Marlins aren't first 1-in-millions champ Well-heeled teams have trampled many

October 28, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga and a horde of well-wishers descended onto the field at Pro Player Stadium on Sunday night to celebrate the Blockbuster version of the American dream.

The Marlins are baseball's nouveau riche, the store-bought team that crashed the postseason and came away with the biggest door prize. They did it their way, and -- as if everyone in baseball didn't know it already -- proved that everything has its price.

Huizenga committed $89 million last winter to upgrade the fledgling franchise and committed another $61 million to extend the contract of outfielder Gary Sheffield. That comes to a total of TC $150 million, which is about what it cost to put the brand-new team on the field five years ago.

Outrageous?

Not really. The New York Yankees have been buying competitive teams since the start of the free-agent era. The Orioles aren't exactly a home-grown contender, either. And Huizenga isn't in the habit of apologizing for doing things his way, so what difference does it make?

"People made a lot of all the money we spent," Huizenga said during the post-game celebration, "but this team also had a lot of great young players that came up through our organization."

The Marlins put together a team and got on a roll at just the right time. It has happened before, just ask the '87 Minnesota Twins or the '88 Los Angeles Dodgers. The best team does not always win, but the team that wins is the best team until next year, even if it slipped into the postseason as a wild-card entry.

Huizenga waved off questions about his future as owner of the club. He put the franchise up for sale last summer when it became apparent that 1997 revenues would not come close to paying for the team he built the previous winter.

There has been speculation that -- whether he sells the team or not -- the payroll will be downsized during the off-season, but general manager Dave Dombrowski said Sunday that front-office officials were not given the impression that 1997 would be a one-shot deal.

"I've never felt that way," he said. "When we did what we did in the wintertime, we felt that we were trying to do this for an extended period to stay good for many years. I've never felt any extra pressure to win this year because of what was announced.

"I think when you've been in the game of baseball long enough and you've been in my position, you learn that there are so many things beyond your control that you just react appropriately under the circumstances and prepare yourself however you can.

"I would very much like to see Wayne retain ownership and keep this club together. If that doesn't happen, then we'll have to react from there.

"It has never built any extra pressure as far as trying to win this year, because any moves we've made have basically been made to win this year regardless of what happens in the future."

Next year may be a bigger challenge. Dombrowski is entering the final year of his contract and probably will have to do more with less to maintain the organizational momentum that was created this October.

"I've never been in a position where I've set what our payroll budget is," he said. "That's an ownership decision. They give you what the payroll budget is, then it's up to you to be responsible to figure out how to make that budget work as well as you can.

"We're all well aware that your chances of winning with a $45 million payroll are better than winning if you have a $15 million payroll, but you still work as hard as you possibly can with the $15 million payroll to get the most out of your organization."

Huizenga apparently means business. He has been trying to get local politicians to fund a $350 million, retractable-roof stadium that would generate the kind of gate receipts and luxury-box revenue to support the kind of contracts that he gave to Alex Fernandez, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou and even manager Jim Leyland last winter.

Leyland apparently will be back, despite recent speculation that he might retire or resign this winter. He has an out clause in his five-year contract that allows him to void the deal if the Marlins change ownership, but he said after the game that he was not planning to retire and, if he manages next year, it will be in South Florida.

"My wife doesn't like me enough," he said. "I can't retire."

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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