Miami In A Vice

They have gone out and spent the money on what looks like a fabulous and distinctive new ballpark.

They have gone out and spent the money on what is an often fabulous and always distinctive new manager.

They are evidently willing to go out and spend the money (“in the range of five years, $18-$20 million a year,” per Buster Olney on ESPN) on Jose Reyes and might be able to snare Albert Pujols as well.

They even went out and spent the money on rebranding themselves as a city, not a state, and on some decent looking new uniforms (although the basic premise of the attire struck me as an adaptation of the original 1977 Toronto Blue Jays’ unis, with orange substituted for powder blue).

And I think it will all end in disaster.

As the 20th season of Marlins baseball looms, there is still almost no evidence that South Florida is a major league baseball community, or that it wants or needs big league ball. The entire dynamic could be changed by the new roofed stadium, but the certitude about that – and the willingness to wager literally hundreds of millions of dollars on that certitude – is, to me, unjustified. With the caveat that I know from sopping-wet experience that Joe Robbie/ProPlayer/Whatever Stadium was a miserable place to watch a ballgame, I still think that it’s mortifying that the Fish averaged 37,838 fans per game in their inaugural season of 1993, and 33,695 in 1994 – and never came close to that figure again.

I mean, not close. The World Champions of 1997 played before an average house of 29,190. Otherwise they have had just five seasons of more than 19,007 paid admissions per game, and four that were below 15,766 a year.

Team president David Samson thinks some improvement on the squad and the ballpark will convert a city that has for two decades been saying ‘you fill me with inertia’ will suddenly convert into producing “30 to 35,000 every single game.”

This was a city that could not support AAA baseball in the ’50s, and never again tried higher than A-ball. And I don’t buy the idea that a high-priced indoor facility in Miami proper rather than it a remarkably hard-to-get-to corner of Fort Lauderdale is now going to entice 37,000 fans away from everything else the city offers, especially at night. Pujols and Reyes would be hard to resist. Then again the Marlins fans of nine seasons ago resisted the 2003 World Champions (except for 16,290 of them each game). I’m not even sure how a $95,000,000 investment in Reyes and lord knows how much in Pujols would translate into profitability or even break-even status.

Reyes alone will not do it – ask the Mets.

As if these doubts were not enough, late last night the impeccable Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald tweeted something to make Miami fans shiver:

Source: H. Ramirez is not at all pleased at prospect of changing positions if #Marlins sign Reyes; the two aren’t the friends many portray.

When the Reyes rumors first started, Spencer had quoted Hanley Ramirez with words that bring honor to the role of wet blanket: “I’m the shortstop right now and I consider myself a shortstop.”

One can easily see where all this will go if a) Ramirez and Reyes squabble; b) Reyes gets hurts again; c) the Marlins don’t sign enough new talent to compete in a daunting division; d) the fans don’t show up; or e) all of the above, in any order you choose. When the ’97 Marlin World Champs did not yield a new stadium, 17 of the 25 men on the World Series roster were gone by mid-season 1998 and three more by mid-season 1999.

Imagine Jose Reyes being traded in a fire sale in the middle of 2013. Or Albert Pujols.


A quick thought about the new Cardinals’ manager.

I met Mike Matheny during the nightmarish 2000 NLCS when Rick Ankiel was hit by the same psychological trauma – damage to a close male relative or friend who had taught him the game – that befell Steve Blass, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Sax, the ex-pitcher-turned-author Pat Jordan, and others. Matheny had cut up his hand opening the odd gift of a really big hunting knife, and had to turn over Cardinals’ catching to Carlos Hernandez.

Matheny was devastated, but less for himself and far more for what his absence meant to Ankiel. I don’t know that this has been reported since the time Ankiel’s problems crested (I know I put it on our Fox broadcasts of the Cards-Mets playoffs), but Matheny told me that several times during the season Ankiel had begun to spiral out of control the way he did in that heart-stopping start against New York. “But I could calm him down, I was able to stop him. Last night, watching it, I felt helpless. Worse, I felt paralyzed. I could’ve talked him out of it.”

Consider this in the later context. Ankiel was collapsing under the weight of his father – who had driven him throughout his youth and into his career – going to prison for drug-running. The problem would run Ankiel out of the majors the next year and make him an outfielder two years after that. Yet Matheny was somehow able to encourage him, reassure him, or simply bullspit him, into overcoming this set of complex psychological phenomena.

Put that into a skill set that includes good game judgement, an ability to easily relate to everybody from batboys to announcers who wouldn’t give anybody a hunter’s knife as a present in a million years, and all the other non-healing powers a manager is supposed to have, and I think it’s safe to infer Matheny will be a pretty good big league skipper.


    • J.D.

      True, although Albert makes anybody look better. Personally, I’d have rather seen the Cards try to pry Maddon away from the Rays, or get Francona. But Matheny’s saying all the right things so far, and “keeping the band together” as far as the coaching staff goes, which is good. His history shows he’s a gamer and a motivator (as KO pointed out nicely), although the Cards haven’t gone the untested manager route in eons…who was the last one? Boyer? It was before my time, anyway. Jorgensen was interim, so I don’t really count him.

