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Marlins are unloved

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I went to my first Florida Marlins game near the end of May, to watch them play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It was a good night for the home team, the Fish rallying to beat the Rays in the late innings.


Since it was an intrastate, interleague game, I was hoping to be part of a large and enthusiastic crowd. Silly me.


The Marlins don't draw well. Never have. As a rule, crowds are small and passive. Only 12,000 fans showed up for a game against the Phillies just before Memorial Day.


It's a puzzling phenomenon to me, in view of the fact that the team is nearly always a pennant contender and has won two World Series titles in the past eight years. In 1997, Florida beat Cleveland. In 2003, it was an ultra-sweet dispatching of the Yankees.


This season, the Marlins stood in first place (at the holiday weekend) in the National League East, regarded by many baseball observers as baseball's most challenging division. They have some of the game's most exciting young players, like lefty pitcher Dontrelle Willis and phenom outfielder Miguel Cabrera.


Willis, at age 23, has become one of the game's dominant pitchers. He anchors a staff of some of the game's best young arms. Willis was the first NL pitcher to record eight wins this season. His current contract of $385,000 per year would pay Yankees phantom Jason Giambi's salary for about a week. Who said life is fair?


Cabrera, even younger, is already an all-star and MVP candidate. He's perhaps the best right-handed hitter in baseball, east of St. Louis' Albert Pujols. He plays the outfield like Roberto Clemente. ESPN's Peter Gammons picks Cabrera as the NL's most likely candidate to win the triple crown.


Miguel's salary is even less than Dontrelle's. He's a free agent at the end of the season, so look for him to show up in Yankees pinstripes next spring with a salary equal to the gross national product of, say, Venezuela (his country of origin).


Catcher Paul LoDuca and first baseman Carlos Delgado are all-star candidates. Still, Miami fans have not embraced this team.


Why? The Marlins claim game attendance would increase if they had a new place to play. The team plays on a football field (Dolphins Stadium) with a deformed layout and poor sightlines. The facility, like all of South Florida, swelters in a tropical climate. Fans roast in extreme heat and humidity, while games are often rain delayed or rained out.


The Marlins need a new home, to be sure, and their proposal (appropriately) calls for a climate-controlled ballpark with a retractable roof. Funding for the project is stalled again, since the unsympathetic Florida State Legislature has declined to provide the $45 million shortfall needed to build the stadium.


New facilities can generate a spike in attendance, but the track record of new ballparks reminds us that the honeymoon with fans can be short lived. New stadiums in Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago (White Sox), and Milwaukee created huge turnstile activity at the outset, but now the home teams play before small audiences.


In most cities, it isn't building it that makes them come, but winning. And sometimes even that's not enough. The White Sox had baseball's best won-lost record through the month of May, but Chicago's heart will always belong to the Cubs. White Sox attendance remains temperate at best.


For the foreseeable future, the Marlins will have to keep company with Chicago's we-don't-get-no-respect Southsiders.



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Guest Jack1

"Miguel's salary is even less than Dontrelle's. He's a free agent at the end of the season, so look for him to show up in Yankees pinstripes next spring with a salary equal to the gross national product of, say, Venezuela (his country of origin)."


Miguel becomes arbitration elegible after this year but he only has 3 years of service and does not become a free agent after this year.

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