The Vicious Circle of Success and Destruction: A History of the Florida and Miami Marlins – Part 1

Every year of my childhood, I spent two weeks in Florida each year with my grandparents.  For whatever reason, I began to have a kinship with the new sports teams that would appear in the South Florida market over those years – specifically the Panthers and Marlins.  While relevant for a few years, the Panthers have lived a fairly mediocre and uneventful existence since 1996.

The Marlins, on the other hand, have been full of success, controversy, and reinvention.  Just this week, once again, Miami was full of change when a mega-deal between the Marlins and Blue Jays commenced sending every Marlin making money to Toronto – including Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson – in return for cheap prospects.

While my following of the team has fallen to being inconsequential over the years, they have always been very intriguing to look into.  They are coming up on their 20th anniversary in 2013, so it is as good of a time as any to look back at the eventful history of the Marlins:

Phase I: Expansion 1991-1993

Wayne Huizenga, then CEO of Blockbuster, won the rights to an expansion team in South Florida on June 10, 1991, in a move by MLB that would also bring the Rockies to Colorado.  Baseball had a ready-made dome in Tampa that could have welcomed a team at the same time, but MLB decided to go with Huizenga, who owned 50% of Joe Robbie Stadium, a football-specific stadium that already housed the Miami Dolphins.

Also of note, they were originally supposed to be called the “Florida Flamingos”.  Think the color scheme today is muddled?  It could have been two decades of Pink and Black.  Then again, it worked for this guy:

A final important event of this period was the rise of Jeff Conine, a player that would be so instrumental in the success of the team in its history, he is known today as Mr. Marlin.

Phase II: Sheffield and the Talent Grab

Early in 1993, the Marlins made their first move to bring in established veteran stars to establish legitimacy.  Gary Sheffield would come to Florida from the Padres in a famous deal that sent back one-time career saves leader Trevor Hoffman to San Diego.  The important aspect of this would be his immediate success heading to the All-Star Game, perhaps showing the Marlins that going after these types of deals would be beneficial.

Over the next few years, they would bring in more established stars, such as Kevin Brown and Al Leiter, to go along with a group of homegrown players of a strong minor league system.  These players included former #1 pick, Charles Johnson, Robb Nen, Luis Castillo, Edgar Renteria, and the aforementioned, Conine.

Being on the doorstep of a winning team, in 1997, the Marlins decided to go for broke…literally.

Phase III: Spending and Championships

After hiring Jim Leyland, in 1997, the Marlins decided to go all-in.  Instead of waiting for more young talent that could have kept the team strong for years, Huizenga allowed the team to bring in and trade for many expensive veterans from around the league.  This list included Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Alex Fernandez, Darren Daulton, and Jim Eisenriech.
Adding Cuban defector, Livan Hernandez, later on, the Marlins would succeed with their gamble and win the World Series.  But where did this leave them?  In a market that had never strongly supported the MLB franchise, money would become a major issue in the off-season.

Phase IV: Destruction of the Franchise

Screaming economic losses, Huizenga decided that the Marlins must purge the roster of its expensive stars.  The word “firesale” became a household term as ownership pushed one star out the door after another.

Right after the World Series, the Marlins parted with outfielder Alou, sending him to the Astros, and Brown to the Padres (getting back first base stalwart, Derrek Lee).
In May of 1998, they would dump the rest of their stars to the Dodgers.  Included in this deal were Bonilla, Sheffield, Johnson, and Eisenreich.  In return, they got a few players and one star, Mike Piazza.  Of course, Piazza would last only five games with the Marlins before being traded to the Mets (for Preston Wilson).

With that, the Marlins had eliminated the majority of their payroll.  The youth movement they promised would come, but it would take quite a few years before they would show any real improvement.  In that time, prospects from these trades and their draft picks would grow, a new owner would show up, and a few key signings would occur before they would sniff success again.

Part Two Next Week

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