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World Series Champions get no respect


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Posted on Sun, Feb. 22, 2004

 

World Series champions get no respect

 

By MIKE DOWNEY

 

Chicago Tribune

 

 

Yankees this. Cubs that. This will be Boston's year at last. Houston's pitching sure looks good. It is finally Philadelphia's turn. Wow, Anaheim made some big moves. Now don't ignore Oakland. Hey, as long as Barry Bonds is there, you can't count out San Francisco.

 

OK, OK, I get it.

 

But as baseball teams report to camp, there still are eight words I am waiting to read or hear:

 

"The team to beat is the Florida Marlins."

 

It could be a long wait.

 

Of all the unfair treatment. Ignoring this team this way is totally unwarranted.

 

Florida was not a fluke or a joke. It was one heck of a fine ballclub. So couldn't somebody please pay these Marlins a little respect?

 

On paper, apparently, other teams look superior.

 

"Baseball is not played on paper," pitcher and World Series MVP Josh Beckett reminded everybody as soon as he arrived at Marlins training camp.

 

Yankees, Yankees, Yankees. That's all you read in the paper, hear on the radio, see on TV.

 

"All the talk is about the Yankees losing the World Series," Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre said the other day. "There is no talk about the Marlins winning the World Series. People are not giving us the credit."

 

Pierre is a good-natured guy, as most of the Marlins seemed to be last season.

 

"But that's cool," he said.

 

In other words, go ahead, feel free to ignore the Marlins again.

 

They won the World Series in 1997 and again in 2003, but nobody seems to be giving them a third thought for 2004.

 

They have a three-game winning streak. They have won seven of their last nine.

 

Four months ago Sunday, they won Game 4 of the World Series. They would go on to take Games 5 and 6.

 

They whipped the Giants, Cubs and Yankees for the championship. Only the middle series even went the distance.

 

They eliminated the Cubs on the road at Wrigley Field and eliminated the Yankees on the road at Yankee Stadium.

 

Since that time, the Yankees have lost starting pitchers Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte, starting third baseman Aaron Boone, starting second baseman Alfonso Soriano and first baseman Nick Johnson, who, in case you have forgotten, started Games 1, 2, 5 and 6 of the World Series.

 

Yet who is the "team to beat" this year?

 

The Yankees!

 

Imagine that. Nobody but the New York Yankees could lose the starting pitchers of Games 1 (Wells), 2 (Pettitte), 4 (Clemens), 5 (Wells) and 6 (Pettitte) of a World Series and still go into the next season considered a hands-down favorite.

 

Did the champion Marlins absorb any losses?

 

Yes, they did. They lost first baseman Derrek Lee to the Cubs, catcher Pudge Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They lost a pitcher or two, too.

 

But much of this team's nucleus is intact. Pierre and Luis Castillo remain at the top of the order. Miguel Cabrera, Mike Lowell and Alex Gonzalez are still in the lineup. Brad Penny, 2-0 in the World Series, and Beckett are still in the rotation.

 

Hee Seop Choi, a darling of Chicago just last summer, is now Florida's potential starting first baseman. Suppose he turns out to be every bit as good as a lot of Cubs fans thought he might?

 

"Our cupboard isn't exactly bare, you know," Marlins manager Jack McKeon keeps telling people.

 

Other teams have high hopes. Self-confidence. Delusions of grandeur. Whatever.

 

I caught a recent remark by new Boston pitcher Curt Schilling, for example.

 

"I firmly believe from top to bottom, this is going to be the best team I've ever been on," he said. "We have every opportunity in the world to win a world championship ... multiple world championships."

 

Boston ... multiple world championships?

 

And here's one from Houston general manager Gerry Hunsicker: "I just in my heart have often wondered if we really believed as a team that we could achieve great things. I believe that is going to change this year."

 

The Hunsicker prophecy.

 

But friends, this is still Boston and Houston we are talking about. Call me when either one wins one championship on this side of World War I, OK? And that goes for the Cubs as well.

 

Florida is a winner. A genuine, proven winner.

 

Let's treat it like one.

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