Muscle Sport Magazine

Contract, Move or Merge? Marlins and Rays Have Both Floundered in Florida

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Some dreams can be categorized as nightmares and it is said that we can only remember a small amount of them. Unfortunately, the two Major League Baseball teams in Florida have been of the nightmare variety and to make matters worse, there now is chatter of a third team being placed in the Sunshine State, ironically enough to be nicknamed the Dreamers.


While the reality of this happening is a long shot, former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams held a press conference in November to discuss his desire to build his own Field of Dreams in the land of Disney to take advantage of the 75 million tourists who visit annually, as well as the 2.5 million residents.


At first glance, this seems like a pipedream and the last thing on the agenda for MLB to fix it’s ‘Florida problem.’ There’s no way to justify adding another team to a state that has not been able to support the two existing franchises, even when they have won respective pennants and World Series championships.





The now-Miami Marlins were born as a National League expansion team in 1991, holding off bids from Tampa Bay and Orlando in the process. One potential name for the franchise was the Florida Flamingoes, but they ended up settling on the Florida Marlins, adopting the moniker from earlier minor league teams that both used Miami in their name.


The novelty that was regular season local MLB games after decades of being a spring training state was certainly in place that inaugural season, as attendance eclipsed the three million mark in spacious Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. The fans and the curious didn’t seem to mind the futility on the diamond (64-98), but spectatorship took a major nosedive after that; the Marlins have only drawn over two million twice since then – 1997 when they won their first World Series and in 2012 when they moved to a new ballpark.



In 2003 when they won their second World Series, the Marlins could only convince 1.3 million they were for real. And there have been three seasons (including the past two) where only 800,000 came through the turnstiles. They have not finished .500 or above in the past decade and the front office – which includes the legendary Derek Jeter – looks clueless on how to rebuild properly or who to rebuild around; the 101-loss roster in 2019 was a mix of youngsters and veterans, but the starting line-up fielded no one younger than 24 and as old as 38. Team payroll was next-to-last in baseball at $69.5 million.




MLB once again expanded in 1998 and finally awarded a franchise to the Tampa-St. Petersburgh area, where a dome was built eight years earlier in a ‘build it and they will come’ scheme. Many false starts (there had been talk over the years of the Twins, Giants, Rangers or Mariners possibly relocating there) made this a joyous occasion, but the Florida Suncoast Dome was already dated.



The roster included a bunch of popular veterans and attendance was over 2.5 million for a 99-loss team that was known then as the Devil Rays. Their fortunes improved practically overnight in 2008 by turning a 66-96 mark the prior summer into 97-win division and American League pennant-winning team dotted with high draft picks who came to fruition. The small market club held onto their young talent as long as possible and parlayed that into three postseason berths the next five years.




Since then, the now-Rays went through another rebuilding/retooling to win 90 or more games the past two seasons. They were a Cinderella bunch in October and nearly pulled off an upset over the eventual AL champion Houston Astros. But, once again, they have had to either trade or let valuable assets leave as free agents due to the having to keep the payroll at a ridiculously low total, which was 30th out of 30 teams at less than $50 million – an incredible fact when you take into consideration that the Boston Red Sox failed to qualify for the playoffs with a payroll almost quadruple of the Rays.



Attendance has not been good (1.1 million in 2018 and 2019) and the decrepit dome (now called Tropicana Field) is a major sticking point and the hamster wheel continues. Proposals of a new stadium (struck down) and even the possibility of splitting the season between Tampa and Montreal have been floated, which all spell disaster for a franchise that has been a mistake from the get-go.




There’s a convoluted but sensible solution to this two (or three) headed monster. Attendance will always be an issue in Miami and Tampa and those two teams will be struggling at the gate, regardless if they do or do not on the field. Williams does have a point with the high traffic in Orlando and there is a world of cross-promotional opportunities with Disney, Sea World, Universal Studios, etc. that a big league team can benefit from.


Instead of making the same mistake as the Marlins did putting all their eggs in the ‘new-stadium-will-bring-fans’ basket or playing half a season north of the border, the Rays have to admit defeat and cut their losses. Same goes for the Marlins and their gaudy idea of a stadium that has been mocked since it opened.


The two teams should merge and then immediately move to Orlando once a stadium is in place. There will be decisions as to what league – the junior or senior circuit – they will play in and contracting one team from either league will also nullify the need to play and Interleague game every day of the season. Or they can remain in the AL and an expansion team can created, possibly in Montreal.


Either way, it is a better solution than the status quo and perhaps Williams can bring some of his good luck with him to MLB; his Orlando Magic won the NBA Draft Lottery two seasons in a row, with the second occurring with only a 1.52 chance of landing the top pick after finishing at .500 with rookie star Shaquille O’Neal.


One can dream…

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