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1998 Marlins live on


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It is well-known that teams that come out of nowhere to win the World Series reap the real benefits of their on-field success at the box office the season after their rise. Somebody forgot to tell that to Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga six years ago. In the wake of his team's seven-game victory over the Cleveland Indians, he dismantled the club and sent them plunging in the standings to a place so low it's taken them until this year to recover. What is more, attendance was lower in '98 than it was in '97, something that rarely happens to World Champions. While it may have seemed like a smart business decision to toss all his high-priced talent, the residual effects were devastating at the gate as the Marlins attendance declined in all but one of the next five seasons.


As the result, the Marlins fell 38 games off their '97 record, representing one of the greatest collapses ever by a champion team. Now, 1998 might seem like an eternity ago, especially in the relatively short context of a major league ballplayer's career. Surprisingly though, a large number of this team that lost two-thirds of its games is still active in the majors. Four of them have managed to hang on with the club to see it rise again. Let's take a look at the 1998 Marlins who were still active in 2003:


Still there

Derrek Lee (first base): Got to Florida just in time to miss the fun and reap the heartache. The Marlins unloaded ace pitcher Kevin Brown to San Diego just two months after they won it all and Lee showed up in exchange along with two other players, one of whom never made the show and other -- Rafael Medina -- posted some alarmingly high ERAs in his brief time in the majors. Lee took over at first base and has the job ever since.


Luis Castillo has endured some lean years in Florida.

Luis Castillo (second base): Was in the third year of his three-year apprentice program that saw him getting about a third of his at bats with the Marlins and the rest at either Double A or Triple A. He became the team's regular second baseman in 1999, but was on hand for enough of '98 to feel the redemption of this year's success. He is really the only player who can say he has seen the team go full cycle, having had his first taste of Marlinhood the year before they went all the way.


Alex Gonzalez (shortstop): Broke in with the Marlins in '98 after very promising years at Double A and Triple A. He became a regular the following year and seemed to take up where he had left off in the minor leagues. The next three years seemed like pages torn from somebody else's career. His 18 homers and 77 RBI in 2003 seem much more in line with where he was going in his early twenties.


Mike Redmond (catcher) was also a rookie in '98 and hit over .300 in his limited time. He has repeated this trick three more times since but suffered his worst season in 2003.


Stayed and played

Greg Zaun (Colorado Rockies): He has had a few good seasons in a limited role -- like '97 with Florida and last year with Kansas City. 1998 was a high water mark for plate appearances in his career but a low point otherwise.


Craig Counsell (Arizona Diamondbacks): One of the heroes of the '97 Series, Counsell left the team in the next wave of the purge in '99, going to the Dodgers and later to a bigger show against the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. How fortunate has Counsell been? Consider all the players of his caliber who are forgotten by time while he has been placed in the spotlight twice and risen to the occasion both times.


Edgar Renteria (St. Louis Cardinals): If one reassembled the '98 Marlins today, one could have a pretty damn good team. Renteria has really come into his own in the last two years and is now one of the best shortstops in the National League. He left Florida after the season and the Marlins received Braden Looper as part of the compensation.


Livan Hernandez (Montreal Expos): The pitching hero of the '97 Series (thanks in part to the largesse (yes, that says "largesse") of umpire Eric Gregg, Hernandez suffered the first of many mediocre seasons to come in '98. He went to the Giants the next year.


Cliff Floyd (New York Mets): Why is 1998 special in the career of Floyd? Because it represents the only time in his career he managed to play 150 games or more. It's not his best season, but it remains his most durable. How a player of his caliber avoided getting traded with the rest of his teammates is a mystery, although it probably has a lot to do with his $500,000 salary.


Mark Kotsay (San Diego Padres): It's pretty simple: no Mark Kotsay, no Dontrelle Willis for the Marlins. Kotsay was traded to the Padres for Matt Clement who was, in turn, traded to the Cubs for Willis. He was a rookie in '98 and racked up 623 plate appearances, something you don't often see on defending World Champions.


Dave Berg (Toronto Blue Jays): Was a 27-year old rookie utility infielder with the '98 club -- a sure sign that a fire sale was in process. Miraculously, he has taken that break and turned it into a six-year career.


Brian Meadows (Pittsburgh Pirates): Meadows got 31 starts as a rookie in '98 and is still only 27 years old.


Jesus Sanchez (Colorado Rockies): The Marlins gave something like three-quarters of their starts to rookie pitchers in '98 including 29 for Sanchez. He's just barely hanging on these days.


Ryan Dempster (Cincinnati Reds): It was an ugly debut for Dempster that year and now, alas, he's back down to that level. There was an awful lot of promise in between, however.


Matt Mantei (Arizona Diamondbacks): How bad was the Marlins pitching in 1998? Even when you include guys who just threw a couple of innings, only one man -- Mantei -- managed an ERA under 3.00. Obviously, he was too good to keep around and was shipped to Arizona early the next season.


Vic Darensbourg (Montreal Expos): He almost made it! A rookie in '98, he hung on with the team five years but was not around for their return to glory this year.


Antonio Alfonseca (Chicago Cubs): He got into three World Series games as a rookie with the Marlins in '97 (after only 17 big league appearances) and would have been back there with the Cubs this year had fate not intervened.


Preston Wilson

Preston Wilson was simply a victim of terrible timing.

Preston Wilson (Colorado Rockies): Preston got the stats, his old teammates are getting the rings. He arrived via the Mike Piazza trade with the Mets and left just before it got good again.


Justin Speier (Colorado Rockies): The 2003 Rockies lead the planet in ex-'98 Marlins. Five of the men here (including Darensbourg) spent time with Colorado this year. Speier came over from the Cubs in mid-season and was gone by the beginning of 1999. He did pretty well for the Rox this year.


Shipped out in '98

Mike Piazza (New York Mets): His autobiographical novel "My week as a '98 Marlin" was never accepted by a publishing house.


Todd Zeile (Montreal Expos): In 1995, Todd Zeile was 29 years old and starting his seventh season with the only team he had ever known, the St. Louis Cardinals. Little did he know he was about to embark on a life as one of the game's great vagabond players. As part of his grand tour of the major leagues, he passed through Miami in mid-'98 coming along with Piazza and leaving via trade to the Texas Rangers for two players who never made it.


Gary Sheffield (Atlanta Braves): One would assume that the Marlins got even worse after the May 14 deal that saw Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Jim Eisenreich and Bobby Bonilla shipped to the Dodgers but they were already 13-28 by that point.


Charles Johnson (Colorado Rockies): Left along with Sheffield in the Piazza deal and came back for more fun in 2001 only to leave again prior to this year.


Felix Heredia (New York Yankees): Middle relievers are strange. Two years ago, Heredia was with the Cubs and he couldn't get anybody out. Now he's in the World Series with the Yankees coming off the best ERA of his career. He was sent out to the Cubs at the trading deadline in '98 for Kevin Orie and Justin Speier.


Jay Powell (Texas Rangers): Sent to Houston for Ramon Castro on July 4. Had a rough go of it in Arlington this year while Castro was devastating in limited duty for the Marlins in '03.


Cups of coffee

Kevin Millar (Boston Red Sox): Who knows, had Millar not tried that strange contortionist trick at first base against the Yankees in Game Seven, perhaps he'd be in the visiting locker room tonight instead of Jason Giambi.


Brian Daubach (Chicago White Sox): This couldn't have been a pleasant experience for Daubach, one of the players who had crossed the picket lines in '95. This was his first taste of major league action.


Chris Hammond (New York Yankees): The '98 Marlins were Hammond's last stop in the bigs before his miracle resurrection in Atlanta last year.

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