This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.
How to take a World Series Champion and make it into a laughingstock. The Florida Marlins did this to near perfection. In 1997, the Marlins won their first World Series championship in franchise history. In 1998, the Marlins were the worst team in baseball, finishing with a record of 54 wins to go with 108 losses. From first to worst as they say.
How did they do it? It started in the offseason, as the Marlins decided not to renew the contracts of outfielder Moises Alou, first baseman Jeff Conine, staff ace Kevin Brown, starting pitcher Al Leiter, and closer Robb Nen. Alou led the Marlins in home runs (23), and RBIs (115) in 1997. Conine was an original Marlin, who provided leadership, while having some pop in his bat. Conine drilled 17 home runs in 1997. Brown went 16-8 with a team best 2.69 ERA and 205 strikeouts. Nen was a lights out closer, as he saved 35 games for the Marlins in 97. Leiter won 11 games and was a useful arm in the pitching rotation. All these key contributors were not on the Marlins in 1998, as budget restraints split apart the franchise.
The players they did keep either underachieved, or were hoping to be traded. Outfielder Gary Sheffield demanded a trade, and got one as he, catcher Charles Johnson, third baseman Bobby Bonilla and outfielder Jim Eisenreich were dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher Mike Piazza, and third baseman Todd Zeile. Piazza only played five games for the Marlins, until he was traded to the New York Mets for outfielder Preston Wilson and two minor leaguers. No one wanted to play in South Beach in 1998.
World Series MVP Livan Hernandez was the underachiever of the 1998 season. After pitching brilliantly in the playoffs for the Marlins in 1997, Hernandez was awful in 1998, finishing with a 10-12 record with a bloated 4.72 ERA. Hernandez looked lost for most of the season, and it sure seemed like he wanted to be anywhere but Miami. But it wasn’t just Hernandez. The Marlins entire pitching staff was dreadful in 1998. The Marlins finished with the worst team ERA in all of baseball, as they posted a 5.18 ERA. The Marlins also didn’t have starter Alex Fernandez, as he missed the entire season due to arm surgery. Fernandez led the Marlins with 17 wins in 1997.
The bullpen used a closer by committee system, as they clearly felt the loss of Nen, who was traded to the San Francisco Giants in the offseason. Matt Mantei’s 9 saves were tops on the Marlins in 1998. Antonio Alfonseca had 8 saves. The team had 24 saves in all of 1998. That’s 11 fewer than Nen had by himself in 1997.
Offensively, the Marlins weren’t much better. The team hit for a .248 batting average, which was second worst in baseball. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Devil Rays hit fewer home runs than the Marlins, who hit only 114 out of the park.
Left fielder Cliff Floyd, was the only Marlin who had a solid season. Floyd batted .282 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs.
First baseman Derrek Lee swatted 17 big flies, but struck out 12o times, which led the team.
Shortstop, and World Series hero Edgar Renteria led the team with 41 stolen bases, but led the majors by being caught stealing 22 times. Renteria was fifth in baseball with 20 errors committed, as he struggled to find consistency in his game throughout the season.
Manager Jim Leyland had enough. He decided to leave the team at the end of the season, to take over the managerial post with the Colorado Rockies.
The Marlins started from scratch, and rebuilt the team. In 2003, the rebuilding paid off, as Florida won its second World Series title. However, they tore down the team yet again and started over. What hurt the Marlins over the years, was that ProPlayer Stadium was an unsuitable home for the Marlins. The stadium was built for football, but converted for baseball for the summer months. The Marlins got no luxury box revenues or concession revenues. All revenues went to the primary tenant, the Miami Dolphins. Today, the Marlins do have a new home. Built where the old Orange Bowl used to stand, Marlins Park is a baseball only stadium with all the bells and whistles every club needs. The Marlins are struggling on the field, but nowhere near as bad, like in 1998.
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