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The Miami Marlins and Tales of a Fire Sale Survivor: Michael Jong, Part 2

The Tales of a Fire Sale Survivor series continues with the second part of the interview with me, Michael Jong of Fish Stripes.

While I do not quite feel this strongly, anger is one of the emotions I felt most after the Marlins' 2012 fire sale.
While I do not quite feel this strongly, anger is one of the emotions I felt most after the Marlins' 2012 fire sale.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

If you missed the first part of my two-part interview in Tales of a Fire Sale Survivor, read it here. Check out the introduction here.

4. In your mind, how connected was the 1997 fire sale to the 2003 World Series win?

As I mentioned yesterday, I felt an odd sort of pride about being a Marlins fan. It was almost as if, years earlier, I envisioned one day being able to proudly write that I was a Marlins fan before 1998 and I stuck through that awful mess because I was a true fan. Unlike those who started in 1999 or the early 2000's, I knew the great team that existed before this promising group of youngsters. It was much harder for fans who saw the 1997 World Series to be satisfied with a rebuilding, young crop of players.

But I was proud that I stuck with them. And the fact that the moves of 1997 helped to lead to the 2003 World Series meant that the two were intricately woven together in my mind. All of the hard work of being a fan of terrible teams in 1998 and 1999 was worth it when I saw this team rise from the ashes and win the World Series again. This World Series victory was the most rewarding and enjoyable experience of my sports fandom, and in my mind, it could not have happened without the 1997 fire sale. The catharsis of the victory was all but complete.

But as I look back at it objectively, there was not a whole lot of players left from that 1997 fire sale who remained for the 2003 World Series winner. The biggest (pseudo)direct gains from the 1997 fire sale who contributed to the 2003 team were Derrek Lee (acquired from the San Diego Padres) and Josh Beckett (drafted in 1999 after the Marlins' awful 1998 season). Brad Penny is probably the only other player who was picked up around 1998 who was then playing a prominent role in 2003. The only remaining Marlin who was even close to the main roster both in 1997 and 2003 was Luis Castillo. The remaining stars, guys like Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Ivan Rodriguez, and others were signed or acquired in more recent seasons or developed from the Marlins farm system without the aid of the draft.

Emotionally, the 1997 fire sale and 2003 World Series win are quite closely tied in my mind. But when I sit back and look at both of those, there were fewer remnants of that fire sale talent than expected.

5. What was your reaction to the second Marlins fire sale in 2005?

"More of the same" was the first words that I thought of when I heard about the Josh Beckett / Mike Lowell trade that kicked off the team's fire sale in 2005. This time, there was no sadness that a winning team was disappearing, because the Marlins had not won in two seasons since 2003. But with the team signing Carlos Delgado, it appeared that they were ready to commit to a new chapter in the organization by adding players to supplement an excellent core. However, I did not recognize that that core was beginning to get extremely expensive, and that meant the Marlins would sell off again.

The reaction this time was more of disappointment at the team's actions. I was older and wiser as a fan at the time, and there was less of a childish exasperation of "what are you doing to my team?" This was more of a disappointment that the Marlins had not shaken off the problems of their ugly past and were repeating their actions from before. There was still some visceral response to losing guys like Beckett, who were well-liked among Marlins fans, but the overwhelming majority of my disappointment was towards the team's actions and not necessarily any given player being dealt away.

6. How was your level of fandom affected by the second Marlins fire sale and the years that followed?

This question is extremely difficult to answer. My previous answer implies that my disappointment was not extreme, but I was very close to abandoning the Marlins. I had thought to myself that there was no reason for me to subject myself to such torture from one team. I committed myself to watching the 2006 ball club, but I had no hopes that anything good would come out of this roster that was largely touted for Jeremy Hermida and Hanley Ramirez (along with the incumbent Miguel Cabrera, of course).

When the Marlins sunk to 20 games under .500 in late May at 11-31, I was very close to tuning out the team entirely, or at least taking an extended break. I envisioned three more years of hopeless losing before seeing a glimmer of a chance at success, and I was not interested. But then, about two weeks later, the Marlins completed a seemingly innocuous three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays that brought their current winning streak to 10 games. At that point, I felt as though this team's quest of a .500 record was not out of reach. I thought that the goal of .500 was worth watching the entire season, because no other team had done such a thing.

