Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, April 21, 2006

Know Thy Enemy: The Fish 

There are certain things that should never be done, tried or attempted. Never order a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese ... I voted for you, John Kerry, but that was just wrong. Never drink red wine with fish. (That's how 007 discovered who the bad guy was in From Russia With Love.) And never go to a waterpark with sunblock. (My father and I did that eleven years ago. The results were very painful.)

Oh, and pro baseball should never be played in Florida.

Keep that in mind when you watch the Marlins play. The MLB's move into the sunbelt has been a less-than-shining success: the Marlins and Rockies move into the Florida and the West, the two fastest growing areas in the U.S., in '93 and then the D-Rays and D-backs follow in '98. Today the D-Rays are a pitiful team routinely pummeled by the Red Sox and Yankees, the D-backs are in disarray, the Rockies are hampered by the fact that no sane pitcher would ever want to go there, and the Marlins are hampered by two problems:

1. Your average South Florida baseball fan is a former snowbelter whose loyalty lies with his old team (Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, etc).

2. Your average male between the ages of 18-64 is busy lying on the beach, and those 18-30 are trying to pick up one of those girls on 8th and Ocean.

Quite frankly, if I lived in South Florida that's where I'd be too. (Lying on the beach I mean. I'm married, so I'll leave chasing the pretty-but-dim 18-year old models to every one else.) Gaze at pictures of South Beach and whatever they call Joe Robbie Stadium these days and ask yourself: "Were would I want to be?"

Baseball is a game of tradition and loyalty, and the Marlins have neither, which is why baseball in Florida is doomed. Don't believe me? Check out Baseballblogs.org and see how many are devoted to the Cubs (128), the Phillies (40), the Mets (91), the Red Sox (121) and the Yankees (82) and compare them with those devoted to the D-Rays (15) and the Marlins (13). But that's it. There is no loyalty there because life in the sunbelt is one big transition: moving from the north to get a job, escape the weather, enjoy your retirement. You are moving from one phase of your life to the next. At a certain point in their lives I suspect those people will move again: to return to live with their families, to seek professional advancement, to live in the next "cool" place. Baseball thrives on tradition. I've lived my entire life in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas, and I don't intend on leaving anytime soon. I have loyalty.

With all that in mind we look at the Marlins, or Fishstripes as some would prefer to call them. This team has been playing Lex Luthor to the Phillies Superman for some time now. Last season the Phils went 10-9 against the Fishstripes, a big improvement over the previous two seasons: 7-12 in '04, and 6-13 in '03. Yes, 13-25 (.342). The Phillies went 159-127 otherwise in '03 & '04, a .556 percentage. (If they had gone .556 for the whole 162 game season the Phils would have been 90-72 both seasons.) Forget the Braves, this team has been the Phillies most consistent spoiler and enemy.

Which makes the Fishstipes current plight mildly entertaining. I expected them to compete in 2005, especially when they signed the Blue Jays Carlos Delgado, giving them a powerful bat in the middle of a softer lineup. To my stunned amazement, the Marlins turned into a horror show. Defensively the Fishstripes had ranked ninth in the MLB in Plus / Minus in 2004 (+14). To my shock, they fell to twenty-eighth in 2005 (-97). The team simply didn't jell and collapsed.

The effect of the defensive and offensive meltdown reverberated to the pitching staff. On paper, the Marlins didn't pitch well. Their 4.16 ERA ranked them eighth of sixteen NL teams. Their DIPS number (Defense Independent Pitching Statistic - if you are new to this page, DIPS is a stat that keeps track of how pitchers do with things they can control, like strikeouts, walks and home runs, as opposed to things they rely on their fielders to do, like stop balls put into play) was a robust 3.88, the best in the NL. In other words, the Marlins pitchers played well and were continuously undone by their fielders.

Offensively the Marlins did some things right: they ranked second in the NL in OBP after the Phillies, but they were fifteenth in home runs, and tenth in slugging percentage. Their inability to advance runners meant that they finished eighth in runs scored, despite having many, many baserunners.

The salary dump in the off-season saw many defections: gone is Delgado, who had 33 home runs and 115 RBIs last year. Gone is Mike Lowell. Gone is Juan Pierre and Paul Lo Duca (though those might be upgrades). Gone are Josh Beckett (15-8, 3.38 ERA) and A.J. Burnett (12-12, 3.44 ERA).

In the long run this might not be a bad thing for the Fishstripes: getting the young blood in the lineup, planning for the future, but it has to be dispiriting to the fans to see a decent team get gutted again, just like after the '97 World Series. After Dontrelle Willis (22-10, 2.63 ERA), this team has scant talent left. I'd give this as a big edge to the Phillies. I'd say the Phils will take 2 of 3 and might sweep it.

See you Monday!

I have to disagree with you about the long term viability of baseball in South Florida. First off I have to admit that I am one of those transplanted residents of Miami. I am from Philadelphia, as a matter of fact. The first ballgame I ever went to was a Phillies game. I was also at the game where Pete Rose surpassed Stan Musial on the NL Hits list. I was at Skydome when Joe Carter went yard in game 6 of the 93 WS.

Of course as you say there are some problems with conflicting allegiences and the like but they are nothing that time won't fix. As a fan of the Phils you must admit that there's a difference in rooting for one of baseball's oldest teams and one of its youngest. You probably grew up a Phils fan just as your father did and his father did. We've only had baseball here for 14 years. As people of my generation have kids they will be Marlins fans.

As you mentioned South Florida is one of the fastest growing markets in the country.

So why do the Marlins fail to attract the crowds one would expect? Well there are many reasons. I know them by heart already because I've had to expound them so many times. But the issues fall into two main categories:

It's suburban and too far from either population center (Miami or Ft. Lauderdale). Unlike football which is played 8 times a year and on Sundays baseball is an everyday sport. You need a stadium convenient to the places where people work so they can knock off and catch the games.

The stadium is uncomfortable for fans. It's not a baseball stadium and doesn't have good sightlines particularly the further you go down the lines.

The stadium doesn't have a dome and thus it's always hot and muggy. Imagine watching a game with an 80+ temperature and 90+ humidity AT NIGHT with ZERO breeze. Then imagine doing that 81 times.

Rain or threat of rain. It's really the threat of rain that keeps people away. In SoFla it showers almost every day during summer. Most games are played without delay but since people travel from great distances to get to the game, dark clouds can be a deterrent.

The other issue keeping fans away is ownership. Our first owner saw the Fish merely as a business. When he saw he couldn't make that much money on the team he got rid of the cost side of the equation by selling the team and keeping the revenue side as the team's landlord. The two subsequent owners haven't succeeded in getting a new ballpark that would not only solve some of the issues above but remove the cloud of uncertainty that has hovered above this club since the first owner announced he was selling it. Contraction rumors, the two fire sales, and now talks of moving all keep fans from emotionally (and financially) investing in this club. It's a shame because between the two firesales attendance was creeping up to a respectable level.

I think the current owner would be crazy to move to San Antonio. Sure they build him a park but he loses a lot of TV and radio money by moving to a much smaller market. Baseball will eventually succeed in South Florida. I just hope it doesn't take the Marlins leaving for the politicians here to get off their asses and fund the stadium.
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