      Re: Albert and the Marlins: I just can’t see them signing him without breaking the bank, especially if they want Reyes as well. The only way I see it happening is if Reyes goes elsewhere, but even then it’s a stretch. I think Albert’s using the Marlins to get a bigger deal from the Cardinals or some large-market team. Time will tell, I suppose.

  1. Roger Barton

    The people of Miami have never been great sports fans, especially when it comes to baseball and even basketball. You go to a game and everyone is their cell phones or texting messages to who knows where, seemingly uninterested in the actual game. Most times, if people show up, they show up extremely late.

    The only time I ever saw the stadium fairly full was the World Series. Miamians are notorious for hopping on their teams bandwagon once they see their team may have a shot at a division championship, but rarely support their teams enroute.

    Part of the issue is most people from Miami are transplants from other areas of the country or world. Baseball fans Become loyal to a specific team at an early age. Unfortunately for Miami that team is not Florida. As you stated, a new stadium will not change that loyalty. At first people will go out of curiousity or because it is the cool thing to do, but thereafter, NADA

  2. Rob Hingston (@FLMarlins85)

    Keith, I think you’re leaving out several factors when considering the Marlins’ situation. First of all, the strike of 1994 happened not even a year after the team’s birth, which was a huge blow to begin with. Top that off with the dampening of the ’97 championship due to the 1998 fire sale, and that’s a pretty inauspicious start for a franchise. Not to mention the fact that by 2006 the team was completely rebuilt from the 2003 championship. Finally, the stadium was a complete mess, and with Miami’s unpredictable weather, nobody wanted to drive sometimes over an hour to go to a game that would get rained out. I can’t tell you how many rain delays I sat through as a fan at Sun Life.

    I think if there’s a period of stability with this franchise from here on out, Miami can eventually become a baseball town. But it’s going to take the kind of commitment that the ownership at least appears to be trying to make right now by attempting to add some more stars to the team.

  3. Mike (@thwhshsa)

    I can’t match (or sometimes even follow) the in-depth analysis of the game I used to love. But on the grander scale of things, compared to the obscene trashing of lives, broken minds, bodies, and trillions of national treasure wasted in stupid, useless wars, this seems like a reasonable risk of public and private money.

  4. rm

    The new Marlins stadium is in a “not very nice” part of Miami and as a SWF I would not feel comfortable walking to from one of the metro/train stops (which would be about ~ 1 mile walk). I have been to several major league ball parks (The Cell in Chicago, Target field, Comerica Park, Coors field, Skydome/Rogers stadium) and all of them are easily accessible via public transportation and most have a bustling area of shops and restaurants around them. No evidence of that yet. One thing I do hope they carry over from Dolphin/sunlife/whatever they are calling it this month stadium are the “Bark in the Park” nights. Yup, bring your dog to the ball game (and support the local humane societies).

  5. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    Three things you brought to my mind. 1. When I was little, I had some money and walked to TG&Y to buy a little wallet to put it in. I cried all the way home because I no longer had the money…or need of a wallet. 2. Mama taught us that if you ever give a knife as a gift, it will cut the relationship in two…UNLESS…the receiver of the gift pays you something for it. Even a penny will keep the hex off! 3. Perhaps Miami is too pretty for the major leagues. The people might want to go to the beach instead of watching the ball. Just sayin’. As always, your writing is grand! Thanks!

  6. Barb Chamberlin

    First off – the new Marlins uniforms are butt-ugly and remind me of Miami Vice. The Marlins do have a lot of fans in South Florida, but we can’t afford to go to the games very often. This is one of the poorest major metropolitan areas in the country. Parking at Joe Robbie was 10 to 11 dollars. Bad pizza 8 dollars. Water 4 dollars. That’s already over 20 dollars without the price of the ticket. I was only able to go to a few games, but I, and many other fans watch every game we can on TV. Lower prices and more fans will show up.

  7. Lin Lofley

    My first thought when I heard about Matheny was: “Isn’t he the guy who missed the playoffs when he cut himself with a hunting knife a few years ago?” Yeah, that’s the guy. I’m certain he’ll be understanding when his players do stupid stuff.

  8. walt kovacs

    hey ko

    where is your article about vogelsong not deserving a 5th place vote for cy young?


  9. Sam

    While Clemens, Bonds and A-Rod get all the blame for PEDs nobody ever talks about Rick Ankiel– a marginal talent as a hitter– using HGH in his comeback. I wonder how many more deserving prospects he got in the way of when he made it back to the big club, because we know Clemens, Bonds and A-Rod were/are not only major leaguers but Hall of Fame talent with or without steroids so they weren’t blocking any youngsters’ careers (though maybe The Rocket did in his 40s). Matheny is an odd choice for manager but I won’t write him off yet– especially since I liked him on the Giants. As for the Marlins, here I am clear across the country in Oregon and I enjoy watching them (Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton are awesome announcers) yet the people right there in south Florida don’t, at least they don’t go to games. It’s why I like the more traditional franchises. Expansion really hasn’t been that good for baseball, especially since about 1970.

