It took two Major League Baseball commissioners, three Marlins owners and a new ballpark.
But after waiting more than two decades, South Florida is finally hosting the All-Star Game that was promised to it in 1995 — two years after the Marlins joined the majors.
“I didn’t think it would be one score minus five years to do it,” said Marlins president David Samson of current ownership, which assumed control of the team 15 years ago. “But I guess good things come to those who wait.”
It has been some wait.
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Major League Baseball awarded the 2000 All-Star Game to South Florida in 1995. But in 1998, the year after the Marlins won their first World Series and then-owner Wayne Huizenga promptly shredded the roster, the league pulled the plug on it.
In an unprecedented decision, MLB announced it was taking the 2000 All-Star Game from Pro Player Stadium and giving it to Turner Field in Atlanta. The reason: The league said South Florida needed a new stadium in order to host the event.
There was an uproar locally.
John Henry, who was in the process of buying the team from Huizenga at the time, was furious.
“It’s outrageous, shocking, disappointing and uncalled for,” Henry complained after the decision. “I sent a strongly worded letter to commissioner [Bud Selig] expressing how I felt on behalf of fans in South Florida.”
Henry was so upset, in fact, that he said he briefly wondered whether he made the right decision in purchasing the club from Huizenga.
Many felt the league’s decision had more to do with the team’s fire sale — and the bitter taste it left with Marlins fans — than it had to do with not having a new ballpark.
“The All-Star Game is supposed to be a celebration of what’s good about baseball,” one league official told the Miami Herald at the time. “There hasn’t been much to celebrate about baseball in South Florida in the last year.”
Indeed, the ’98 Marlins lost a club-record 108 games.
By the time Jeffrey Loria bought the team from Henry in 2002, the All-Star controversy had largely faded into the background. But Samson said fans he spoke to were still taking about it.
“When we started in ’02, one of the first things I heard from fans was the freshness of the hurt that they felt that the All-Star Game was taken away from them,” Samson said. “We immediately realized we wanted to get an All-Star Game as quickly as possible.”
Without a new ballpark, though, Marlins ownership had no bargaining chip with which to make a realistic bid on the All-Star Game. And so the event was held in facilities old and new — mostly new: PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Miller Park in Milwaukee, Comerica Park in Detroit, Minute Maid Park in Houston, etc.
“When Jeffrey bought the team, I thought there would be a new ballpark by 2006 and we’d have the All-Star Game by 2008,” Samson said. “I guess over time, nine years becomes a rounding error. But when you’re in the middle of it, it seems longer.”
The Marlins finally opened their new ballpark in 2012.
They put in a bid for the 2015 All-Star Game. But the league awarded it to Cincinnati and its new venue, Great American Ball Park. The Marlins could have hosted last year’s All-Star Game. But it went, instead, to Petco Park in San Diego.
“We switched with San Diego due to booking issues,” Samson said. “San Diego needed to host in ’16 instead of ’17. We agreed, and I’m so glad we did.”
The reason: The Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton will have a chance to defend his Home Run Derby title in his home ballpark on the day before the All-Star Game.
Samson said that, in some ways, hosting the All-Star Game now is a bigger deal than it would have been in 2000.
“The irony for Miami is that it’s even better we’re having it this year,” Samson said. “All-Star week is so much bigger now [than it was in 2000]. It’s something that this community deserves.”