Marlins use Pirates’ plight as cautionary tale, and they might be right


It’s been more than a week since I heard it, and it still stings.

Last Wednesday, Miami Marlins president David Samson appeared on “The Dan Le Batard Show” on The Ticket radio station in south Florida to defend his team’s jettisoning of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, among others, to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects. While fervently trying to legitimize the massive trade as a justifiable “baseball move,” the son-in-law of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria uttered the following:

"I would think [the fans] wouldn’t want us to stand pat and keep losing. We don’t want to be one of those teams that for 20 years doesn’t win 81 games and doesn’t make the playoffs."

Ouch. Interesting that Samson said “one of those teams” when we all know there is only one team in the history of Major League Baseball – and all North American major professional sports leagues – to have put together two solid decades of losing.

March 6, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins president David P. Samson fields questions from reporters before a spring training game against he Miami Hurricanes at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

My initial reaction to the Marlins’ latest salary sell-off was that I was glad I didn’t root for a team run by those heartless businessmen. All that buildup and hype last year has been flushed down the toilet, the same place attendance went at Marlins Stadium last July after it was apparent the team was playing for the future.

But then I began to reconsider. After my initial gag reflex faded, I started to think that Marlins fans have it good. As bottom-line as the Marlins can be, they’ve won two World Series in the time it’s taken for the Pirates to sink from back-to-back-to-back division champions to pro sports punchline.

While the opulence of the Marlins’ 1997 championship was clearly not intended to last, at least their 2003 title was built on homegrown talent and a model that middle-to-small market teams can embrace and emulate. Yes, the Marlins have frequently “blown it up” in favor of fresh starts since then, but at least their followers have experienced some winning in the not-too-distant past.

Admittedly, I’m splitting hairs with this comparison. Miami hasn’t seen playoff baseball since 2003 and had to endure the Marlins playing in a terrible venue until last spring. Pittsburgh got its gleaming PNC Park more than a decade ago, but the best the Pirates have been able to do since was this summer’s 79-83 record, which was sullied by a late-season nosedive.

Whether you call it Hell, Hades or Cleveland, the Pirates and the Marlins have been sharing the same competitive space for years. Sure, Miami put on some designer clothes last year, but ended up below Pittsburgh in the NL standings.

So here we are again, with both teams seemingly consigned to familiar fates. The Marlins have taken the self-destructive approach this offseason, to abominable reviews. The Pirates have done the opposite, standing pat (to use Samson’s words) with a management team entering its sixth full season. We all know how well that’s gone over.

Miami and Pittsburgh have more in common than most MLB teams, but the Marlins have resolved to take a proactive approach, public relations be damned. After all, when you lose, no one’s going to like what you do anyway.

I appreciate Pirates owner Bob Nutting’s sticking with Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington and the rest, but Loria and Samson are starting to make more sense by the day. The Bucs could still stir things up via free agency, but they’ll never act like the Marlins. Whether that’s good or bad is yet to be determined.