The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Series Tied, who cares - it's what we wanted anyway - this is what we're talking about

While the mood in Fish land is much more somber today after last night’s 12-3 defeat, all is not lost. The team seemed to take the loss in stride and I think the Marlins faithful are happy to come home with a split.

The Cubs are likely in for a shock in terms of the environment that they’ll face this weekend, particularly for games 3 and 4 since they will be played at night. Pro Player Stadium is a football stadium. It looks like one, it feels like one, and the fans who attend games there generally act like they’re at a football game, regardless of what the actual event of the day is. Since the first two games are night games, that will mean that serious tailgating will take place in the parking lots surrounding the stadium before the game, and the 65,000 screaming “faithful” will be pretty well oiled up by the time the game begins.

I doubt that many of the Cub players have experienced an atmosphere like we’re likely to see this weekend. It will feel like a football game and there will be fans everywhere. But, honestly, with professional athletes at this stage of the season, I don’t know that it will matter. I’m sure that well a well focused Kerry Wood or Sammy Sosa might not hear a thing. And Moises Alou has been through this before (albeit on the other side) so he will be able to prepare his teammates if necessary.

I would expect the fans in the rightfield bleachers, who are amongst the Marlins only loyal fans, to ride Sammy hard when he’s in the field. That should be interesting. Jose Cruz Jr. got quite the ribbing in the last series, but I don’t think that was what affected his performance as he took the jeers quite well (although I don’t know what caused him to play below his usual standards defensively).

Other than that, I like the Marlins chances with Dontrelle on the hill, even if they’re down a game after Wood pitches Friday night. Hopefully the D-Train won’t tire himself out again stretching a double into a triple like he did against the Giants.

Honestly though, Marlins fans aren’t talking much about the upcoming games themselves, but about two things: Wayne Huizenga and what to do with Miguel Cabrera and Mike Lowell.

For those of you who don’t know, Wayne Huizenga, business magnate and Chicago native, used to own the Florida Marlins. He also owned the Florida Panthers and still owns the Miami Dolphins and Pro Player Stadium, home of the Dolphins and the Marlins. Wayne sold the Marlins shortly after the 1997 season, citing significant losses ($20 million or more per year), which arguably were paper losses more than real losses for a few reasons. One was that the Marlins have always had a bad lease at Pro Player and this is a source of their low revenue. However, when Wayne owned the team, this was really just taking money from one pocket and putting it into the other. Since none of the records are public, it’s difficult to establish if this was really a “loss” or not. Another biggie was that the Marlins television deal has never been big, particularly in the late 90s. However, Wayne owned the cable channel that carried a lot of Marlins games at the time (Sports Channel Florida). Again, the low rights fees that the Marlins received from Sports Channel were likely offset from the advertising revenue Wayne received for his network.

So what’s the point of this history lesson? Well, it’s just background to the fact that Wayne is in Chicago this week, in Cubs garb, openly telling reporters and fans that he’s cheering for the Cubs. “How could you not?” is his alleged quote from the Chicago Sun-Times. Well hello? You used to own the Marlins. You were their first owner. You owned them when they won the World Series six years ago (coincidentially in the Marlins 5th anniversary season, although they’re now celebrating their 10th anniversary six years later… but more on that later). You lobbied Major League Baseball to have a franchise brought to your new hometown.

But Wayne doesn’t care. It seems that Wayne has it in his heart to kill the sports interest in anything non-Dolphins in Miami. First he dismantled the Marlins and set them up for a string of very lean years (although former GM Dave Dombrowski should be credited for doing an extremely good job under very difficult circumstances – and for sticking it out for a long time when it would have been easy to up and leave). In addition, another expansion franchise that Wayne brought to town, the NHL’s Florida Panthers, has also been run into the ground, although Wayne (of course) no longer owns the team. You may also remember that the 1996 Panthers made a surprising run at the Stanley Cup, but have hardly been heard from since.

Wayne does get credit in town – somehow – for how the Dolphins are run. Yes, they are usually good and they usually make the playoffs and Wayne usually spends whatever money needs to be spent – be it on players, coaches, or whatever. But when was the last time that the Dolphins played in an AFC championship game? I don’t think it’s been since they moved into Pro Player/Joe Robbie Stadium. Somehow the Dolphins have managed to survive for 30-years on the reputation of the 1972 “Perfect” Team (although it’s funny that the Perfect team rarely makes an appearance on a list of the top 5 greatest teams in NFL history).

So suffice it to say that Wayne Huizenga, great friend of South Florida sports, has put another knife in the back of the fans that he at one time or another has stuck his hand into the pockets of. Thanks Wayne! I can’t wait to give you my $9 for parking at the next Marlins game (although I’m sure that price will be raised again sometime soon).

The other hot topic on the minds of Marlins fans is who to play at shortstop for the remainder of the series. Alex Gonzalez is playing well in the field, but is 1 for 24 at the plate in the playoffs. Alex would need to go 5 for his next 6 to reach the Mendoza line at the plate… but then there’s that glove that arguably won game 1 for the Marlins with two sparkling plays in the 7th and 8th innings.

However, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, and Jeff Conine appear to have brought their lumber to the postseason. Unfortunately, most of the permutations for these three players only involve leftfield, third base, and pinch hitter. Gonzalez’s quiet back has sparked speculation of putting Cabrera at short, his natural position, although he almost exclusively played third base and left field this year in the majors and minors until last night. It has been widely speculated that Cabrera would take over shortstop for the Fish as early as next year, but I don’t think that anyone expected the switch to come as early as the playoffs. But it may come as early as tomorrow night, when the Marlins look for as many bats as possible to put into the lineup against the Cubs’ Kerry Wood.

Personally, I’m very torn on the subject. The safer gamble would appear to be to start either Lowell or Cabrera at third and Conine and Gonzalez at their regular positions. If the game turns into a low scoring, pitcher’s duel (unlike the first two games), the Marlins will be happy to have Gonzalez’s glove in the field. Then if late – or even early – in the game the Marlins need a big at bat, they can use either Lowell of Cabrera off of the bench to hit for either Gonzalez or the pitcher.

I like having the option of bringing one of those players off of the bench since Hollandsworth, Harris, Mordecai, Redmond, et al don’t really strike fear into anyone (despite some of the mid-season heroics by Mordecai with a game winning home run here or there). With Gonzalez on the bench with the other stiffs, it would be much easier for Dusty and crew to manage their pitchers, since there would not be much risk of a big bat coming off the bench at any time.


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