The 2012 Miami Marlins: Same Old Soap Opera or Tragedy?

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The 2012 Miami Marlins have been a disappointment, and for outsiders, it can be seen as another failure for a team with a long history of failures. But the Marlins story of 2012 is less a soap opera and, more than anything else, a classic tragedy.

Michael Bates of The Platoon Advantage wrote a piece yesterday on MLB Daily Dish as part of the Designated Columnists program we are running here at SB Nation United, and the premise of the article was an interesting one: the Miami Marlins are nothing but a tired soap opera that needs a refreshingly new take to hold interest.

I feel that way about the Marlins these days. There's nothing they can show us that they haven't already done several times over. They've sent off troublemaking characters like Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. They've brought in special guest stars like Carlos Lee and added new characters like Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes. They've had loud, public disagreements and said things they can't take back. Heath Bell betrayed his manager and earned the cold shoulder from his team. Hell, they even picked up the whole club and moved to a new home. And, of course, the entire fanbase has been largely betrayed by the club's greedy and power-hungry owner.

So what's the point? Soap operas get boring, and then they get bad, and people stop watching.

As difficult as it is to swallow, the viewpoint makes some sense. It only takes a cursory reading of the reactions near the trade deadline for the Marlins to see the "here we go again, fire sale" chatter that was certain to come up with the team breaking up its 2012 core so early into its native voyage. Even if fans on our side knew that the fire sale talks were a myth, you figured the outsiders would see it as more of the same for the Miami Marlins without taking the context into account.

And that is kind of what is happening here, as Bates admits that he has lost interest in the Marlins even from afar.

And so it is in Miami, where even from afar I'm tired of this act. We've already seen every plot twist the Marlins can dig up, including the surprise triumphant championship (which, like Grey's high point, was a long freaking time ago), and then the betrayal and reset to where the club was years before. It's just not interesting anymore, and it's not even vaguely watchable. No one even wants to go to the brand new sparkly park.

But that is not all that surprising. The Marlins, as constituted right now, are a bad team. It is hard for anyone to hold interest in a bad team or a team that is going down the pipes. How many national articles have you seen about the Pittsburgh Pirates recently? When you struggle, interest wanes, and it is not any different in south Florida, even with the new park.

But at the beginning of the season? I doubt anyone, including Bates, could deny that they had interest in what was happening with the Marlins. That was part of the point of the re-branding of the team and the free agent moves, to build a good squad with some hype and attention to them. The free agent moves of the winter before 2012 were designed to be both good baseball moves and a good marketing strategy. The Marlins wanted to win, and they wanted the attention of fans, media, and everyone around the nation. And for a while, they got the latter. The former, on the other hand, never happened.

So this supposed lack of interest is not because the Marlins have "played out every soap opera trope" and are circling the drain. It is because the latest trope they supposedly went for did not end in the success the team had planned. Had the Marlins succeeded, would folks still be writing articles about how we expected all of this about the Marlins and that they are "unwatchable?" Of course not. Only bad teams are unwatchable.

And that is exactly why, while Bates claims that the Marlins are a bad soap opera clinging to its viewers using whatever tactics are left in the bag, fans should see it decidedly differently. For Marlins fans and folks everywhere, this season is not a soap opera, but a classic tragedy.

Take a look at the abbreviated notes on the elements of tragedy found in this TVTropes article.

  • Have a hero of great status and prosperity (which is why many tragedy main characters are nobles or royalty), who suffers a terrible fall, usually death.
  • The fall is brought on by his own Fatal Flaw and past mistakes. His character should be consistent and unchanging to make his fall inevitable, such as beingPrideful or stubborn, or so good and persistent such that fixing his mistakes destroys him.
  • The audience has to feel catharsis at his death, an emotional "purging" where the audience should feel relief and cleansing. Whether this catharsis is due to the schadenfreude, relief at having it better off than the character, or generally releasing pent-up anxiety is debated to this day.

If this does not fit the elements seen in Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to outsiders, I do not know what does. Loria is the man of great status and prosperity, an art dealer rich enough to own a team yet claiming poverty on said team because of poor performance at the gates. Entering the season, the team had high hopes and looked to contend, and their fall is evident over the course of the year. Outsiders and Marlins fans alike will claim that Loria's own misdeeds of the past, including taking taxpayer dollars to build a profitable stadium and thinking that free agents would answer all of the Marlins' problems from 2011, were what led to the high hopes followed by the swift fall.

And perhaps the most important part for outsiders is the aspect of catharsis. Outsiders enjoy when Jeffrey Loria fails. He was the man who destroyed the Montreal Expos! He deserves failure at every turn, and this latest setback is just a deserving karmic punishment for his wrongdoings.

For Marlins fans, however, the details are a little different. Our protagonist is not Jeffrey Loria, but rather the Marlins as a whole, the team for which we cheer night in and night out. And yes, it was a flawed team, in the sense that there was a possibility that things would go wrong with the team that would sink it. And indeed some of those things did go wrong; Hanley Ramirez did not bounce back and Josh Johnson had a healthy but far less productive season, and those two pieces were critical to the Marlins' chances.

But for this team, it goes beyond the classic tragedy's themes. The Marlins also failed in areas that were not expected to fail, including suffering through a second straight season with a horrific month of June. Because of that, the team made trades that ensured that the 2012 Marlins would struggle, And now we come to the final game of the season, the end of the miserable fall of the 2012 Marlins. The last bit, the piece about catharsis, is the piece Marlins fans with which Marlins fans likely disagree the most. Fish fans do not feel any sort of catharsis in the viewing of the 2012 season.

Disappointment is what Marlins fans feel today. I am not happy that the 2012 season is over and that we can move on to talking about the 2013 offseason. I am disappointed in the 2012 Marlins, and it is the greatest disappointment with this team that I have ever felt. Before, when the Marlins previously lost 90 or 100 games, it was expected. No one thought the 1998 Marlins would do well. The same goes for the 1999 team. The same went for the 2006 team that did do well. We have had disappointments here and there, but it has never come from such a high place and with so much hype behind it. As a Marlins fan, today's final game of the season can hold nothing but disappointment, even if the team wins.

Bates asks for the Marlins to do something to shake up their soap opera mess.

You know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see the Marlins build smartly from the ground up. I'd like to watch them eschew quick fixes and gimmicks and stunt casting and build a strong club around a good and likable cast. That's the one thing we haven't seen from these Marlins. Not ever.

That is not necessarily true. The Marlins did this in horrific fashion in 1998, getting rid of all of their World Series talent and rebuilding from the ground up. It took five seasons, but that rebuilding culminated in the team's 2003 World Series victory. it is part of the reason why that World Series win was so sweet.

The 2006 era Marlins also tried to do that. There was a fire sale, and from the ashes came a new, exciting ball club with a viable nucleus. But unlike the 2003 era team that had the support of prospect talent from trades and drafts before it, the 2006 era Marlins suffered from a draft drought that in the end produced only one viable major leaguer from 2002 to 2005. It was no wonder that team could not get over the hump, because the talent it had in 2006 was the same group, with no additional supplementation, as it had in 2010.

So a new era of Marlins baseball, it seems, will begin in 2013, a year after the era of 2012 just started. And it looks like the Marlins are planning to build from the ground up. Payroll is rumored to be cut to $80 million next year, which will essentially allow the Marlins to retain their own players and perhaps make one low-end signing. The team appears to be uninterested in going on a spending spree like it did in 2012. Instead, it will plan on rebuilding the squad with reinforcements heading into 2014. Perhaps then, the team can build from this tragedy into an epic run to a World Series soon. Or at the very least get out of the soap opera doldrums.

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