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Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Commentary: Why wouldn’t Marlins leave Florida?

November 23, 2005

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— We deserve to lose more than Josh Beckett.

We deserve to lose this baseball team.

We are, bar none, the worst major-league city in North America.

We are the only area anywhere on this continent that could draw 800,000 fans below league average for a 2004 defending champion that was playoff-relevant until the season's last month.

Tampa Bay and Kansas City were the only two major-league markets with worse attendance than Florida's last season, but at least their excuse was last place, the two worst records in the league and a combined 71 games out of first.

If the Devil Rays and Royals had been one game ahead of Roger Clemens for the wild card with a month remaining, as the Marlins were, they would have been filling their stadiums as if the seats were made of cash. But last-place Pittsburgh, 33 games out, drew more fans per game than Florida last season. So did last-place Seattle, 26 games out. And last-place Colorado, which fielded a Triple A team last season.

Spoiled South Florida has zero appreciation for what the Marlins have given us. This team has won two championships in the past decade. That's as many as the White Sox and Red Sox have combined in the past 90 years. No South Florida sports franchise has earned our support more than this one. But taxpayers have built not one but two basketball arenas a few blocks from each other and a hockey arena for a sport with very little following here while never giving the Marlins anything beyond a yawn.

So now Beckett and Mike Lowell go to Boston for prospects and promises, and it feels like the first step in a bitter, sad, painful dismantling. Can't blame management. It has done everything it possibly can, bleeding money. Owner Jeffrey Loria has spent plenty on baseball. The same can't be said for South Florida. So don't complain if Beckett is only the first pebble in an avalanche that sends this entire franchise eventually out of town.

We lead the league in excuses. Too much rain. Too much heat. Don't like where the park is. It's a stadium built for football. (Cue the baby wailing here.) All those things were true in 1993, too, when the Marlins drew 37,838 a game for a bad team.

It wasn't less hot or less wet then. Where did the people go? Thirty-four bucks for four tickets, four hot dogs, four sodas and a program is about the best value in South Florida entertainment.

Wayne Huizenga didn't let the feel-good of 1997 echo into 1998 before his fire sale. But Loria let the cheers of 2003 echo into 2004 and 2005, trying to build a fan base, and we failed him, so now it looks like he is giving up. There likely will be a lot of noise in coming days from the likes of Carlos Delgado if he is traded about betrayal and lies, and it will make for easy headlines, but Loria deserves no wrath here.

The Marlins will be worse in 2006. That seems inevitable. The prospects from Boston are good, but you can't win at this level with Jason Vargas as your second starter when you wheeze to 83-79 with him as your fourth guy behind Beckett and A.J. Burnett.

Beckett is a loss that stings more than the departures of Moises Alou or Pudge Rodriguez or Derrek Lee, because he is an overwhelming, young arm headed into its prime. He has the kind of stuff, confidence and youth that could make him an All-Star for the next decade.

Alas, all his future success will have to be elsewhere.

Not unlike this entire Marlins team.

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