Miami Sports Franchises: Florida Marlins

World Series Titles: 2 (1997, 2003)

Retired Numbers: #5 Carl Berger (team president), #42 Jackie Robinson (league-wide)

Rivals: Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves

The Florida Marlins were one of two teams to enter the league in 1993 as an expansion franchise. While the team has been in operation for just 17 years, they have been some of the most interesting 17 years in baseball history. For the first few seasons, the Marlins used shrewed front office transactions to build themselves a winner.

In their first MLB entry player draft, the team selected catcher Charles Johnson, and the Marlins also selected the likes of outfielder Jeff Connine and pitcher Trevor Hoffman in the Expansion Draft of 1992. In their first season, the team shipped Hoffman to the San Diego Padres for third baseman Gary Sheffield. Sheffield would become a star during his tenure in Florida, though Hoffman would become one as well, becoming the all-time saves leader by the end of his career.

With Sheffield and Conine entrenched in the Marlins’ every day line-up, the team quickly looked to improve their starting rotation. The Marlins signed right-hander Kevin Brown in the winter of 1995. Brown, a former 20-game winner with the Texas Rangers, became the ace of the Marlins pitching staff that would later include Alex Fernandez and Al Leiter. Leiter also became the first Marlin to pitch a no-hitter in 1996, on his way to his first All-Star selection.

After the 1996 season, in which the Marlins finished 80-82, the team looked to capitalize on their growing success. Jim Leyland took over for John Boles as the team’s manager, and the franchise signed the likes of outfielder Moises Alou from the Montreal Expos and third baseman Bobby Bonilla from the New York Mets. Mixed in with the young, developing middle infield combination of shortstop Edgar Renteria and second baseman Luis Castillo, power-hitting sluggers Gary Sheffield and Jeff Conine, and one of the best rotations in baseball headed by Brown, Leiter, Fernandez and rookie Livan Hernandez, the Marlins won 92 games and took home the Wild Card title.

The Marlins swept the Giants three games to none in the Divisional Series, setting up a showdown with National League East rival, the Atlanta Braves. The Marlins surprised many, defeating the two-time defending National League champion Braves in six games. The Marlins then clashed with the Cleveland Indians, and the two teams traded wins through the first six games. In game seven, the Marlins trailed the Indians 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning in Pro Player Stadium, home of the Marlins.

Craig Counsell, acquired mid-season and inserted into the starting line-up at the start of the playoffs to provide more offense over Luis Castillo, his a sacrifce fly to tie the game at two and send it into extra innings. In the 11th, with the bases loaded and two outs, shortstop Edgar Renteria hit a soft line drive that found a landing spot in centerfield, scoring Craig Counsell and giving the Marlins their first championship in their young five year history in walk-off fashion.

While the champagne was still fresh in Miami, team owner Wayne Huizenga decided to dismantle the team. Citing a financial loss with the franchise despite the World Series victory, Huizenga completed a “fire sale” of the franchise. Some of the notable trades included sending Moises Alou to the Houston Astros for two minor leaguers, Al Leiter to the Mets for pitcher A.J. Burnett and two minor leaguers and Kevin Brown to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Derrek Lee and two minor leaguers.

The final piece of the fire same came in May 1998, when the Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers completed a massive seven-player trade. The Marlins acquired star catcher Mike Piazza and infielder Todd Zeile from the Dodgers for star outfielder Gary Sheffield, third baseman Bobby Bonilla, catcher Charles Johnson, veteran outfielder Jim Eisenreich and prospect Manuel Barrios. The Marlins then flipped Mike Piazza to the New York Mets for outfielder Preston Wilson and two prospects. As a result, one year after the Marlins won the World Series, the team fell to 54-108 and finished in last place, where they would remain for a number of years while the organization rebuilt.

Jim Leyland would resign as manager after the 1998 season, and was replaced by the man he replaced, John Boles. Wayne Huizenga also sold the team to a well-known Florida realtor, John Henry. Sporting the second overall pick in the 1999 Amateur draft, the team selected right handed pitching phenom Josh Beckett. While the team continued to struggle in 1999, finishing with a league-worst 64 wins, the team shipped World Series hero Livan Hernandez to the San Francisco Giants.

Before the 2000 season, the team started to make moves to get back towards relevance. The team hired Dave Dombrowski to be the team’s President and General Manager. Also, the Marlins had the first overall pick in the 2000 draft, selecting California high school infielder Adrian Gonzalez. The team was also beginning to experience a renassiance from their young players. Preston Wilson, acquired in the Piazza trade with the Mets, hit 31 home runs and drove in 121 runs in 2000. The team also got increased production from the likes of first baseman Derrek Lee and second baseman Luis Castillo. The team finished the season 79-82, third place in the NL East.

The next year, with the continued development of third baseman Mike Lowell and starters Brad Penny and A.J. Burnett, the Marlins had raised expecations. They got off to a slow start under Boles, who was fired mid-season and replaced by Tony Perez, a Hall of Famer during his playing days with the Cincinnati Reds. In September of that same season, Josh Beckett made his debut, and became an immediate part of a budding, youthful rotation led by Penny and Burnett. The Marlins finished the season 76-86, but the team underwent major shifts in management in the off-season.

