Marlins Buy The Big One
Wide World Photos
When the Florida Marlins beat the Cleveland Indians and won the 1997 World Series, the victory was greeted with more indifference than any other major sports championship in recent memory. Not because baseball is no longer the national past time. Not because each World Series game started too late and lasted too long. Not because the World Series had suffered through horrible TV ratings. No, the world essentially yawned at the Marlins because their championship was bought.
In the winter of 1996, Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga dropped $89 million on a raft of free agents and a little more on manager Jim Leyland. Huizenga had a good team and simply spent his way to making it a champion. Leyland complained about the media emphasis on the money angle but the normally sharp manager's protestations seemed clueless at best and disingenuous at the least. To deny that he managed a group of mercenaries was silly. Most of his valuable players and he himself had toiled elsewhere the year before. They came together because Huizenga was the high bidder on a lot of contracts. Even Leyland himself, when he was released from his Pirates contract, stated that he wanted to go to a team that was willing to spend.
Leyland argued that players like Bobby Bonilla earned the success of the 1997 Marlins. He misses the point. No one would deny that Bonilla and others are players worthy of success. It's just that their championship was cheapened because the team was assembled so expensively. Leyland wanted everybody to see the Marlins as just another gang of nine guys out on the field who won the big one. Sorry, Jim. That's not what happened.
The achievement of Leyland's Marlins was the game's nightmare coming true. Any vestige that remained of the old hope that sound business decisions and solid player personnel moves could produce a winner was stamped out when the Marlins won. One of the joys of baseball was that a team used to be able to look at the current champion and honestly think "That could be us." More than half of the teams in baseball can only look at the Marlins and say "That will never be us."
The only hope, as we all know, is that Huizenga's spending spree produced a World Series champion but was a bust at the box office. All the new players and success did not increase attendance at all. So, despite winning it all, the Marlins will lose a reported $30 million this year and Huizenga wants out. No matter who owns the Marlins next year will not accept that kind of a loss so General Manager Dave Dombrowski now has to pull apart the world champion that he just got finished putting together.
Despite the Marlins tainted victory, 1997 was a good year for baseball fans. Inter-league play debuted, shaking up a stodgy sport that had not revisited its basic set up since introducing the designated hitter more than 20 years ago. Finally, baseball fans saw Yankees-Mets and White Sox-Cubs games. They also saw Twins-Pirates but that's life.
1997 also saw another unusual development as the Milwaukee Brewers switched over to the National League to accomodate the stubborn newcomers, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks quizzically refused to begin life as an American League team so the Brewers jumped leagues in order to acheive a sensible balance, both in terms of numbers (two 15–team leagues) and geography (Tampa Bay NOT in the AL West). In addition to the NL Diamondbacks, major league baseball will welcome the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the American League.
In 1993, the last time baseball expanded, the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins were the result. The Rockies toil in park that produces laughable offensive numbers and tear-inducing pitching stats. And while the Marlns won it all, they damaged the game by the way they went about it.
Let's hope this class of expansion teams actually has some class.