Way back in 1993, the greater Miami area was awarded a Major League franchise, our beloved Florida Marlins. This offseason, we will be counting down the top 100 players to have appeared with the club. First in the chute, a member of the inaugural Marlin squad, right-handed pitcher Matt Turner.
Turner was born on February 18th, 1967 in Lexington, Kentucky. He eventually blossomed into a 6'5", 215 lb. right-handed pitcher, and was initially signed as a free agent by the Atlanta Braves in 1986. In 18 games (five starts) that season with the Appalachian League's (rookie-level) Pulaski Braves, he put up a 1-3 won-loss record with a 4.62 ERA, a 1.705 WHIP, and 48 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. He went 2-3 the following season with the Sumter Braves in the South Atlantic League (single-A), starting nine of his 39 appearances, earning a 4.71 ERA, a 1.484 WHIP, and striking out 102 batters in 93.2 innings.
In 1988, Turner started with Sumter, going 1-0 in seven games before getting laterally promoted to the Burlington Braves in the Midwest League and going 1-3. Combined, he posted a 5.94 ERA, a 1.580 WHIP, and struck out 33 in 50.0 innings. The following season, he played in 53 contests with the Durham Bulls in the single-A level Carolina League. Although he only started in three games for the Bulls, he earned 18 decisions, winning half of them to go 9-9 with a sparkling 2.44 ERA, a 1.203 WHIP, and 114 whiffs in 118.0 innings.
1990 would see Turner begin the season for the first time at the double-A level, with the Greenville Braves in the Southern League. In 40 contests at that level, he went 6-4 in relief, posting a 2.66 ERA, a 1.300 WHIP, and striking out 60 men in 67.2 innings pitched. In August, he was called up to the triple-A level, making his debut with the Richmond Braves in the International League. He went 2-3 over 22 games, with a 3.86 ERA, a 1.429 WHIP, and 36 strikeouts in 42.0 innings.
Turner began the 1991 campaign still with Richmond, and went 1-3 with a 4.75 ERA in 23 relief appearances, with a 1.472 WHIP and 33 K's in 36.0 innings. On July 31st, the Braves traded him with a player to be named later (Earl Sanders) to the Houston Astros for Jim Clancy. He would go 1-1 for the triple-A Tuscon Toros in the Astros' Pacific Coast League team, earning a 4.15 ERA in 13 games along with a 1.577 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 26.0 innings.
After a 1992 season which would see Turner go 2-8 for the Toros, with a 3.51 ERA, 84 strikeouts in 100.0 innings, and a 1.330 WHIP, the Astros granted him free agency. Turner used the opportunity to sign with the never-yet-played-a-game Marlins on October 21st, 1992.
Turner started the 1993 season with the Edmonton Trappers, and struck out 15 in 13.2 innings, pitching to a 0.66 ERA, a 0.805 WHIP, and a 0-0 record in 12 relief appearances. His first major league appearance, on April 23rd, would see him pitch the bottom of the eighth inning in a 5-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies. He gave up a two-out double to Charlie Hayes and kept the home team scoreless. Five days later, he struck out four Braves in 2.2 hitless innings, a walk to Mark Lemke the only blemish on his performance as the Fish earned a 3-1 win. He rejoined the Marlins for the rest of the season after a brief demotion back to Edmonton near the end of April.
On July 29th, Turner came on in relief of Charlie Hough in the bottom of the eighth inning against the New York Mets with one out and runners on first and second base, and induced swinging strikeouts from all-stars Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla. His fifth successful hold of the season helped Miami to a 2-1 victory. On August 10th, he entered a 2-2 tie with one out and runners on first and second base in the top of the ninth against the Chicago Cubs, and got Dwight Smith and Sammy Sosa to each fly out harmlessly to end the threat. He pitched two more perfect innings, doing his part to help Florida to a 3-2, 15-inning victory. Miami would eventually post a 21-34 record in games in which Turner pitched, on their way to a 64-98 record.
Turner would rank second on the Marlins by the end of the season with a 2.91 ERA, striking out 59 batters in 68.0 innings and earning a team-second 1.191 WHIP. He was also second on the team with 7.3 H/9, 7.8 SO/9, and 2.27 SO/W. His 3.78 FIP indicated that he was helped more than a little by Miami's fielding efforts, but he posted a 4-5 record, and was one of the steadiest Marlin pitchers on the roster.
Just as spring training was coming to an end in 1994, the Marlins traded Turner to the Cleveland Indians for Jeremy Hernandez. Turner pitched in nine games for the Indians, posting a 2.13 ERA, a 1.579 WHIP, and striking out five in 12.2 innings. In May, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease (the same ailment which forced Mario Lemieux' first retirement).
"It's not something that's going to kill me tomorrow. It's something you can get over." - Turner
Turner's stated goal was returning to the field of major league play in 1995. Although he never made it back to that level, he did play professional ball in four of the next six seasons, between the Buffalo Bisons (triple-A, American Association, Indians), the Sioux City Explorers (Independent, Northern League), the Wichita Wranglers (double-A, Texas League, Kansas City Royals), the Omaha Royals (triple-A, PCL, Royals), the Cancun Langosteros (triple-A, Mexican League), and the Monclova Acereros (triple-A, Mexican League).