, they hired some cocky young first-time manager named Joe Girardi. So little was expected of the Marlins in 2006 that when Joe Girardi took them to a record of 78-84, was was awarded with TWO Manager of the Year prizes, one from The Sporting News and the other from the National League itself. Oh yeah, he was also rewarded with a firing from the Marlins. Don’t feel too bad for him, though; he was picked up by the Yankees later and took them to their most recent World Series title. He still manages the Yankees.
Despite their losing record, the Marlins started 2007 believing they could compete with any team. So it was just as well that it wasn’t any team that spent the season beating them so much as it was the injury bug. The starting rotation got ravaged, losing three key players. Kevin Gregg, Hanley Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera were all great performers, but they weren’t enough to make up the rotation deficit. Dontrelle Willis and Scott Olsen having bad years didn’t help anything. In 2008, Willis and Cabrera left the team, but the Fish got off to a hot tart and were 30-20 at one point. They also went 11-16 in August, so you can figure out how this season went. So the tale went for the following few years too: Promise, good players, average or below average records.
In 2010, it was decided that something would be needed to excite the locals into going out to see the team. That something was to change their identity. After the 2011 season, the Florida Marlins renamed themselves the Miami Marlins, dumped their teal color scheme, and went on a signing spree which included manager Ozzie Guillen, pitcher Mark Buehrle, and shortstop Jose Reyes. That came following yet another fire sale, and the team finished 69-93. Even though those weren’t the results the team wanted, the team also went crazy, because it seems to keep repeating this same thing every year even though it keeps losing.
The only number the Marlins retired was 42, and that was for Jackie Robinson. The team announced plans to retire the number of Jose Fernandez, a pitcher with a career record of 38-17 and an ERA of 2.58. He was a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star twice. Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in 2016. By all accounts a likable guy, he carried a great swath of promising talent. To compound the tragedy, his girlfriend was pregnant at the time, so he never got to meet his son. Jeff Conine was the first star and first true face of the Marlins. Although he played two different stints with the Marlins, he also made both of his career All-Star invitations with them and was a stalwart on both of their World Series teams. It seems to me like he deserves to have his number retired; after all, when he signed the traditional one-day retirement contract at the end of his career, he did so as a Marlin.
The sports fanbase in Miami has a reputation for being tepid, and the Marlins are no exception. Like every other team in Miami, the Marlins have had success which fans of many other teams consider unfair because it spoils a fanbase which is considered undeserving. Fans of the Marlins aren’t exactly on the move to defend themselves; the team has resorted to using gadgetry to attract people to their stadium, a state of the art taxpayer robbery which has the third-lowest capacity in MLB and still never sells very many of those seats. The Marlins were the first baseball team to introduce a dance team, the Marlins Mermaids, which many other baseball teams tried to copy. In 2008, the team debuted the Marlins Manatees, an all-male dance squad, which danced right alongside the Mermaids. By 2012, both dance teams were replaced by a coed Energy Squad.
Lord knows the appeal of the Marlins isn’t being helped by the team being in disputes with vendors and season ticket holders. Current owner Jeffrey Loria has stolen from and gouged fans every time he could, whether it be from another team fire sale or ballpark financing or not spending money on previous payroll. The team recently sued nine season ticket holders. That’s the sort of thing that just doesn’t happen unless you’re the Washington Redskins. The team also sued a pair of vendors who are losing money because all the big crowds they were promised aren’t showing up. The Marlins are trying to paint themselves as victims of contract burns, but when journalists asked for comments, the team declined… And everyone knows how that looks. Things are so bad with the team that people in Miami use the name of the stadium as a byword for bad deals.
There’s one cool thing the team has going for it: Its existence was predicted in the movie Back to the Future Part II. When Marty McFly is walking around in 2015 for the first time, he spots a headline saying the Chicago Cubs had just defeated Miami to win the World Series and end their drought. The real Cubs won the World Series in 2016, leading star Michael J. Fox to send out a tweet saying his movie was only off by a year. (“Not bad!” it exclaimed.) But when Back to the Future Part II was made, the Marlins didn’t exist yet. Although the Cubs and Marlins are notably both National League teams, so they’ll never have the opportunity to face each other in the World Series.
Face it: The Miami Marlins got lucky twice and mostly suck. On and off the diamond, they do everything the wrong way.
Never lost in the playoffs; dance squad started a trend; stadium is supposed to be nice
Fans are tepid; owner gives fans many good reasons to be tepid; UGLY uniform scheme; team-building methods usually include fire sales; owner gouges everyone in sight and sues the ones who don’t pay up
Should you be a fan?
Do you enjoy getting gouged and sued?