Florida Marlins Information
On June 10, 1991, the National League awarded a franchise to Wayne Huizenga, chief executive officer of Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation, owner of the Miami Dolphins football team, and chairman of the board of the Florida Panthers hockey team. The Marlins' first manager was Rene Lachemann, a former catcher who had previously managed the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers and at the time of his hiring was a third base coach under Tony La Russa for the Oakland Athletics. The Marlins won their first game on April 5th, 1993 against the Dodgers. Jeff Conine went 4-4 in this game earning him the nickname "Mr. Marlin." Lachemann kept Florida out of the Eastern Division cellar during the 1993 season as the team finished the year five games ahead of the last-place New York Mets. In that season, the Marlins traded unknown pitcher Trevor Hoffman to the San Diego Padres for 3rd baseman Gary Sheffield. While Sheffield would help Florida succeed immediately, Hoffman would emerge as the best closer in the National League. After the Marlins finished last in their division in 1994 and fourth in 1995, Lachemann was replaced as manager midway through the 1996 season with the Marlins' director of player development, John Boles.
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Despite problems in the dugout and on the field, the Marlins had some bright spots on the mound and behind the plate in 1996. The team's 3.95 ERA ranked third in the NL, led by newcomer Kevin Brown, who finished the season with a 17-11 win-loss record and an impressive 1.89 ERA. On May 11, Al Leiter pitched the first no-hitter in Marlins history. Catcher Charles Johnson led the league with a .995 fielding percentage, threw out a league-high 48 percent of base runners, and collected his second straight Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence. After a slow start, the Marlins finished the year with an 80-82 win-loss record to place third in their division. Boles then returned to his previous position as director of player development, and former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland was hired to lead the club in 1997.
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In 2002, the club would also be distracted by new owner Jeffrey Loria becoming the co-defendant (along with Commissioner Bud Selig) in a RICO Act lawsuit filed by the former minority partners of the Montreal Expos, the team Loria previously owned. The minority owners (many of whom were now minority partners of the Marlins) claimed that Loria and Selig deliberately defrauded the minority owners and devalued the team for personal gain. The case was sent to arbitration in 2004 and was settled for an undisclosed sum.
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The Marlins' record in 1998 slumped to 54-108, making them the first club ever to win a World Series and then lose more than 100 games during the following season; as of 2005, they are still the only team to do this. Leyland resigned as manager in October 1998, being replaced by John Boles, and Huizenga sold the club to businessman John Henry during the off-season. In 2002, the Marlins' fifth straight losing season since winning the World Series, the team drew a franchise-low 813,111 fans, averaging just 10,038 per game.
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The club slowly worked back to becoming a respectable ballclub despite attendance issues, driven by young stars such as A.J. Burnett, Luis Castillo, and Mike Lowell. Burnett pitched the Marlins' third no-hitter against the Padres on May 12th, 2001. In what was a truly extraordinary performance, he walked nine batters and threw 129 pitches, 65 of which were strikes. From 2000 through 2002, the Marlins consecutively put up three 75+ win seasons. In 2002, Jeff Torborg replaced Tony Perez as the Marlins' manager. Torborg put up a 79-83 record in his first season with the team.
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Around the same time (May 9), Florida called the high-kicking rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis up from the Double-A Carolina Mudcats, who helped carry the injury-plagued Marlins with a 11-2 record in his first 3 months (17 starts). Miguel Cabrera (also from the Mudcats), Jeff Conine, an original Marlin and member of the 97 World Series team, (from Baltimore) and Ugueth Urbina (from Texas) were all acquired mid-season as well to help the Marlins play-off push. Finally, Florida clinched the National League Wild Card for the second time in team history with a 4-3 win over the New York Mets on September 26, finishing with an overall record of 91-71.
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While losing All-Stars Carl Pavano and Armando Benitez in the off-season, the Marlins signed P Al Leiter and 1B Carlos Delgado. Delgado's contract was the biggest in franchise history at $52 million over 4 years, with an option for a fifth year. Meanwhile, play-by-play TV broadcaster Len Kasper was also lost to the Chicago Cubs and replaced by Rich Waltz (who had previously been with the Seattle Mariners), and radio announcer Boog Sciambi was replaced by Roxy Bernstein.
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With the addition of Delgado, the Marlins were expected to finish the 2005 season in either first or second place in the NL East by many sportswriters. However, at the All-Star break they were 44-42, and the NL East was unusually competitive, as all five of its teams had a winning record at the break. As a result, the Marlins were criticized for underachieving in the first half of the season. While Cabrera, Willis, and several others posted very good first-half numbers, Lowell was one of the worst offensive producers among regular major-league starters, and Leiter went 3-7 with an ERA of 6.64 before being traded to the New York Yankees on July 15 for a player to be named later. Additionally, Guillermo Mota, who was acquired by Florida in 2004 along with Paul Lo Duca and Juan Encarnacion and was expected to be their closer, turned out inconsistent, and the Marlins gave the closer job to veteran Todd Jones, whom they signed in the offseason. However, the Marlins did send four players to the All-Star Game (Willis, Lo Duca, Castillo, and Cabrera), tying a team record.
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Recent reports indicate that the San Antonio option may have run out of steam, and the team may instead look at building a stadium in Hialeah, FL, a predominantly Cuban-populated city in Miami-Dade county. On May 4, 2006, Hialeah Senator Rudy Garcia and Miami Senators Alex Villalobos and Alex Diaz de la Portilla quietly collected votes for their plan for a $60 million subsidy to build a new ballpark and tacked it onto a bill that guarantees the Orlando Magic basketball team the same type of tax break. City officials are also considering using property taxes from a proposed industrial park to finance construction of a stadium with a retractable roof. "Hialeah is a baseball town," Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said. "Baseball is in our culture. Hialeah will support the Marlins." Governor Jeb Bush, who killed the first Marlins tax-break plan in 2000, supported the subsidy concept last year. And the Florida House of Representatives will likely approve it as well, said Miami Rep. David Rivera. "Just as the House led the way to support the Marlins last year, I'm confident we'll do it again," Rivera said. "As for the Senate, better late than never."
Marlins officials also plan to meet with civic leaders in Charlotte about moving to that city; North Carolina is the largest state in the Union that does not have a baseball team either within or adjacent to its territory (even though the Atlanta Braves are the closest team to that state, and many of its residents are Braves fans).