    • Brian

      I’ll talk about it. He was injured and the doctors prescribed it for him to help the healing process. It’s not like all the others that took it purely to get an edge on the competition/feed egos.

      • Sam

        One could say the same thing about Edinson Volquez who was suspended even though he took HGH while he was hurt. Personally I think HGH should be allowed if you are on the 60 day DL and if you stop using x many days before being activated. However, I think you’re buying the line Ankiel was selling. I think he used HGH to hit for more power as he was going through the minors and, seeing what a lousy hitter he is, he probably was blocking a more deserving player from making it to the majors. It may have been ego too– after embarrassing himself as a pitcher. Meanwhile, everyone piles on A-Rod, Clemens and Bonds, like they were the only ones who used. Keith should mention that Ankiel is a PED guy. He’s no feelgood story.

  10. jntu

    very nice post..
    Personally I’m hoping the Marlins don’t sign Reyes or Pujols. Would love Pujols to stay a Cardinal and would love to see Reyes leave the NL East … since I’m a Braves fan, of course

  11. Leesa

    Hi Keith. Just wanted to say that I’m sorry about what happened. I believe it was just a misunderstanding, but still – the reaction from others was unbelievable. Thank you for listening to us, although at times I’m sure it must feel like being swarmed by ants. I imagine it probably felt more like fire ants, last night. The sad thing is, if you had never listened or talked to us at all, the people reacting so angrily now would still idolize you. As for me, I know you’re human. Understanding that, and knowing how difficult it must be sometimes to do what you do just makes me respect you even more. You don’t have to interact with us, but you do, and we appreciate that – well, some of us do. 🙂 There may come a day on Twitter where you block me, but that’s your choice. I hope it doesn’t happen, but… if it does, I’ll still be a loyal viewer. What you do is so important, and that matters more to me than whether or not you talk to us online. Hugs! Oh yeah – and Go Mariners! 🙂 There – now my post is at least marginally about baseball. Hope your day gets better, and I hope that eventually you’ll brave the swarm again… Thanks!

  12. Terry

    This article about Matheny is exactly why I come back here again and again. Nowhere in baseball is there someone like you, Keith. You are special, that’s all. Thanks for reminding us of those little things that make baseball such a special pastime.

  13. Earl Nash

    Shame on you, Albert Pujols.

    Yes, on behalf of all the kids who idolized you as their personal hero:

    Shame on you, Albert Pujols.

    Your home team’s offer of $200 million was not enough, you had to have that extra $54 million from a team on the other side of the country in that other league; you must have really needed that extra money, even though the important Life Lesson that you taught all the kids who worshiped you is this: Leave the loyalty, take the money.

    Because they were so sure that you would return their loyalty in kind, they are now left damaged. Sure, they will grow up, but they will never “get over it,” because, when they were most vulnerable, one of the first people outside their family that they fell in love with, sold them out for a few pieces of silver. No, Mr. Pujols, heroes don’t leave town.

    You are the greatest baseball player on the planet and you certainly deserve adequate compensation for demonstrating the elegant balance between strength and grace and the work you put in to maintain the supreme skills that you were born with. But you, or any other superlatively talented athlete who plays The Game of Baseball, is not worth millions of dollars—a million dollars per home run? Really?

    When Willie Mays earned a bit more than the President of the United States, he was well worth the money; but he was from a generation of heroic players who “would have played for free,” because they were baseball players first and they were delighted, even surprised, to discover that they could make a good living by playing a game they loved.

    And most of the players of that era worked at a common man’s job during the off-season to make ends meet.

    Now, the common man, who is not a guest in the luxury boxes, or in the box seats the corporations buy for their clients, but just one of those faceless fans in the crowd now must save for months to take their kids to see you play: to him, a million dollars is a lot; to him a hundred dollars is a lot of money. But, like many baseball millionaires who have reached the 1%, you can tell your conscience: “It’s not my fault, why shouldn’t I get all I can?” OK, it is also the fault of ego maniac millionaires; you are the equivalent of Viagra to their fragile manhood. And, you were a “free” agent; you now have $254 million, but now, you are owned. And, yes, it is your fault too, because you had a choice; you could have taken a measly $200 million and said: “Loyalty is more important to me than money.” But, you didn’t.

    Hey, even some adults were shocked by your decision:

    “I always assumed that he would come back to St. Louis just because of all that he’s done for the community and the team and the organization. I just assumed he would come back. But that might have been wishful thinking.” [Skip Schumaker, Cardinal team mate]

    So, since your money’s in the bank, you can feel free to speak the truth at your next press conference and just say:

    “I want to say to all the Cardinal fans in St. Louis and all across the great Midwest, especially the kids, who gave me their love and support, I am abandoning you, because I value money over loyalty.”

    Your Cardinal team mates say you are a decent man, who has self-respect and works hard to sustain a level of excellence on the field. Too bad you did not show the same respect to your loyal Cardinal fans, especially the kids who went to bed crying last night with a hole, the size of a baseball, in their heart.

    But, at least, you left them this Life Lesson: leave the loyalty, take the money.


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