Alex Kielar | June 6th, 2019
Every week we will take a look at the history of one team. You will get some background, iconic players and moments, and postseason results. For this week, let’s take a look at the Miami “Formally Known as Florida” Marlins who have a short but fairly historic history.
Becoming a Franchise
The Florida Marlins were created in 1991 as one of two expansion teams in the National League, six years after a new agreement was made to permit this expansion. After Major League owners unanimously approved the ownership groups in Denver and South Florida, the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins were born and approved as the newest franchises on July 5, 1991.
The Marlins hired their first president on July 8, former president of the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1987 Carl Barger. Two months later, on July 18, the Marlins would name their first General Manager, naming Montreal Expos General Manager Dave Dombrowski as their GM and Executive Vice President. The Marlins first player signee was a 16-year old right-handed pitcher out of the Dominican Republic, Clemente Nuñez, who they assigned to the Gulf Coast rookie league. Prior to this signing, the Marlins signed a one-year contract with the Erie Sailors of the New York-Penn League with Fredi Gonzalez coming on to manage. Erie played the Marlins’ very first minor league game on June 15, 1992, and they would go on to play a 78-game short season. Two weeks prior to that, the Marlins selected catcher Charles Johnson from the University of Miami for their first-ever first round draft pick in the June Amateur Draft.
In October of 1992, the Marlins signed a two-year agreement with the Edmonton Trappers, a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League, and signed right-hander Matt Turner to a Triple-A contract, with an invite to Spring Training. On October 23, the Marlins announced their first manager was Rene Lachemann, signing him to a three-year deal. They selected outfielder Nigel Wilson with their first pick in the Expansion Draft in November, and 35 other players later in the draft. In December, the Marlins participated in their first Rule 5 Draft, selecting RHP Stanley Spencer, LHP Mike Myers and OF Scott Pose. They also signed two free agents, infielder Dave Magadan for two years and veteran knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough for one year.
Just a day after announcing their free agent signings, tragedy struck the organization, as President Carl Barger collapsed during the Winter Meetings in Louisville, KY and later died in the hospital due to a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. In February 1993, the Marlins announced their training complex in Brevard County would be dedicated to Barger, calling it the Carl F. Barger Complex. The Marlins opened their inaugural season on April 5, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-3 before a sellout crowd of 42,334 fans at Joe Robbie Stadium, in a game Charlie Hough started. The first home run in Marlins history came off the bat of Benito Santiago, a two-run shot. Gary Sheffield and Bryan Harvey were the first All-Star representatives for the Marlins, with Sheffield homering in their first All-Star at-bat. Sheffield had been traded over from the San Diego Padres along with two minor leaguers, for reliever Trevor Hoffman. While Sheffield emerged as an All-Star immediately, Hoffman wound up being one of the best closers in MLB history. The Marlins surpassed the three million mark in attendance in their inaugural season.
In 1994, the Marlins named Donald A. Smiley as their second ever President, while also opening up Space Coast Stadium as their new Spring Training home on March 4. The Marlins finished last in their division in the strike-shortened season and fourth in 1995, a season in which Jeff Conine was named the All-Star MVP.
The Marlins were finally able to find some success starting in 1996, having solid performances from their starting rotation with help from newcomer Kevin Brown, and their catcher who had a great relationship with all their pitchers, Charles Johnson. Brown finished the season with a 17-11 record and a 1.89 ERA, while Johnson led the league with a .995 fielding percentage and threw out 48 percent of base runners leading him to earn a Gold Glove. More pitching success was also found, as Al Leiter pitched a no-hitter on May 11 for the Marlins’ first no-hitter in team history. However, even with these bright spots, the Marlins fired Lachemann midway through the season and replaced him with the director of player development John Boles. The Marlins started slow, but still finished at a decent 80-82 to place third in their division. Following the season, Boles returned to his previous position as director of player development and the Marlins hired former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland.
