The Tales of a Fire Sale Survivor series here at Fish Stripes has gone on swimmingly, with fans of different corners and different opinions converging to answer questions regarding the Marlins and how the fire sales of years past affected their view of the team and their fanhood. I enlisted a number of colleagues in the Marlins blogosphere, past and present, but I also asked the help of any fans who would be interested in responding.
One of the fans to whom I spoke was Scott Barr, who was a fan of the inaugural team and has been a fan since then, even throughout all of the fire sales. Here are his responses to the questions I asked.
1. When and how did you become a Marlins fan?
June 1991 when the team was awarded, they became my team and a source of immense excitement in my house as a 9 year old. I was at that age where I loved baseball over all sports and old enjoy to appreciate how incredibly fortunate I was to be the recipient of the rare expansion franchise in my city. I was so excited to have my own baseball team to root for after previously following the Mets because my parents turned me on to them as New Yorkers and because South Florida cable carried WWOR back then so every game was on TV, not unlike the reason many people were Braves fans with TBS.
2. What was your reaction when the news of the first Marlins fire sale in 1997 started trickling in?
I was a freshman in high school at that time and old enough to understand what was going on. It was very exciting to watch us sign so many big names the year prior, basically creating what I felt was an all-star team. It was surreal to read the Sun Sentinel and realize this was happening to my team, we were the ones signing all the best players.
Winning the title in 1997 was the peak of my childhood. I was at Game 7 in dead center field upper deck, saw multiple cars rear-ended on the way out and no one cared. It was pure and utter joy whether for 10 years olds, me at 15 ½, and parents in their 40s around me.
When we started to trade players, it wasn’t a shock because it was discussed as a possibility in the papers prior to that (back when we all read the paper). I didn’t expect it to be so severe and was a bit upset but not nearly as much as everyone else. I was still so excited we won the World Series, back at a time when I didn’t give much attention to the NFL or NBA or college sports beyond casual fan status. World Series trumped all, including a fire sale.
I also recall being intrigued by the "what comes next" aspect of those moves. I came to realize quickly that what happened with our massive spending wasn’t the norm and likely should never have happened so we were going back to reality. Further, I understood that while we had signed all those players in exchange for money, now we turned them into dozens of prospects, many of whom I was told were top notch. That excited me because we’d won a title and now we had a group of young guys to cheer on.
3. How was your fandom affected by the first Marlins fire sale and the years that followed?
While I was upset, it didn’t affect my fandom at all. In fact, it made me a stronger fan because I would defend the team when others insulted them as if I were a Yankees or Red Sox fan defending their teams with 100 years of history. I enjoyed going to the games seeing the young guys start to pan out. Seeing some of them start to emerge and feeling like we built the team from prospects to stars was a different sort of satisfaction for me.
4. In your mind, how connected was the 1997 fire sale to the 2003 World Series win?
This is a great question and a very leading one to true Marlins fans. It is an absolute fact that the 1997 fire sale led directly to the 2003 World Series. Nearly every player on that team was a result of a fire sale trade and/or a young player we already had who got their shot to develop and get to the Majors due to our total lack of veterans blocking their path. 100% correlated. We never win the 2003 World Series title without the spending spree in 1996 and fire sale in 1997, end of story. It made the 2003 title completely different to watch OUR young guys grow up.
5. What was your reaction to the second Marlins fire sale in 2005?
I was a college graduate by this point, living in Tampa for one year going to some Rays games and I didn’t view this as a fire sale at all. After 2003 we made a further push, we didn’t dump guys, we signed Delgado to a huge deal and we finished over .500 both years after the title. We had Cabrera and Willis, we made proactive aggressive moves to deal players for other starters (ie Dodgers trade of Penny to get Mota, Lo Duca, Encarnacion).
There was no fire sale. The moves just didn’t work. We had a relatively high payroll (for the time) and the pieces weren’t going to win a title. They could keep us around or above .500 but I knew that wasn’t how the Marlins did things so there was no surprise when we re-tooled. In fact, a huge mistake and the reason we didn’t have a repeat of the stockpile of young talent again like the 1997 fire sale was we didn’t have a true 2005 fire sale. We let Pavano walk at the peak of his career, Burnett walked, we made no deadline trades in 2005. We didn’t get any value for guys we knew we wouldn’t resign. It made no sense. I was calling for a "fire sale" to get something for all those guys so we could make another march and we held on trying to win rather than deadline deals that would have been perceived as a fire sale.
6. How was your fandom affected by the second Marlins fire sale and the years that followed?
It’s hard to make this apples-to-apples with 1993 or 1998 because I was no longer in middle or high school, I was working full time and following the team but that childhood passion is gone.
