A Tale Of Two Teams: How The Marlins Went To The Crapper, And The Dodgers Restored Faith
When a group led up by Magic Johnson purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers back in March, each Dodger player received two No. 32 Lakers jerseys signed by the former Lakers point guard. One of the jerseys had a personalized message for each player, while the second was to be donated to a charity of the player's choice.
Since then, Johnson and the Dodgers' new ownership group has continued its giving, and has restored faith in the franchise.
It was only a year ago the situation surrounding the Dodgers could be described as tumultuous at best. After the ugly, public, expensive divorce between Frank and Jamie McCourt—the team's owners—the franchise's reputation had soured. The Dodgers were being treated like a pet dog that a couple breaking up was arguing over keeping. But the fans deserved better. With pieces like Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp, the team had the potential to be good.
On the other coast, the Miami Marlins franchise looked to make its "Florida" days a thing of the past. Despite winning two World Series titles in the franchise's first 18 years of existence, a low payroll, uncomfortable stadium, and many lackluster teams in between had turned fans off.
But a new, $634 million complex close to downtown Miami was going to change all of that.
The Dodgers and the Marlins looked to be headed in decidedly different directions. The Dodgers still had Kershaw, Ethier, and Kemp, but not much else. The Marlins had a new ballpark, and went out and signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, and the effervescent skipper Ozzie Guillen. They were branded as "Latin America's baseball team," and were expected to compete for the National League East crown. The Dodgers were destined for the cellar.
But things didn't quite go according to plan.
The Marlins didn't jump out to a great start. Before the first pitch at the new ballpark was even thrown, there were talks of Hanley Ramirez's reluctance to move to third base to make room for Reyes. The team went 8-14 early on. Then a seven-game winning streak got the team back over .500. But consistent success was never established. An 8-18 month of June dropped the Marlins from 29-22 to 37-40. The hype and intrigue surrounding the new team and its new ballpark slowly faded.
On the other coast, the Dodgers season began with little hope. The one bright spot, though, was Kemp, who had just come off a season in which many felt he deserved to win the NL MVP. Kemp looked destined to further prove he was indeed a top flight player. The All-Star center fielder hit 12 home runs in the month of April, while batting .417 with 25 RBIs. But a hamstring injury landed Kemp on the DL, and without the team's most potent offensive weapon, the Dodgers were expected to fizzle. Even with Kemp, no one expected Los Angeles to keep up its winning ways, after all. But the Dodgers went an even .500 (27-27) as Kemp sat out. The all-star made his return to a team that was still eight games over .500. The Dodgers were winning games, and not just remaining in the hunt for one of the two wild card spots, but also the NL West title.
So how did the Marlins' high expectations and the Dodgers' measly chances get flipped on their heads?
No matter how you brand yourself, whether it be with a new name, a new ballpark, or a big payroll, there's only one thing that translates to fans: winning. Fans will cheer for a team that performs on the field. The Marlins branded themselves as a new team, but a new team that was expected to win now. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were seen as more of a long-term project. A new ownership group hoped to restore the trust in the Dodger faithful, but no one imagined they could so this quickly.
Winning alone was going to make Dodgers fan forget about the McCourts. In the same respect, winning alone was going to draw fans to the new Marlins ballpark. A gargantuan home run sculpture in center field was fun to look at. But a losing team was not.
Miami tried to attract potential fans with the glitz. A nightclub in the ballpark. New uniforms. No traces of the Florida version of the team at all. By all accounts, the product the Marlins management had created looked good. But looks alone wouldn't fill the seats from April all the way through September. The team's true colors again began to show. In the last 48 hours, the Marlins traded Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers, and Ramirez to none other than the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have shown they have the fortitude to win. Anointing Magic Johnson—wildly popular in Los Angeles—to head up the team wouldn't have alone been enough to reinvigorate Dodger pride. It was going to take sustained success, and take smart baseball decisions from the team's new management - steps like locking up Ethier long-term. Kershaw is expected to ink the next deal. But a willingness to spend on the product is missing in Miami. It's how the Dodgers were able to pry Ramirez away from the Marlins, offering to pay out the remaining salary of his six-year, $70 million contract, which is currently in year four.
Success is not built aesthetically. It's built through winning. With 65 games remaining in the season, the Marlins have waved the proverbial white flag. Management has effectively laid a big fart in the new ballpark, as if to tell fans to stop coming. In Los Angeles, the Dodgers are all systems go. Two teams that were predicted to end up on opposite ends of the spectrum are doing so - just not in the order we expected.
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