There is very little that is memorable about the 1999 Marlins. They weren’t quite as bad as the ’98 outfit that dropped a team-record 108 games and not nearly as good as the ’03 bunch that won the World Series.
But in at least one aspect, the last-place Marlins of ’99 stand out above all the rest. They spawned an unusually large number of rookies and second-year big-leaguers – five, in fact – who became baseball TV analysts after their playing days ended.
Four of them – Kevin Millar, Ryan Dempster, Mike Lowell and Cliff Floyd – now work for MLB Network. Another, Preston Wilson, does Marlins broadcasts on Fox Sports Florida. That’s a whopping 20 percent of the ’99 team’s 25-man roster.
“They’re all characters,” said Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, the Marlins’ third-base coach that season. “And they’re all engaging. It was a fun group.”
Said Dempster: “I think some of us are just missing a card or two. Kevin is missing an entire suit.”
In other words, they were often more entertaining inside the clubhouse than they were on the field.
They were all mostly kids, just starting out.
Dempster, Millar, Lowell and Wilson all made their major-league debuts in 1998 but hadn’t played much that season. Floyd was one of the few survivors from the ’97 World Series team that was abruptly dismantled.
But in ’99, each assumed more prominent playing roles.
And they all struggled together as a team, losing 98 games.
“You always enjoy the good times, of course,” Floyd said. “But you never, ever forget when you got pounded in ’98 and ’99. You don’t forget those years. We were a bunch of kids with talent, but we didn’t know where it was going to go.”
Dempster said they were so naive that, at times, they didn’t know how to act.
“We still joke about it, the crazy things we did,” Dempster said. “We we would wear those puca shell necklaces because we thought it was good luck. All the veteran teams must have hated us.”
Though the losing was unpleasant, they said the camaraderie kept it fun.
“When you talk about that team, we probably weren’t the best team, but we were clowns in the clubhouse,” Floyd said.
Millar was a clubhouse cut-up. Dempster liked to perform magic tricks. Floyd was forever smiling. Lowell and Wilson – even back then – were the go-to players for sportswriters in search of meaningful interpretation and insight.
The common thread?
“We all loved baseball,” Dempster said. “So it doesn’t surprise me to see so many of us still doing it [on TV]. We were a bunch of guys who weren’t afraid of the cameras then and aren’t afraid of it now.”
Millar is the same goofball now that he was then. The ever-likable Floyd has never stopped smiling. Dempster still has the everyman’s personality. Lowell and Wilson remain adept at bringing basic understanding to the game’s more complex intricacies.
“Ironically,” Millar said, “We all just happened to be teammates.”
Said Floyd: “When you think about what TV is, it’s about entertainment. It’s about being able to speak about what you did, and also about entertaining the fans.”
Millar said that what stands out to him most about that ’99 team is how so many of those players, as young as they all were back then, had long, productive careers.
“If you look back at that team, there were so many guys that played for 10 plus years, eight years – [Antonio] Alfonseca, [Luis] Castillo, [Mark] Kotsay, Preston Wilson, A.J. Burnett – it was pretty amazing,” Millar said. “We had some great players, just not at that time.”
Millar forgot to mention Mike Redmond, who handled much of the catching duties for the Marlins in ’99 and is now the team’s manager.
The ’99 Marlins didn’t make much of an impact on the field. But their presence continues to be seen and felt on television, where so many of them can now be found.