It was a delightful spring day at Joe Robbie Stadium when Charlie Hough, the Marlins ancient knuckleballer, faced the first batter in franchise history. Strike one, followed by strike two. Houghs third pitch floated a foot outside and low to L.A.s Jose Offerman, but umpire Frank Pulli called it strike three anyway.
The sellout crowd of 42,334 erupted.
A kid behind home plate hoisted a sign that said History!
The Marlins beat the Dodgers, 6-3.
Anyone present during that Monday lovefest, April 5, 1993, would be astonished at the unpleasant aroma surrounding todays Marlins. Every cost-cutting move feels like an extended middle finger toward the fan base and the taxpayers who subsidized the teams $515 million ballpark ($634 million including parking) in Little Havana.
Since last weeks white-flag roster dismantling the latest of several over the past two decades owner Jeffrey Loria has remained out of the spotlight. But team President David Samson, to his credit, made an appearance on 790The Ticket with Dan Le Batard, the Herald columnist.
As The Heralds first Marlins beat writer, Le Batard was at that 93 opener, a day so sweet and innocent that even franchise founder Wayne Huizenga got a standing ovation.
Here is a sampling from the Le Batard/Samson conversation:
Le Batard: When and how did you guys make the decision to do what you did yesterday, which is trade all the players everyone knows?
Samson: Basically, the decision was made when we sat down after the season and talked about the team and said we cannot keep finishing in last place. It just doesnt make sense. We lost 93 games and we trusted all of our scouts and development people and upper level baseball people and said What we can do to possibly start this to turnaround? What needs to happen? How can it work? And all sorts of different plans were possible. And it just so happens we found a way to possibly, in one fell swoop, get a whole lot better.
Q: Any part of you embarrassed today?
A: No. To lose 93 games was the most embarrassing thing, far more embarrassing than this. Putting together a team in 2012 that we expected to win and the fact they didnt, that was the most embarrassing. I think when we made the managerial decisions [hiring Ozzie Guillen] and player decisions we made last year we could not have guessed that our season would end that way. Its time to change. Ill be embarrassed if our team is as bad next year as it was last year.
Q: What do you say to the people who feel betrayed?
A: I think people should feel betrayed by the fact we were losing so much and I would think they wouldnt want us to stand pat and keep losing ... We didnt think it would happen so many years in a row, that we would finish in last place. But we dont want a team that for 20 years doesnt win 81 games or doesnt make the playoffs. Weve already gone 10 years without making the playoffs. Thats too much. I absolutely understand that. On the positive side, its a great ballpark and now we need a great team to go with it. We thought we had it last year. The evidence was overwhelming that we didnt.
Q: What do you say to those people who think this is a sham?
A: What I say to them is we spent [payroll money] wrong and it showed with everything off the field and on the field. We didnt approach anything we needed correctly. I dont blame more fans for not coming out because who wants to see 93 losses... There is a long-term future for baseball in Miami and that is what the ballpark has been about and has always been about making sure an All-Star Game comes to Miami, making sure that generations will see baseball. Theres going to be losing seasons over the years. You just want to try to curb them with as few as possible. In our opinion, we were just having too many in a row.
Q: Why should anybody trust you guys just a year after you invested so much money in players that are no longer here?
A: Thats exactly what we said and exactly what did not happen. Thats the whole issue. If we had all those starters pitching to where we thought they would pitch, then I dont think were losing 93 games. So, thats my exact point. You may not know the name Jacob Turner or Henderson Alvarez or Nathan Eovaldi, but the fact of the matter is we think were in better position to win more games. So, I hear you, its the names. But at the end of the day the names added up to 93 losses. So shame on us if we go at it the same way.
Q: When a ballpark is publicly funded, here is why a payroll is relevant: If a fan base doesnt know a payroll is going to be large, it sounds like youre just lining your pockets with money.
A: Yeah, but I think everyone knows that cant be true. Everyone looks at the ballpark last year and saw the fact the team wasnt winning and the games werent selling out, so obviously we have to do something different. Obviously, it was a public/private partnership. Lets not forget how much money Jeffrey Loria put in. $160 million of his money to get a ballpark, which has been a very positive thing and will continue to be long after all of us are gone.
Q: Do you feel the distrust, anger from the public?
A: Of course I feel it and I understand it...There was no distrust when the team won the World Series in 03. And when we were going into 05 with the great [roster] and we didnt win, that was bad. People were upset. We went into 12 with a good team, everybody including us picked us to do better. Everybody, and it just didnt happen. So I think the distrust is warranted.
Q: But its more personal than that. Its not just the distrust of the franchise or winning, its a distrust of the owner, of you, of [President of Baseball Operations] Larry Beinfest. Its a very personal distrust.
A: I think that distrust again is based on the fact were not performing. I get that. I think this isnt about me, Jeffrey or Larry. Its really about baseball and about winning.
Q: You say what specifically to the angry Marlins fans today who feel bilked, betrayed?
A: Better days are coming with a team thats younger and hungrier to win, and thats our goal every year.
Q: To me this is the second worst day in history for the Marlins in terms of how the customer-base feels about the product.
A: I hope if we do things right that people will look back on this day as the first day.
Q: But people want you to sell the team and Jeffrey Loria out of town.
A: OK, I dont know what to tell you. Jeffrey Loria stepped in and I will defend him because he stepped in when no one else wanted to buy this team. He got a ballpark done when no one else could and that ballpark goes to the benefit of everybody in our community.
Q: Yes, but nobody benefits more than Loria.
A: Its immense personal risk. But its not about that. No one cares about Jeffrey, no one cares about me, no cares about you. I think at the end of the day, people are trying to care about the team and the way people feel good just go around to other cities and ask them when you feel good about your team. Its when you win.