In addition to tabbing Leyland as their next manager, the Marlins also added third baseman Bobby Bonilla, outfielder Moisés Alou, and pitcher Alex Fernandez to expensive contracts, which raised expectations to an all-time high. Kevin Brown nearly pitched a perfect game on June 10, 1997, but was able to complete the no-hitter for the second one in franchise history. Brown, Leiter, and Fernandez led the pitching staff to a great run of pitching in the regular season, along with Robb Nen as the closer. Alou and Bonilla led the lineup along with trade deadline acquisitions Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich, to help deliver experience and clutch hitting. Talented youngsters second baseman Luis Castillo and shortstop Édgar Rentería emerged as one of the top double-play duos in the league. The Marlins finished nine games back of division champion Atlanta Braves but were still able to earn the wild card for the playoffs, clinching their first playoff berth with a 6-3 victory over the Montreal Expos on September 23. Castillo failed to live up to expectations offensively and was thus replaced by Craig Counsell prior to the playoffs even beginning. The Marlins got by the NLDS with ease, sweeping the San Francisco Giants, to match up with division rival and champion Atlanta in the Championship Series. Despite losing Alex Fernandez to a torn rotator cuff and Kevin Brown to a virus, the Marlins defeated the Braves in six games. Rookie pitcher Liván Hernandez took the spot of Brown in Game 5, where he outdueled multiple Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux, striking out 15 Braves to lead the Marlins to a 2-1 victory and 3-2 series lead. Brown was able to return to the mound for Game 6 and he dominated, pitching a complete game to help secure the National League pennant for the Marlins.
The Marlins were underdogs going into the World Series against the Cleveland Indians, but the series went the distance, going seven games. In the decisive Game 7, the Marlins were on the brink of defeat, down 2-1 before Counsell drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. Then, in the bottom of the 11th with the bases loaded, Rentería hit a soft liner up the middle that glanced off Cleveland pitcher Charles Nagy’s glove and ricocheted into center field to score Counsell and give the Marlins their first World Series championship. Hernández ended up being named the MVP of the Series, after his performance in Game 5.
Following the 1997 season, despite coming out on top, the Marlins were almost completely dismantled, as Huizenga sold off most of their best players, including trading Alou days after the World Series to the Houston Astros for pitchers Oscar Henriquez and Manuel Barrios. The next trade would be Kevin Brown, who was being dealt to the Padres for Derrek Lee and two other minor leaguers. Then in May 1998, they would deal Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich, and Berrios to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile, both who’d be gone by midseason.
The Marlins fell to a franchise-worst 54-108 in 1998 following this “fire sale” and are the only team to lose 100 games a year after winning the World Series. Leyland resigned following the season and was replaced by John Boles, his second tenure. Huizenga then sold the team to John Henry during the off-season, and Henry unveiled his vision for a new ballpark. Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami is selected as the site for the new ballpark, but a new ballpark would take years to be funded and wouldn’t be finished until 2012. The Marlins had the second overall pick in the 1999 draft in which they drafted Josh Beckett, a high school pitcher from Houston. In 2000, after another awful season in 1999, the Marlins named Dave Dombrowski as their next President following Don Smyly’s resignation in the off-season. Dombrowski would be President and General Manager. The Marlins had the first overall pick in the draft for the first time that year and selected 16-year old first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who agreed to a contract that day.
Back to Respectability
The Marlins started to improve and perform much better starting in 2000, led by breakout years from Preston Wilson (31 HR, 121 RBI), Derrek Lee (28 HR), and Luis Castillo (.334 average), along with 45 saves from Antonio Alfonseca. The Marlins finished 79-82 and placed third in the NL East that season, and would place fourth with a 76-86 record the following season. Young pitcher A.J. Burnett pitched the team’s third no-hitter on May 12 despite nine walks. Only two weeks after the no-no, the Marlins fired Manager John Boles and named Tony Pérez as interim manager. Following the season, Pérez stepped down as manager, and Dombrowski resigned as GM and President and took the job as President of the Detroit Tigers. Prior to the season, Henry sold the Marlins to Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, giving way for Henry to buy the Red Sox. The Marlins has their second-best record up to that point in 2002 with a 79-83 record, but it was also their fifth straight losing season after winning the World Series.
