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This Day In Marlins History: Marlins set record for most losses by defending champion

On this day in team history, the Marlins set the all-time record for most losses by a defending world champion. Thanks to the infamous firesale by owner Wayne Huizenga, the 1998 Marlins were a shell of the team that won it all in 1997.


The game itself was unremarkable, but it signified one of the lowest moments in Marlins history for the worst team in franchise history. On this date, August 29, 1998, Florida fell to the Cincinnati Reds, 7-5, setting the all-time record for most losses by a team the year after winning a World Series title.

The defeat was the Marlins' 89th of the season, surpassing the previous "record" of 88 held by the Reds franchise that beat them this day; Cincinnati lost 88 games in 1991 after winning it all in 1990. At 47-89, there were still 26 games left to play for the Marlins, but Florida won just seven to finish at 54-108. In the years since, no team has surpassed the Marlins' mark for futility, with the 2004 Marlins (83-79) and 2007 Cardinals (78-84) coming the closest. The San Francisco Giants this season are having one of the worst years for a defending champion, but at 59-74, they could lose every one of their remaining 29 games and still finish better than Florida did in 1998.

Every Marlins fan knows the story by now of what led to the miserable 1998 campaign. In just the fifth year of the franchise's existence, the upstart 1997 team, bolstered by several key acquisitions over the previous couple years, went on a surprising run to claim the World Series title after a dramatic seven-game series against the Cleveland Indians. Yet almost immediately after the series ended, owner Wayne Huizenga--who claimed to be losing money and was looking to sell the team--announced an impending "fire sale" in order to get payroll as low as possible, which would help make the team more attractive for a potential buyer.

Over the course of the offseason and the 1998 season, the Marlins traded away almost all of their significant contributors. The group included Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Charles Johnson, Moises Alou, Devon White, Robb Nen, Jeff Conine, Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield and Ed Vosberg. Florida also traded Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile, both of whom had been acquired in May of 1998 from the Dodgers in the biggest of the firesale deals, before the 1998 season was over. All told, according to Fangraphs' WAR calculations, Huizenga's dismemberment resulted in a loss of an astounding 23.8 wins above replacement from the aforementioned key players on the 1997 roster.

Through the fire sale, Florida did get back a few players who ended up being significant contributors in Derrek Lee, A.J. Burnett and Preston Wilson, but it hardly amounted to a worthy swap given the talent the Marlins gave up. Really, no return could have made Marlins fans feel good about what Huizenga did, and its doubtful Huizenga's "regret" about the situation helped either. Several of the effects of what proved to be just the first fire sale in team history are probably difficult to quantify for the Marlins franchise, but the team's performance in 1998 is enough of an indicator of just how crippling it was. The result of Huizenga's moves could be seen in a team that ranked 13th in the National League in runs scored, ranked last in runs allowed, and lost an embarrassing 108 games, still the worst record in the 21-year history of the Marlins.

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