Dying Fish smell all way from Florida

November 20, 1997|By JOHN EISENBERG

Think it's tough being an Orioles fan in the wake of Davey Johnson's resignation?

Think it's tough being a Ravens fan in the face of the team's remarkable propensity for blowing games?

Life could be worse, a lot worse.

You could be a fan of the Florida Marlins, a franchise in the midst of setting an all-time land-speed record for the disassembling of a World Series champ.

Less than a month has passed since they won the Series in a thrilling Game 7 against the Indians, and they already have traded such cornerstones as Moises Alou, Devon White and Robb Nen, with Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla and Gary Sheffield possibly to follow.

Why, Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga probably would trade one of the syllables in the Marlins' nickname if it meant saving a few million in payroll.

Let's hear it for the Florida Mar---s!

Only the situation really isn't that funny, is it?

It's pretty pathetic, that's what it is.

Out of all the reprehensible stories gracing the sports pages these days -- the lurid tales of overbearing owners, lawless millionaire players and economic hardball tactics -- the dissolution of the Marlins ranks at the top. Or the bottom. Whatever, you get the idea. Seldom, if ever, has the widespread greed running so rampant in sports been laid so bare.

And seldom, if ever, have fans of any team in any sport been so abused and brutally taken for granted.

Huizenga did buy a Series winner with an $89 million spending spree last winter, so he gave his fans one moment of high glory, which is better than none.

But now he wants a new, revenue-enhancing ballpark in the wake of the Marlins' success, and he can't find any public officials to build one for him, so, just to show how desperate his plight is, he is selling off anything to do with the Marlins that costs him any money.

In other words: You won't build me a ballpark, I'll break up the team to make it easier to sell, nyah, nyah, nyah."

Is that beautiful?

Meanwhile, he owns half of South Florida, or is it more than half?

That's why the public officials don't want to build him a stadium -- he has a lot more disposable income than they do.

He doesn't want to hear that, of course. He says he is going to sell the team because the public officials might be more likely to build a new park for someone who doesn't own half of South Florida. (He also says the Marlins lost $34 million this year, which you can choose to believe if you want.)

Meanwhile, in trying to prove that all his money still isn't enough, he is breaking the hearts of South Florida's fans, denying them any chance to build a tradition on the foundation of last month's glory.

You can't damage a team or a sport much more than that.

The building of traditions is the reason fans care about sports in the first place -- the reason fans pay good money to buy tickets -- but there'll be no championship tradition in South Florida.

Just when the fans are falling in love, their team is being chain-sawed.

Next year's Marlins will have little in common with this year's, as the fans' Series memories suit up in Houston (Alou), San Francisco (Nen), Arizona (White) and goodness knows where else.

All because Huizenga is surprised that, unlike all those videos his Blockbuster stores rented out, these darn ballplayers cost a lot of dough.

Just what baseball needs in a month in which the American League Manager of the Year has resigned under pressure, the National League Cy Young Award winner has been traded and the Minnesota Twins are contemplating moving to that baseball hotbed, North Carolina.

If ever a sport was crying out for a commissioner, baseball is crying out now.

A real commissioner wouldn't let the Marlins wreak havoc this way, illuminating the reality that many owners would rather have new ballparks than championships.

But baseball "commissioner" Bud Selig won't say anything because he owns the Brewers and his new, revenue-enhancing park is going up in Milwaukee, so he can't condemn Huizenga for seeking the same deal.

What a sport.

Tearing apart a winner for economic reasons is the most depressing act in sports, a bucket of ice water thrown over the fire of any and all excitement.

Imagine how you would feel today if Peter Angelos had traded Roberto Alomar, B. J. Surhoff, Mike Mussina, Randy Myers, Rafael Palmeiro and all the Orioles' other key players since the end of the season -- because they were too expensive.

Would you want to rush out and buy tickets, knowing the front office was committed to not winning?

Didn't think so.

And yet, you can be sure the Marlins will complain when attendance sags down the line, as it surely will.

Say what you want about Angelos' meddling, but he doesn't put you in that position.

Of course, Angelos already has what Huizenga really wants: Camden Yards, a new ballpark to bolster his bottom line.

And Huizenga has what Angelos wants: A World Series title, the greatest stake he could ever put in the ground in his hometown.

Alas, Huizenga probably wouldn't call that an even trade.

The joy that his team sparked in South Florida was palpable, real and remarkable last month.

What has happened since then is an embarrassment, a disgrace, an example of modern sports at its very, very worst.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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