Second World Series
Prior to the 2003 season, the Marlins signed free agent catcher 10-time Gold Glove Award winner Iván Rodriguez and also acquired outfielder Juan Pierre. Florida struggled to open the season, going 16-22 while losing their top three pitchers, AJ Burnett, Josh Beckett, and Mark Redman. On May 11, the Marlins fired Manager Jeff Torborg and replaced him with Jack McKeon. The Marlins hit rock bottom on May 22, boasting an MLB worst 19-29. The Marlins had called up high leg kicking southpaw Dontrelle Willis from Double-A Carolina on May 9, and he would go 11-2 in his first 17 starts. Miguel Cabrera was also called up from Carolina, and fit right in, as he hit a walk-off home run in his first major league game. Willis and Cabrera proved throughout the season to be huge pieces to the Marlins success. Jeff Conine, one of the original Marlins players and member of the ‘97 Champion team, made his return to the team, and he, along with closer Ugueth Urbina, acquired from the Texas Rangers, helped the team stay in playoff contention. They once again placed behind the Braves in the division, this time ten games behind, but were able to capture the NL Wild Card, and matched up against the San Francisco Giants. Just like in 1997, the Marlins defeated the favored Giants, three games to one. The Series ended dramatically with Giants first baseman J.T. Snow and Rodríguez colliding at home plate, and Rodriguez ultimately holding on to end the game and the Series. It was the first time in postseason history the potential tying run was thrown out at home to end the series. The Marlins matched up against the Chicago Cubs in the Championship Series, a series that involved one of the most infamous plays in baseball history. In Game 6, with the Cubs up by three runs with one out in the 8th inning, Luis Castillo hit a pop foul along the third base line. Steve Bartman reached for the ball, preventing Moisés Alou from making the play, and leading to an 8-run Marlins rally. Josh Beckett had pitched a complete game shutout in Game 5 to keep the series alive, and in Game 7, the Marlins came back to beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field for their second NL Pennant. The “Curse of the Billy Goat” was alive and well for the Cubs, but more on that in the Cubs history article. Stay tuned.
In the World Series, the Marlins would have to face 26-time World Series champion New York Yankees, who were heavily favored. But with the help of heroics from Álex González, who hit a walk-off home run in extra innings in Game 4, and the phenomenal pitching from Josh Beckett, with a five-hit complete game shutout in Game 6, they clinched their second title. Beckett won the Series MVP with his performance in the clinching Game 6, and the Marlins became the first team since the 1981 Dodgers to clinch a World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Back to Mediocrity, Fire Selling, and Rebuilding
The Marlins enjoyed winning seasons in 2004 and 2005 but failed to make the postseason both seasons. Pitcher Carl Pavano won a Marlins’ record 18 games in 2004 and closer Armando Benítez saved a franchise record 47 games in 51 chances, as the Marlins finished 83-79. Pavano, Benítez, Mike Lowell, and Miguel Cabrera were all named All-Stars, with Cabrera bashing 33 home runs while driving in 112 runs. The Marlins finished with the same record in 2004, despite having high expectations after acquiring the first baseman Carlos Delgado and pitcher Al Leiter in the offseason. But Leiter went 3-7 with a 6.64 ERA and was traded to the Yankees on July 15. Dontrelle Willis earned 20 wins, going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA, Beckett won a career-high 15 games, newly acquired closer Todd Jones closed 40 games, Cabrera had the best year of his career, batting .323 with 33 home runs, but none of it was enough. The Marlins led the wild card race up until September 13, and then they collapsed, losing 12 of 14 games to fall out of it.
After the 2005 season, the Marlins named a new Manager, Joe Girardi, the Yankees’ bench coach. But Girardi, despite winning the NL Manager of the Year award in 2006, was fired following a feud with owner Jeffrey Loria. Atlanta Braves third base coach Fredi González was named as his replacement within hours. Prior to the season, many of the Marlins players either left for free agency or were traded in a “fire sale” similar to 1997. Burnett, Jones, Conine, and González, among others, left for richer contracts, while Beckett, Lowell, and Delgado, among others, were traded. This left Dontrelle Willis as the only remaining player from the 2005 Opening Day roster. Shortstop Hanley Ramírez and pitcher Aníbal Sánchez were the biggest pieces they got in return for the trades, with young pitchers Jason Vargas, Josh Johnson, and Scott Olsen filling the remaining rotation spots. Johnson, Olsen, Ricky Nolasco, and Sánchez all topped 20 wins, the first time in Major League history four rookies did that. Ramírez won the Rookie of the Year award as well.