And of course, over a long period of time, the Marlins finally broke .500 and beyond in September, and I rejoiced. Along the way, I grew attached to players like Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and Josh Johnson, players who would become the new core of a new era of this team. I was excited, and the entire 2006 season ultimately ended up improving my fandom more than could have ever been imagined. In the course of one season, I went from nearly abandoning my seemingly hopeless team to feeling more attached to it than ever. The 2006 Marlins did something completely unexpected and exciting, and I felt once again the same connection I felt with the team after the first fire sale: this was my team, and I will grow with them.

7. What was your reaction to the third Marlins fire sale in 2012?

This one was also different from the first two. By this time, I was writing about the Marlins as a pseudo-profession, and I had grown even more as a fan and as a person. I am more objective now than I ever was back in the old days. For this fire sale, my response was one of anger. Again, the anger was aimed at the front office, but this time, as evidenced by the series of posts regarding the fire sale trade, this anger was backed not by just emotional response to the loss of players or the team's actions, but by analysis and logic.

Yet the response was still that of anger. Anger that the Marlins would betray the fans by doing this when better options were available. Anger that the Marlins would endanger their chances of assisting future cores of the team by showing blatant disregard for the commitments they signed just one year ago. Anger that the team did not provide the club a chance and decided to end the experiment essentially three months into it. Anger that the long-term planning of the organization was either shot or not present at all.

The silver lining was that the move positioned the Marlins to potentially be way better off in a few years' time. Yet as we already saw in the 1997 fire sale, only a few players among the ones acquired ever really hit as well as one would like, and in the meantime the Fish will be terrible for one or two seasons. Meanwhile, the ownership willingly dismissed the fans' desires and hurt their chances of acquiring outside talent or retaining their current talent with the move. In the end, my opinion is the same: that the Marlins did much more harm than good with the fire sale trade of 2012.

8. Given your experience with the team, do you think the Marlins will move in a positive or negative direction in the years to come?

The Marlins' inherent talent group will be moving in a positive direction, minus one mammoth, Giancarlo Stanton-sized caveat. The rest of the team's situation, as it pertains to building a competitive team, may not. Even if the Marlins hit more often than not with the crop of players they acquired this offseason, the public relations damage they have done with free agents should prevent them from signing quality players to supplement a potentially strong future core. Furthermore, they are likely to lose Stanton and may be at risk of losing their two future designated stars in Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez if they follow suit with Stanton's frustration with the organization.

This stems from the fact that the Marlins' first two fire sales "felt" different than this one. The 1997 sale was borne out of necessity, but it was the most tragic one. The team got a redo in building a good roster and winning a World Series. The second one lucked out with the strong 2006 campaign and the unveiling of two superstars in Ramirez and Johnson; that season helped keep fans interested in the product in what should have been a 1998-level slump. But this season? Not only was the timing of the sale devastating, but the only reason currently remaining to watch this team is likely on his way out in another season or two. Marlins fans have very little to look forward to other than a number of potential prospects, with more depth than greatness sitting behind Fernandez and Yelich.

This ownership perpetrated one fire sale before, but it was the first act of betrayal of the fans. But this is in "fool me twice" territory, and Marlins fans are unlikely to easily forgive and forget, especially when the logical consequences are so dire.

9. What advice would you give to a new Marlins fan about handling the difficulties of a fire sale?

Latch on to the little things that make the game of baseball enjoyable. If you truly want to remain a Marlins fan, you will find joy in something, no matter how much Jeffrey Loria strips it down. Giancarlo Stanton. Jose Fernandez. Christian Yelich. Heck, Justin Ruggiano or Rob Brantly. Find some player who piques your interest in the game and celebrate his time as a Marlin. There is every reason to enjoy the game, even if the ownership makes it harder on us fans.

Find the silver lining in these hard times. The Marlins have been through this twice before, and though this may be the most difficult challenge yet, there is going to be something positive, and as Marlins fans, we have no choice but to find it and own it. Keep enjoying those Stanton homers or the development of guys like Brantly or Jacob Turner, because the lows are definitely going to be there. With the Marlins in 2013 and beyond, it will definitely all be about the #minorvictories.