Marlins are compiling an errorless record

November 24, 1991|By Mark Whicker | Mark Whicker,Orange County Register

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's early. We don't want to jinx them. But there's a no-hitter in progress, and the Florida Marlins are pitching it.

They have no runs or hits themselves. But they have made no errors. They have a general manager, a scouting director, a player development director, one single owner with money.

They have 13 full-time scouts. Already. They have five major-league scouts. Already. They don't join the National League until 1993. They will be ready. If the sports world were the stock market, your best tip would be 100 shares of the Marlins.

"This is exciting," said Dave Dombrowski, the general manager who came from Montreal and brought Gary Hughes (scouting boss) and John Boles (development man) with him.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I don't think there's going to be another expansion anytime soon. How many chances do you get to start from scratch?"

Ask Houston. Or Cleveland. Or, for that matter, the Angels. When established teams -- established losers -- begin again, the scratches are deep. They fight their own tattered traditions. Rebuilding is far more painful than building.

The Marlins have a chance to make it right. They have not signed a junk-bonded free agent. They have not yet blown a draft. They haven't even turned off one single fan, since they haven't sold a season ticket yet. Or hired a manager. First things first, they say.

"It's more important than ever to build from the ground up," Dombrowski said. "Gary Hughes, in Montreal, did his research with [second baseman] Delino DeShields [the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year]. He had signed a basketball grant with Villanova, but Gary still thought he wanted to play baseball, and he was right.

"And there's Marquis Grissom [the 1991 NL stolen base champion]. Not everybody knew he was 21 years old and draft-eligible at Florida A&M. But Gary did. He and his people know how to evaluate talent."

The Marlins will have two short-season Class A teams in 1991, and will participate at the tail end in the June draft, along with the Colorado Rockies, their fellow expansionists.

In '92 the Marlins will have teams in Class A and Class AAA, and after the World Series they and Colorado will pick in the expansion draft.

The 26 established teams will freeze 15 third-year players. The Marlins and Rockies will pick from what's left. In the second round, the NL teams will freeze three more, and the AL teams will freeze four. The Marlins and Rockies pick again. The process repeats in the third round.

It rewards homework and diligence. The Marlins are all set. Scouts such as ex-California Angels manager Cookie Rojas, Scott Reid (Chicago Cubs) and John Young (Texas Rangers) are on board. The Marlins also know their market well enough to hire Angel Vasquez as a Latin-American scouting director.

"You have to develop players because of today's economics," Dombrowski said. "You can end up with a $40 million payroll if your veterans are any good. Young players don't cost as much, and it's been proven that they play with hunger and pizzazz. And turnover is good for your club."

But if any owner can afford blockbuster free agents, it's Blockbuster Video chairman and Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga.

His 2,000 clean, parking-friendly Blockbuster stores did almost $1 billion in sales and rentals last year. He was already running a profitable waste disposal business here when a friend, John Melk, bugged him to visit his Blockbuster store near Chicago. Huizenga never could find the time. Then Melk, under the guise of driving him to O'Hare, drove him to Blockbuster instead. Within a few months, Huizenga joined the company, then bought it.

Huizenga used part of the haul to buy part of Joe Robbie Stadium. Like any real estate owner, he wanted tenants. Baseball, with 81 home games a year, looked promising.

But how could South Florida compete with St. Petersburg, which built the Florida Suncoast Dome? Huizenga contemplated building a season-ticket list. Then he said no. Why take the fans' money on spec? Instead, he staged Saturday-Sunday exhibitions between Baltimore and the Yankees -- on Passover and Easter Sunday. The games drew 113,000, anyway, and the expansion committee noticed.

People questioned the weather. But they play baseball in Arlington, Texas. There will be modern batting cages underneath Joe Robbie, to avoid the late-afternoon showers. And the Prescription Athletic Turf grass surface can absorb an inch of rain every hour.

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