After a surprise 2006 season in which they managed to finish just six games under .500, the Marlins fell off in 2007, finishing 20 games under .500. Following this after expectations were fairly high, Cabrera and Willis were traded to the Detroit Tigers for a slew of prospects. Entering 2008, the Marlins were serious underdogs and weren’t expected to compete with anyone. But somehow, even with the lowest payroll in the league and one of the youngest teams, they finished with their first above-.500 record since 2005. They hit a franchise-record 208 home runs, including 33 from Hanley Ramírez. 2009 was another surprising season for the Marlins, winning 87 games and sticking around in the playoff race for most of the season. That year, Ramírez won the NL Batting Title with a .342 average, while also adding 24 home runs, 106 RBIs and 27 stolen bases, and winning a Silver Slugger award. Nick Johnson was acquired at the trade deadline and gave the team a boost with a .477 on-base percentage. The Marlins were finally guaranteed a new ballpark for the start of the 2012 season. Dan Uggla also reached 100 career home runs. Another managerial change occurred during the 2010 season, with González being replaced with Edwin Rodriguez after a 34-36 start. Dan Uggla earned a Silver Slugger award, Josh Johnson posted an NL-low 2.30 ERA, and rookie Mike Stanton emerged with a solid season, but injuries derailed the Marlins, as they finished 80-82. They went 46-46 under Rodriguez, and retained him for the 2011 season, while still exploring other options.
The 2011 season would be the final season the team would be known as the Florida Marlins in Sun Life Stadium, and it started out promising. After a hot first couple of months, June became the worst month in team history, as they went 5-23, and Rodriguez resigned. The Marlins named 80-year-old Jack McKeon as interim manager, and they were able to reach .500 on August 2. But they couldn’t push heavily for the playoffs, as Ramírez and Omar Infante went down with injuries. Following the season, Ozzie Guillen was named manager as the team opened their new stadium, Marlins Park, and were renamed to the Miami Marlins. With an expected boosted revenue from the new ballpark, the Marlins signed All-Stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell to a combined $191 million.
New Ballpark, New Name, New Struggles
Marlins Park, the retractable roof stadium, opened with hopefulness. Giancarlo “Formerly Known as Mike” Stanton earned NL Player of the Month for May with 12 home runs and 30 RBI, and the Marlins went a franchise-record for a month, 21-8. They were only a half game out of first, but would never see a deficit that small the rest of the way, finishing dead last with a 69-93 record. Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and the face of the franchise Hanley Ramírez were all traded prior to the trade deadline. Guillen was fired and replaced by Mike Redmond following the season, and almost three weeks later the Marlins completed the largest trade in franchise history. It was a 12-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, in which Miami sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck to Toronto. 2013 saw young José Fernández win Rookie of the Year, in which he struck out 187 batters and posted a 2.19 ERA and 12-6 record. The Marlins, however, struggled mightily and finished the year with 100 losses for the second time in franchise history. 2014 started off promising as Fernández struck out nine and surrendered only one run on Opening Day, but then less than a week later in his next start, Fernández tore a ligament in his right elbow. He would go undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his season. They would finish better than 2013, going 77-85 and staying out of the cellar of the NL East, finishing fourth. Stanton smashed his 150th career home run in August. In the off-season, Miami acquired Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, and Miguel Rojas from the Dodgers, while later acquiring Martin Prado and David Phelps from the Yankees.
In 2015 the Marlins had high expectations with a talented roster, but started 16-22 and fired Redmond as manager. Dan Jennings was the replacement despite never coaching or managing in any MLB organization. They finished the season with a disappointing 71-91 record. Miami improved to a 79-82 record in 2016, but on September 25, they were dealt a saddening and tragic setback, as José Fernández was killed in a boating accident after he put up a great season. In 2017 Owner Jeffrey Loria advertised to sell the team and Derek Jeter expressed interest. Jeter was ultimately a part of the winning $1.2 billion bid led by Bruce Sherman. Jeter became CEO and he and Sherman began a fire sale, trading off Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, among others right away to start trying to get the franchise back to profitability. This past offseason, J.T. Realmuto and Dee Gordon were also traded, and the Marlins are in full rebuild mode. They had a pretty effective draft, drafting Vanderbilt’s JJ Bleday and Missouri’s Kameron Misner with their first two picks (read their draft previews: Kameron Misner Draft Preview and JJ Bleday Draft Preview
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images