The Florida Marlins have one of the most unique histories in all of professional sports. In their existence, which dates back to 1991, the Marlins have experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows.
The Marlins were born in June of 1991 when Major League Baseball awarded H. Wayne Huizenga an expansion team for a fee of $95 million. Although an early favorite for the team name was the Florida Flamingos, the Marlins nickname ended up coming out on top. The team, which competes in the National League, would take the field for the first time for the 1993 MLB campaign.
The first year was ugly for the team. In 1993, they lost 98 of their 162 games. However, over the next few years, they got better and better. By the 1996 season, they finished 80-82 and had a number of bright spots including pitchers Kevin Brown and Al Leiter, outfielders Gary Sheffield and Jeff Conine, and catcher Charles Johnson.
Sensing an opportunity to make noise in the 1997 season, the team made a lot of changes in the offseason. They brought in experience manager Jim Leyland to lead the team. A number of free agents, including Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla and Alex Fernandez, were signed to large contracts. The moves worked out well, as the Marlins finished 92-70 to advance to the 1997 playoffs as a Wild Card. Once in the postseason, the Florida Marlins caught fire and defeated the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants on their way to a World Series championship.
Unfortunately, ownership said they lost money even with the World Series title, which resulted in a shocking fire sale. Virtually every veteran player with a large contract was traded away, including Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield and Charles Johnson. As a result, the Marlins went from first to worst in the 1998 season — finishing with a record of 54-108. The aftermath of the fire sale led to Leyland resigning and Huizenga selling the team to John Henry.
While the fans were obviously frustrated with the turn of events, the young, cheap players they traded for started to produce. By 2002, the team had returned to respectability as they completed the season with a 79-83 record and looked to have a bright future.
The 2003 season started off slowly. The team suffered injuries and made a coaching change after a 16-22 start. Soon, new manager Jack McKeon started to turn things around. The team an impressive group of youngsters including Derrek Lee, Miguel Cabrera, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and Josh Beckett. A few veterans, such as Mike Lowell and Ivan Rodriguez, helped the youngsters along and the team finished with a 91-71 regular season record and a Wild Card berth. The postseason was again where the Marlins shined. They beat the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs before they went to the World Series. A huge underdog against the New York Yankees, the Florida Marlins didn’t blink and instead won the World Series with a Game 6 win at Yankees Stadium.
Once again, they didn’t keep their World Series team together. Instead, they traded away Derrek Lee and lost Ivan Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina to free agency. A decline in the following years led to another rebuilding effort for them.
Looking back on it, the Marlins have had such a unique history. They’ve never won their division and have only made the postseason twice thanks to Wild Card berths. That said, they’ve taken full advantage of those two appearances in the playoffs as they’ve won a pair of World Series titles.
The Florida Marlins currently play in the Sun Life Stadium, but are building a new ballpark that will be ready in April of 2012. With the new ballpark, the Marlins are expected to make more money and use that money to improve the baseball team. With that in mind, Florida Marlins baseball will surely one day rise again.
Photo credit: SD Dirk