This season, like so many uncomfortable events in our lives, has finally passed. Now we can go about the business of figuring out how to make sure we do everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen next year. My use of the NASCAR “we” is deliberate, because as fans, we do indeed have an influence on the course of the Marlins through several avenues. The box office is our trump card, but we can only play it during the season. During the off season, we have to resort to other tools and start playing small ball in order to influence ownership and the front office to make the kind of off-season moves that we think will benefit the team.
It will take a unified chorus of individual voices to rise above the din of factors that will affect the decisions made by Marlins executives this winter. One of the biggest hurdles to the effectiveness of that tool is the historically fickle nature of fans in this market. Like the proverbial kid chasing butterflies in right field, Miami fans are famous for flitting from one Next Big Thing to the next. First and foremost, we need to overcome the acidic stylings of a sporting press that has a long-standing tradition of holding thinly disguised disdain for professional sports franchises in Miami. Disdain, coupled with the glee with which the transplanted Boston, New York, and Philadelphia fans wave the articles under the noses of the local fans, has weakened the resolve of our fan base, and it’s time that us loyalists start working to stiffen the spines of the stragglers we all know.
Recall, if you will, the splashy, ill-advised media event that turned the arrival of LeBron James into a circus of poor taste. The northeastern press pounced on the story with gusto, propping Cleveland up on a pedestal of virtue with the relentless fervor usually reserved for the “life story” of the person responsible for a minor piece of legislation. The failure of the Heat to capture the title that year ignited a season-long storm of criticism that only dissipated with the electric finale of the NBA playoff chase this year.
This year, the Marlins opened a gem of a ballpark, and brought in a handful of high-flash free agents. The NBA was a ways away from the playoffs when spring training started, so the buzz was loud and positive. The Marlins were “new”, “fresh” and judged to be pennant contenders. Then, right before the home opener, Time Magazine published a Sean Gregory article that was a superficial look at the arrival of an outspoken, colorful manager to a newsworthy, colorful team that dropped a boatload of cash in the off season. Time being Time, and Gregory being Gregory, the opening sentence was designed to gin up as much controversy as was possible in an otherwise innocuous story. Leading with Ozzie Guillen’s use of Fidel Castro’s ability to stay in power for so long as an example of tenacity was an effective long-term sucker punch, as there hasn’t been a single article since mid-September that doesn’t at least partially attribute the Marlins’ horrible season to that immediately retracted Guillen comment. The Marlins’ dead-last-in-all-of-baseball inability to bring home runners in scoring position apparently had little to do with this year’s W-L record, nor did their ability to carry a lead from a starting pitcher to the end of the game.
The fourth estate is busy putting the finishing touches on the gallows they’ve built for Ozzie, but it’s at odds with an undercurrent of support for him found at water coolers all over South Florida. For example, the Sun-Sentinel’s Juan Rodriguez hosted a live pregame chat just before Adam Greenberg went in for his cup of coffee. The chat room featured a real-time poll that asked voters whether or not they felt that Ozzie should be replaced for 2013. Surprisingly, here in deep blue, militantly PC South Manhattan, the poll was 85% in favor of Ozzie staying right where he is. The commentary in the chat was pretty clearly of the opinion that a multitude of factors, from the front office to the clubhouse, contributed to the woes.
The Marlins, from the eye-popping new ballpark, new uniforms, and new logo to Jeffrey Loria and Ozzie Guillen, are undoubtedly a colorful, raucous bunch, but very well suited to the colorful, raucous melting pot that is so emblematic of South Florida. Ozzie fits in here, and it would be shortsighted to pin the season’s failure to his uniform alone. If there is any valid criticism of his specific season, it’s that the Marlins had a relatively young clubhouse this year, and his laissez-faire style might be better suited to a veteran team. Our young guys may have needed a less distant leader than Ozzie was this year. Not necessarily a friend or a “player’s manager”, but one who would spend more one-on-one time inspiring and leading. Working with Ozzie to develop that style might be a better idea than sending him packing.
Firing Ozzie would be a knee-jerk reaction from Loria, much like the way a rattlesnake nearly blinded by a pressing need to shed his skin will strike at shadows. Deferring the decision until after the reported trips to Europe have passed will allow the sting from the abysmal season to abate a bit, and will allow the front office the ability to make unemotional decisions in a way that will not cause the loss of face that a heat-of-the-moment firing would. The press would have a field day with “I told you so” articles.
As fans of baseball, and of the Marlins, we can show support for our team, and perhaps have a small influence on the direction the team takes this winter. That support will be most effective if it rises above the din of a hostile mainstream press with a clear, unequivocal voice that will hopefully penetrate the walls of the executive suite at Marlins Park.