Disappointing Marlins cannot win on field or with fans

By DAVID FURONES
School of Communication
University of Miami

Another disappointing season on the field and in the stands.

With the World Series and MLB season now having reached its conclusion, the Florida Marlins once again found themselves on the outside looking in come October.

Playoff baseball is something the Marlins haven’t had the privilege of participating in for seven consecutive seasons now since their magical 2003 World Series run and fans have good reason if they find themselves in an irate state.

The Marlins showed promise with their 2009 campaign. They won their third highest number of games in franchise history (87), only outdoing themselves with their two World Series runs in 1997 (92) and 2003 (91), and had primed themselves and their fans for a playoff surge in 2010.

However, news was released during the off-season that Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria, and president, David Samson, were pocketing a large sum of the money — assets they were telling the public they didn’t have.

“Lies are simply part of how the Marlins do business,” says Yahoo! sports writer Jeff Passan in a 2009 article.

The Marlins have been notorious in recent years for simply not being capable of keeping its superstars signed to long-term contracts due to a limited payroll, as the team officials would call it, but the investigative reports against them said a “limited payroll” was far from the real reason.

Whenever questioned about it in the days succeeding the allegations, Samson would give the robotic programmed response of denying that Loria ever pocketed any money.

“Jeffrey Loria did not put a dollar in his pocket,” said Passan in response to Samson. “He put millions.”

Following the findings, the Marlins soon spent more money on player salaries and re-signed starting pitcher Josh Johnson, second baseman Dan Uggla, and outfielder Cody Ross to heftier contracts, but it didn’t come until after Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig mandated that they spend more. Regardless, they ended up trading Ross over to the San Francisco Giants, who now find themselves with a World Series ring, and Uggla to the division rival Atlanta Braves.

“It might feel like a sting to the fan base,” says University of Miami sports administration professor Paul Resnick, who worked with the Marlins from 2003 to 2006 in public relations, “but they weren’t winning with those guys. They decided to go with the young team again.”

The fans’ disapproval of the team’s front office decision-making has been expressed in their attendance to games. The Marlins, while actually improving from recent years with this number, only brought in 18,075 people per game — a number good for 28th out of 30 teams in Major League Baseball.

“This team is not that old. The older fans in this area have their allegiance to other teams,” said Resnick. “It’s still in this grassroots effort to get the young crowd, in college now, that followed the team growing up to now start spending money to go to the games as they move into a new ballpark.”

This isn’t the first time in franchise history that similar developments have transpired. Who can forget the abrupt fire sale immediately after the 1997 title run? Or the one that took place slowly but surely in the years following the 2003 championship?

“I had always been iffy on the Marlins,” says former Marlins fan Andrew Porras, “but the year they traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, that did it for me.”

Porras, of course, is referring to the 2007-08 off-season when the Fish saved money on having to renew the contracts of the two biggest names on their roster by trading them to the Detroit Tigers for minor league prospects Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.

“When they did that,” Porras continues, “that was reminiscent to when I was just a kid and they took down the entire 1997 team.”

The Florida Marlins highest attendance records were found in their earliest seasons — the only year where they drew more than three million fans over the course of a season was their inaugural year.

“Even though they didn’t have a great product to sell on the field,” said Resnick, “the fact that South Florida finally earned itself a baseball franchise was enough to bring fans out to the ballpark.”

The team was developing, improving its winning percentage in each of its first five seasons, culminating in the 1997 7-game World Series victory over the offensive juggernaut of a team in the Cleveland Indians.

While now possessing a colossal championship ring on his finger, then owner, Wayne Huizenga, was displeased with the fact that he spent so much on the players that he actually ended up losing money on the season. A fire sale then occurred in the off-season that has become as synonymous with the term as humanly possible in the sport of baseball.

Key players of the likes of Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Conine, Charles Johnson, and Robb Nen did not make the 1998 opening day roster. The ensuing results were imminent and very predictable. The team experienced a 38-game drop-off in the win/loss column and their run differential on the season plummeted to -256—a number that deviates drastically from the +71 the Marlins experienced for the 1997 run.

During John Henry’s tenure as Marlins owner (1998-2002), the team lost 549 more games than they won.

“I think there was a sour taste in the fans’ mouths and it showed in the attendance” says Resnick, “there were a lot of negative articles written about Henry as an owner around that time.”

Along with the drop-off in the team’s success, so came the drop in attendance. The Marlins then changed owners twice and faced their worst attendance numbers between the years of 1999 and 2002 — reaching an all-time low of 10,038 fans per home game for their 2002 campaign which forced MLB to threaten the continuance of the franchise’s existence in South Florida.

But in 2003, the Marlins were set for another World Series run with a cast of young talent and the free agent signing of Ivan Rodriguez. The Fish won 91 games that year — second only to the 1997 season — and finished with a positive run differential for the first time since that same year. This rejuvenated baseball temporarily in Miami to a respectable point in attendance.

However, what followed was another perceived fire sale that turned out to take place over a number of years as opposed to the abrupt one that previously haunted the psyches of Marlin fans.

“You can’t really question the Marlins front office too much,” says Resnick, “they seem to succeed more than fail with the moves they’ve made.”

The team has once again developed its own talent and will look to be competitive upon opening their new ballpark on the former site of the Orange Bowl.

“I think things will turn around in the new ballpark,” said Resnick, “that will be the re-branding of the team.”

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