At night, from I-95, the Marlins baseball stadium looks like a huge hump that has inexplicably emerged from our flat landscape. Out of the corner of one’s eye, it resembles a white elephant on the South Florida plain.
Who could have predicted that the cool landmark would look out of place so soon?
The half-a-billion-dollar Marlins Park, which will be mostly paid for by you and yours, dear reader, was the centerpiece of the team’s reinvention. New name, new uniforms, new location, new manager, new roster, new hope. But the exciting start of the 2012 season seems long ago. The stadium, red warning lights blinking atop the closed roof, serves as a blunt reminder of an investment gone awry.
The Marlins are a flop, like the Edsel, the expensive film Ishtar and quarterback Ryan Leaf. So much promise, so much disappointment.
It appears president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest will keep his job, but manager Ozzie Guillen’s job is in jeopardy, players will be jettisoned, season-ticket renewals will decrease.
The Marlins are not supposed to be on a collision course toward another 90-loss season or battling the Mets for the pyrrhic victory of avoiding last place in the NL East.
Attendance isn’t supposed to be dwindling. Hanley Ramirez isn’t supposed to be playing — and playing well — for the Dodgers. Josh Johnson isn’t supposed to be trade bait. Heath Bell isn’t supposed to be a middling middle reliever instead of an airtight closer.
The team isn’t supposed to be out of playoff contention for the ninth consecutive year as it began its last road trip Friday before concluding the season with a soul-searching six-game home wake.
“It’s hard to believe we’re not going on the road fighting in the pennant race,” Guillen said. “I think when we built this ballclub we thought those last games were going to be very fun. And the bottom line is we’re not where we want. It’s unfortunate, sad, and we’re embarrassed.”
Who is to blame, long-suffering fans ask.
The players, of course. Except for slugger Giancarlo Stanton and shortstop Jose Reyes, most have underperformed. Guillen, named the most overrated manager in a player poll by Sports Illustrated, didn’t energize and unify as hoped.
Beinfest, who was such a personnel genius when he was stuck with owner Jeffrey Loria’s penurious budgets, miscalculated when he finally got real money to work with. He can also be criticized for the Miguel Cabrera trade to Detroit, which has not panned out for the Marlins, and for draft picks who have not fulfilled expectations.
Beinfest was the architect of the 2003 championship team and made some savvy moves in his 14 years with Loria, but he bears responsibility for another early exit from the playoff picture.
When Guillen said the Marlins are in last place because they are bad from top to bottom, he was right, and at the very top is Loria, who has too much in common with George Steinbrenner and Daniel Snyder.
Loria was proud of his midnight courting of Reyes in Manhattan, where he revealed a Reyes jersey under his coat. But acquiring Reyes only made Ramirez pout more and alienate himself further from his teammates despite the Marlins’ efforts to pacify him with praise that he would be the cornerstone and leader of the franchise — roles that Ramirez couldn’t and wouldn’t fill. Not only was Ramirez a bust but the handling of him was, too.
Loria also gave up too much to hire Guillen when he couldn’t get Bobby Valentine. Will Guillen now become the seventh ex-manager of Loria’s Montreal and Miami reign? Firing Joe Girardi just as he was recognized as Manager of the Year was bizarre. Letting go of the popular Fredi Gonzalez was another head-scratcher. BTW, both of them are taking their teams to the playoffs. Again.
Bell and catcher John Buck were Loria’s picks. Beinfest got excessive input from others in team ops. The Marlins are suffering from crowded kitchen syndrome. Too many cooks ruin the soup.
This season was going to be different, massively different. No more excuses about steam-bath weather and a ripoff lease at a football stadium. With a sweetheart ballpark deal, an injection of free agent talent and a $101-million payroll, the Marlins were primed to contend in their hip, tropical, artsy Miami home. They were going to ding that wacky, tacky home run sculpture in center field until the mechanical marlins were too pooped to leap.
Things went wrong from the start. Opening Day festivities were awkward and ill-conceived. Loria’s decision to parade the feeble Muhammad Ali around the field in a golf cart proved to be one of many bad ones.
Then Guillen’s gaffe: Expressing admiration for Fidel Castro. In Little Havana. When in North Korea, you don’t make fun of the dear departed dictator’s bouffant hairdo.
The City of Miami made ham-handed attempts to recruit upscale restaurants and retail to its parking garage storefronts in a neighborhood where such businesses made no sense. They remain empty.
Hindsight is 20-20. There was reason to believe that Mark Buerhle and Bell would perform better, that Johnson would be a true ace, that Ramirez would grow up, that Buck, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison would produce.
Instead, the Marlins didn’t merely disappoint, they exasperated their fans and themselves. The season became the worst-case scenario. And the Marlins continued their odd 20-year history of two World Series highs and many lows.
What next? Another interesting offseason. Beinfest has to fix this mess. The gonzo Guillen deserves another chance. Loria needs to stick to dealing in art, not athletes. And Marlins fans, take heart. It’s another stifling September, your team is irrelevant. But the air conditioning is working.