My fandom for the Marlins only changed around that time as a function of my own age being around 24 years old. The players that made up the team that I could point to as part of my youth were now all gone. I felt like I grew up as a high schooler alongside the core of the eventual 2003 title team. By 2006, the team was not made up of players I could attribute to a more simple time, it was a new group wearing MY Marlins uniforms who I would absolutely continue to root for.
It just felt different, like all the guys whose baseball cards I might have still collected in the late 90’s in the very early years were now all gone. Sentimental not due to a "fire sale" but my own new portion of life along with the Marlins new phase of their live.
7. What was your reaction to the third Marlins fire sale in 2012?
In a twisted way it made me more intrigued to follow the hot stove for the team (although not the games themselves). I’m at the point where reading the blogs to analyze the team’s games and Marlins hot stove is more interesting and also easier than watching the games themselves. The (second) fire sale recently certainly gave me hours of reading and analysis from your web site and many others. I was intrigued to learn about all the guys we were obtaining and how they might fit in. Also was drawn to all the analysis of just how awful and under-performing the "Stars" we dumped were doing for us.
By the time the trades started, the season had already become a total disaster. I mean worse than anyone could have possibly imagined as we moved into the new park. Once the initial shock and disappointment of that subsided, it almost reached comical status just how awful the team played, how useful and idiotic Guillen seemed when his team is losing; it was a disaster hard to keep my eyes away from like car accidents.
Moving the guys made sense. The Hanley Ramirez trade will only hurt if he dominated for the Los Angeles Dodgers, otherwise I continue to feel fine about it, just sad. I was upset to trade Anibal Sanchez yet I figured we wouldn't pay up to keep him after the season so I would have been more pissed if we let him walk. We got great value for him. Omar Infante, Edward Mujica, Gaby Sanchez, etc all made sense. I was so glad we got anything for them beyond a side of rice pilaf. I felt the front office was doing a great job moving guys who wouldn't be part of the future success over the next three to four years.
But I guess that hits on an important point. As a fan I’m always looking three to four years out. That’s how baseball works more than any other sport by a long shot. One guy changes a basketball team, it takes years to retool a baseball team. I knew our minor leagues weren’t too strong (if I have any anger at all it’s related to our shoddy drafting) so adding to them was good.
When the big trade with the Blue Jays happened I was shocked and scrambling to send info to my friends and process it. They all went off the deep end saying they were "down, f--- this team," etc. I felt like the team we had was horrible, so how much worse could it get? Buerhle and Reyes were here for a minute of time. They weren’t Marlins in my view, we "bought" them. Getting prospects for them was great, essentially free prospects since we had not paid anything for Buerhle or Reyes. I would have traded Buck for a Sun Pass with one dollar on it.
Josh Johnson hurt. It hurt like it did to trade or lose guys like Beckett, Burnett, Penny, etc because he was a Marlin, way more than Hanley was. Johnson came up with us, we had been hearing about him for eight years. That one will hurt to see him on another squad. But he had been disappointing on the mound for years and I was disappointed for him as a person because I’m sure it’s been tough on him not hitting the peak and being a top-five starting pitcher both he and we thought he could be.
So this fire sale actually gave me more Marlins energy to follow the team and all the new young guys to see how it turns out. It’s like a fantasy baseball game in real life and I’m intrigued to see how we can build a team again with young guys, especially so many in the minors you always write about. I want to build it back "the right way" and grow with these guys for three to four years into winners. (and then we’ll trade them, all my cynical friends would say).
8. Given your experience with the team, do you think the Marlins will move in a positive or negative direction in years to come?
That will be determined on the field. I like our coaching decisions, we have a ton of young talent that kids who are now the age I was in the 90's are going to attach themselves to over the coming years. If half these guys turn out well, this is going to be a team of young studs making a playoff run in 2015. I am fine with that and therefore think the direction is positive. But if it ends up being a bunch of Andrew Miller, Sean West, Cameron Maybin, and Matt Dominguez-types, then we’re screwed, attendance will plummet further every year, and who knows after that. We need these young guys in the rotation now or in Double-A to pan out and guys like Christian Yelich and company to join the young guys who make the team in 2013 to form a stellar young nucleus like circa 1999-2003.
9. What advice would you give a new Marlins fan about handling the difficulties of a fire sale?
Enjoy the game of baseball and watching the players grow before us. Assuming you are a new, young fan, you probably recently were on a baseball team or maybe still are. It’s a great game we all can play. These guys on the field for the Marlins were in the same position as you playing the game as teenagers so recently. Now they’re continuing to work their butt off to try to be stars and grow together with their fellow young guys as a true team, much like your little league or high school baseball teams are. They will improve together and win or lose together. We have a coach in place who is young and a teacher of the game. We won’t question his sanity or decisions every game. The players and coaches are going to work hard to improve and win games and they are our Marlins.