World peace? Nah, let's talk Marlins

 

This Dave Barry column was originally published Oct. 4, 1993

Now that the Marlins' first season is over, I think we have to agree that it did a lot of good for South Florida. For one thing, it exposed a lot of young fans down here to major-league baseball. One night late in September, I was at a Marlins- Cardinals game, sitting in front of a very young fan -- a boy, maybe 3 years old -- and he was learning about The Nation's Pastime by asking his dad questions. For example, when the announcer announced that Walt Weiss was batting, they had this conversation:

BOY: Why is he "Weiss"?
DAD: Because that's his name.
BOY: But WHY?

It was a long night for that particular dad. For that matter, it was a long night for ALL of us; it was one of those games where the Marlins kept bringing out new pitchers all evening, pitcher after pitcher, until finally the sun was coming up and the guy on the mound was a dazed and confused 52-year-old accountant from Kendall who happened to walk past the bullpen on the way to the men's room.

The Marlins lost that game. They lost a lot of games. They even finished behind our hated expansion-team archrivals, the Colorado Rampaging Prairie Oysters. But the Marlins were still a lot of fun. And they caused an amazing thing to happen in South Florida, something that I would not have believed was possible: They caused the callers to local sports-talk radio shows to stop talking, at least briefly, about the Dolphins.

Don't get me wrong: I root for the Dolphins. But there are sports fans down here -- I am talking about serious Dolphins fans, owners of lifelike inflatable Larry Csonka dolls -- who spend more time worrying about the Dolphins than Don Shula does. For years it has been impossible to tune in to any local sports- talk show, no matter what time of year it was, without hearing an endless stream of callers who are close to suicide over Dolphin-related problems. Nothing else matters to these people.

HOST: You're on the air.

CALLER: OK, I want to agree with the previous 119 consecutive callers about the Dolphins' running game. You can't win in the . . .

HOST (interrupting): I've just been handed an urgent bulletin. The Turkey Point nuclear power plant has exploded, and a huge radioactive cloud is spreading northward over Dade County.

CALLER: Yeah, well, my point is that you can't win in the NFL without a . . .

HOST (interrupting): We're going to go now to Arnold Heeberman of the South Florida Emergency Disaster Authority, who will be giving evacuation instructions.

HEEBERMAN: OK, but first I want to say that I agree with the previous caller.

So it was a nice change of pace last spring when some of the callers tried to make the transition to talking about the Marlins. This wasn't easy. For one thing, some of the fans were not overwhelmingly knowledgeable about baseball ("Hello? I'm concerned about the Marlins' linebackers."). For another thing, South Florida fans had to adjust to the concept that their team might not be very successful. This is not an easy notion for people down here to accept. We are not patient fans, here in South Florida. We are not like, say, Boston fans, who know in their hearts that God, for whatever reason, has decided to punish them by never letting the Red Sox win the World Series again. Down here, we expect our teams to WIN.

But for a while there, the South Florida fans seemed to grasp that a new, inexperienced baseball team could not be expected to win many games, or even necessarily to get the correct number of players onto the field. You heard sports-show callers -- South Florida callers -- actually saying things like, "I know they won't be competitive, but I'm just glad we have a baseball team."

This relaxed, low-pressure attitude lasted until the first regular-season game. As you recall, the Marlins won, largely because a number of Dodger hitters dozed off while waiting for Charlie Hough's knuckleball to reach home plate. (As the season wore on, opposing hitters wised up and began using the shrewd tactic of remaining in the dugout until Hough had actually released the ball, then strolling out to the plate and hitting it.)

The opening-day victory caused many local fans to lose all perspective. I know one fan who bet real money that the Marlins would finish with a record better than .500. (Because only a complete idiot would make this bet, I will not reveal here that this fan is my editor, Tom Shroder.)

So hopes were high, and when it became clear, somewhere around Game 10, that the Marlins were probably not going to be in the World Series, the mood changed. The talk-show callers, who had been Happy Just To Have A Team Here, suddenly were talking about What's Wrong With The Marlins. Night after night after night they droned away, making insightful points such as:

* The Marlins need to score more runs than the opposing team.

* Rene Lachemann changes pitchers too often.

* Marlins players, when they get up to bat, should hit the baseball.

* Rene Lachemann does not change pitchers often enough.

* Why don't the Marlins make a trade where they give up Scott Pose and they get Barry Bonds, Cecil Fielder, John Olerud and a couple of good starting pitchers?

* Rene Lachemann has been possessed by Satan and is deliberately trying to lose games.

The criticism reached a crescendo when the Marlins traded Dave Magadan. Remember? Remember the anguish of the radio callers during that period? They spent weeks talking about this trade, their basic points being that:

* Dave Magadan is the finest baseball player since Babe Ruth, and if he had stayed here he would have hit at least .458 and discovered a cure for cancer.

* Whoever traded him should be chopped into tiny pieces and fed to sharks.

* And then the sharks should be chopped into tiny pieces.

* Orestes Destrade was probably responsible for the Kennedy assassination.

For a while there it looked as though we might have riots over the Magadan trade, but fortunately the fans calmed down, and by the time the All-Star break rolled around, the talk-show callers realized that it was time to forgive and forget, and let bygones be bygones, and show some maturity, and display a more positive attitude. So they started talking about the Dolphins again.

Anyway, the Marlins' first season has been an exciting time for us, and an educational one. I hope that we South Florida sports fans can take the lessons we've learned from this experience and apply them to our newest professional sports team, the Panthers. Let's not expect too much of them. They're not going to win the Stanley Cup in their first year, OK?

But if they don't make the final round of the playoffs, I say we fire Lachemann.

(c) Dave Barry
This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at http://www.miamiherald.com may be posted or distributed without written permission.

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