2002 as a year of change across the board for the Marlins. Tony Perez resigned as manager and general manager Dave Dombrowski also left the organization because they sensed a major change in ownership approaching. In 2002, Major League Baseball was strongly considering contraction of two Major League franchises to create more financial flexibilty. As such, MLB agreed to buy the Montreal Expos from owner Jeffrey Loria, who had bought the Marlins franchise when team owner John Henry bought the Boston Red Sox. So, to summarize, MLB owns the Expos, Loria owns the Marlins, Henry owns the Red Sox. Great, glad we got that cleared up. Moving on…

Loria immediately hired Larry Beinfest as the team’s new general manager, and Jeff Torborg was brought on as team manager. Before the season started, Beinfest traded hard-throwing right hander Matt Clement and reliever Antonio Alfonseca to the Chicago Cubs for righty Julian Tavarez, left-handed pitching prospect Dontrelle Willis and two prospects. As the season went on, Beinfest continued to morph the Marlins into his philosophy, including trading All-Star outfielder Cliff Floyd to the Montreal Expos for right handed starting pitcher Carl Pavano, infielder Mike Mordecai and three others. Pavano had been the key piece the Expos acquired from the Boston Red Sox for all-world starter Pedro Martinez (see? connections everywhere for these three teams!). However, Pavano hadn’t panned out the way the Expos had hoped, and they wanted to sell on his stock while they could get something for him.

Now with pitching depth unrivaled around the league, the team shipped right hander Ryan Dempster to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Juan Encarnacion and one other prospect. The team finished the year 79-83, second highest win total in franchise history, and were seemingly on their way up.

Heading into the 2003 season, the Marlins signed free-agent catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a 10-time Gold Glove award winner and perennial All-Star with the Texas Rangers. The team also traded for speedy outfielder Juan Pierre, while losing Preston Wilson to free agency.

The Marlins got off to a slow start in 2003, thanks mostly to injuries at the top of their starting rotation, including A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett. As a result, the team fired Jeff Torborg and replaced him with Jack McKeon after the team started 16-22. The team also promoted two prospects when injuries decimated the team: left-handed starter Dontrelle Willis and outfielder Miguel Cabrera. Willis, sporting a quirky high leg kick reminiescent of Juan Marichal, became an overnight sensation in South Florida. In his first 17 starts, Willis posted a record of 11-2. As for Cabrera, who was only 20 years old when he was called up, provided pop for the Marlins, hitting a walk-off home run against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in his first big league game.

The team also brought back veteran outfielder/first baseman Jeff Conine to provide leadership in the clubhouse, and traded for closer Ugueth Urbina from the Texas Rangers. As the team got healthier throughout the season, they slowly crept back into playoff contention and eventually clinched the National League Wild Card with a record of 91-71, only the second winning season in franchise history.

The Marlins handled the heavily favored San Francisco Giants in the divisional series, winning three games to one. In the second round, the Marlins were matched up against the Chicago Cubs, led by duel aces Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. In Game Six of that series, with the Marlins trailing three games to two and trailing by three runs in the top of the eighth, second baseman Luis Castillo hit a pop-up in foul territory down the left field line. Former Marlin turned Cub Moises Alou appeared to have a beat on it when Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached over and deflected the ball away from Alou.

With the second life, the Marlins came from behind in both games six and seven to advance past the Cubs and reach the World Series for the second time in franchise history. Once there, the Marlins matched up against the New York Yankees, and defeated them four games to two to clinch their second Championship in a decade of playing in the Major Leagues.

However, after the season, the Marlins lost Urbina and Pudge Rodriguez to free agency, and traded star first baseman Derrek Lee to the Cubs for Hee-Seop Choi. The Marlins replaced Urbina by signing former Mets closer Armando Bentiez, and traded for catcher Paul Lo Duca halfway through the 2004 campaign. The Marlins ended up sending four different players to the All-Star game in Benitez, Carl Pavano, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Lowell. The team finished 83-79, but more changes were coming for the Marlins.

After winning 18 games for the Marlins the year before, Carl Pavano elected to sign with the New York Yankees in the off-season, and Armando Benitez upped with the San Francisco Giants. The team replaced Pavano with one-time Marlin Al Leiter, and also signed slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado to the largest free agent contract in team history. With these moves, the Marlins were expected to compete at a high level. Despite strong performances from Delgado, Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis (22 wins), the Marlins failed to improve on their win total from the year before.

The failed expectations led the Marlins to yet another house cleaning. McKeon retired after the 2005 campaign, and the Marlins replaced him with Yankees bench coach, Joe Girardi. The team lost pitcher A.J. Burnett and shortstop Alex Gonzalez to free agency, while trading away the likes of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox, Carlos Delago and Paul Lo Duca to the Mets and Luis Castillo to the Minnesota Twins.

The team elected to go with a youth movement across the board while hoping to build around stars Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. The team allowed young pitchers, such as Josh Johnson, to earn spots on the team instead of signing veterans. Also, the team allowed top prospect shortstop Hanley Ramirez, acquired for Beckett and Lowell, to grow into the position at the Major League level. Under Girardi, the team was surprisingly competitive, and Girardi won NL Manager of the Year. However, Girardi often fueded with Jeffrey Loria and Larry Beinfest, and was fired after only one year on the job.

After an up-and-down 2007 that saw Hanley Ramirez ascend to stardome, the Marlins traded away their two most popular players: Willis and Cabrera. Both players were sent to the Detroit Tigers, in a package that landed the Marlins two top prospects: pitcher Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin. Neither player would shake out for the Fish, and would eventually find themselves out of the organization by 2011.

However, the team did find stars in Ramirez, rule-five selection Dan Uggla, and workhouse righty starter Josh Johnson. The Marlins fielded above-.500 teams in 2009 and 2010, but had to trade Uggla after the season due to financial restrictions, which has been their SOP since their first title in 1997. How do the Marlins look for this upcoming season? Check in tomorrow and find out!

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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