We can’t claim as we prepare to say goodbye to 2015 that this was a banner year (or even a good one) for South Florida’s biggest sports teams. The Heat, Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers all failed to make the playoffs – only the second time that has happened (along with 2002) in the 22 years we have had a team in all four major pro sports.
However 2015 was a very good year in another way.
Our star power grew. The teams might not have gotten any better, but their rosters sure got more interesting.
The thought first occurred early in year when, in a remarkable span of six weeks, the Marlins signed Japanese legend Ichiro Suzuki, the Heat traded for star guard Goran Dragic, the Panthers acquired hockey superstar Jaromir Jagr and the Dolphins signed dominating defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
It was almost as if, after the Greater Miami sports market lost LeBron James, our teams got together and tried collectively to make amends.
As spring turned to summer the Dolphins and Heat both delighted fans with their No. 1 draft picks, DeVante Parker and Justise Winslow.
Then as the year drew to a close the Marlins signed star manager Don Mattingly and a hitting coach named Barry Bonds, and the Miami Hurricanes landed marquee football coach Mark Richt.
Any conversation about who are the biggest names in Miami sports got a bit more complicated with the year’s infusion of candidates.
Ranking them is an impossible challenge, but one I accept here, just for fun. We are including owners, front office, coaches and of course players from our four major pro franchises, along with the University of Miami.
We do not include peripheral, ceremonial, “special adviser” or emeritus-type positions such as those held by Dan Marino with the Dolphins, Alonzo Mourning with the Heat or Andre Dawson and Tony Perez with the Marlins. Nor do we include broadcasters, who sometimes fancy themselves a part of the team but are not.
These are our most prominent current sports figures through a local lens but also from a national perspective. OK, enough preamble.
Miami’s 2015 Top 25 Sports Figures:
1. Dwyane Wade, Heat guard – Was there any doubt? An 11-time all-star who’ll sail into the Hall of Fame as franchise’s most beloved player.
2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins outfielder – Prolific slugger has potential to be club’s first home-grown player to reach Cooperstown, good health willing.
3. Pat Riley, Heat president – The godfather’s arrival in 1995 made the Heat relevant, and he’s been reinventing and winning almost nonstop ever since.
4. Jaromir Jagr, Panthers forward – Too high on our list? Then you don’t know hockey. Jagr is fourth all-time with 731 NHL goals, and still going strong at 43.
5. Chris Bosh, Heat forward – Under-regarded in Toronto, overshadowed by LeBron and still gets too little credit, but Bosh is a future Hall of Famer.
6. Jose Fernandez, Marlins pitcher – However long he’s here, Marlins fans, enjoy him. He’s 22-9 for losing teams, with a 2.40 ERA and 336 K’s in 289 innings.
7. Ichiro, Marlins outfielder – He’s near the end at 42, but he’ll be in a Marlins uniform when he collects his 3,000th American major-league hit next summer.
8. Ndamukong Suh, Dolphins defensive tackle – Miami has had one of NFL’s worst run defenses. Imagine how bad it would be without him?
9. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins quarterback – Statistically, Tannehill has been fine. But zero playoff appearances in four seasons is how you first judge a QB.
10.. Mark Richt, UM football coach – Fourteen bowl games and 145 wins in 15 seasons with Georgia in the tough SEC. Yes. He can coach.
11. Jeffrey Loria, Marlins owner – Love him or hate him (and it seems a lot of the latter), Loria is an out-front news-maker, for better or worse.
12. Cam Wake, Dolphins defensive end – Second only to Jason Taylor in career sacks, and only current player who deserved to be on that 50-greatest-Dolphins list.
13. Stephen Ross, Dolphins owner – He has not been a successful owner, but, from orange carpets to stadium canopies, you can’t say he hasn’t tried.
14. Roberto Luongo, Panthers goaltender – Sixth in career save percentage and eighth all-time in wins, Luongo is a future Hall of Famer.
15. Erik Spoelstra, Heat head coach – Enough with the “Riley protégé” or “rising young coach.” Spoelstra is established, and one of the best in the NBA.
16. Don Mattingly, Marlins manager – Ex-Yankees star managed Dodgers to the playoffs the past three straight years. He’s a good hire until he proves he wasn’t.
17. Goran Dragic, Heat guard – His scoring and shooting are down this year. Dragic can be better and team needs him to be.
18. Micky Arison, Heat owner – He’d be ranked higher on merit, but Arison intentionally keeps it low key and under radar.
19. Jim Larranaga, UM men’s basketball coach – He’s 99-50 in his fifth UM season and Canes are currently ranked No. 15. A godsend for the program.
20. Hassan Whiteside, Heat center – A dunking, shot-blocking 7-footer who’s only 26. He’s a throwback Heat must make fit in NBA’s modern 3-ball era.
21. Dee Gordon, Marlins second baseman – Made all-star team last season, won NL batting title and earned a Gold Glove. What more do you want?
22. Jarvis Landry, Dolphins receiver/returner – A losing, low-scoring, excitement-starved team. But when Landry has his hands on the ball, you pay attention.
23. Mike Pouncey, Dolphins center – Made past two Pro Bowls and coming into his prime. Team has lots of problems. Pouncey isn’t one of them.
24. Katie Meier, UM women’s basketball coach – Headed to her sixth 20-win season in past seven years. Her teams deserve hugely bigger crowd support.
25. Barry Bonds, Marlins hitting coach – He’s a splash hire largely due to his steroids-era notoriety. Now let’s see if he can coach hitting.
I think I needed a longer list. Sorry, Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, UM quarterback Brad Kaaya, Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon and others.
No, it has not been an entirely good 2015 for our big teams. But, as our Top 25 reminds, it sure hasn’t been dull, either.