As the curtain descends on 2006, the contributing editorial and writing staff here at Troy O'Leary's Cow, after engaging in much deliberation, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, and a regrettable hot dog throwing incident that quickly escalated into a full-out conference room donnybrook, has settled on the blog's inaugural choice for Sportsmen of the Year. The award's criteria is as simple as it is vague: it's a pet story, an underreported story, from the world of baseball. There's an old saying about writing that goes, "write what you know." Now, I know this runs counter to the blogger's code, which aligns more closely with the "opinions are like a--holes, everybody's got one" end of the spectrum, but it will remain the governing principle, here.
So the winner is something about which I know -- my hometown team, the Amazin' 2006 Florida Marlins. At its height, the charming story of this merry band of misfit kids and cast-offs was afforded a couple of days' play from Karl Ravetch, Tim Kirkjian, and the rest of the boyz on the Baseball Tonight panel, but if you didn't really focus on it, wrap your arms around it, crawl inside of it, you may have missed what was so special about a 78-84 baseball team.
The 2006 Fish played like a revival run of "Springtime For Hitler." With owner Jeffrey Loria playing the lead character - A Baseball Bialystock, if you will - management dedicated its efforts to producing a historical flop, but wound up with an accidental hit. If that flight of metaphorical fancy was a bit too cultural for the beloved hordes of TO'LC rabble, instead think the first Major League movie, but with three primary distinctions: (1) the Marlins' owner was trying to force a move out of, not into, Miami; (2) the PA system at the cavernous and usually empty Dolphin Stadium didn't blare "Wild Thing," or anything by The Troggs for that matter, when Joe Borowski entered the game; and (3) though this is purely speculation, it is presumed that Joe Girardi didn't mark each win by stripping an article of clothing off of a Jeff Loria cardboard standee (eewww - ed.).
Let's recap the year that was.
The starting place is a look at the starting pitching. By June 25th, when Anibal Sanchez finally displaced Brian Moehler (the team's second highest paid player - pause a second and contemplate that) in the rotation, it officially consisted of four rookies. Four rookies in the starting rotation. I shouldn't have to say more, should I? The rotation was anchored, of course, by the grizzled vet, Dontrelle Willis (age 24).
Not to worry. A green group of starters can be steadied by a veteran, quality bullpen, right? The main set-up guy was rookie Logan Kensing, before he went down and was replaced by rookie Taylor Tankersley. It was back-ended by the legendary JoBo, previously last seen in the dumpster behind Tropicana Field. Maybe not.
The infield was manned by a rookie at first base (Mike Jacobs); a Rule 5 rookie at second base (Dan Uggla) who claimed the job only after Pokey Reese - Pokey Reese! - went psycho-Devil Ray on the team and wound up AWOL during Spring Training; a supposedly-not-yet-ready rookie at short (Hanley Ramirez); and the seasoned superstar at third, the Marlins' very own Roger Dorn ... Miguel Cabrera, though with Cabrera at all of 23 year's old, it's doubtful Corbin Bernsen could have pulled off the role.
Then the outfield must be where the veterans ... uh, not so much. Left field was manned by a rookie converting from catcher, a position which he had converted to after starting his pro career as an infielder (Josh Willingham), right field was held by a rookie (Jeremy Hermida - the one who was really ready, the ROY candidate ... he finished about the eleventh best Marlins' rookie), and center was a revolving door of rookies Reggie Abercrombie, Eric Reed, and Chris Aguila, cast-off utility infielder Alfredo Amezaga, and off-the-scrap-heap Cody Ross.
So who to turn to for stability? The catcher, and the manager, perhaps? The catcher was 27-year old Miguel Olivo, a wild-swinging (career BA .228) throwaway bearing no resemblance at all to Tom Berenger. The manager was a rookie. Not a rookie at the major league level. A rookie to managing, altogether (whether he had ever played Strat-O-Matic is unkown).
The payroll has to be mentioned. It's common knowledge that the Marlins had the lowest payroll in the major leagues. Did you know that it was one-half of the second lowest payroll in the major leagues? Did you know that five members of the Yankees made more than the entire Marlins' roster, and that if you shave off Brian Moehler's salary, that number goes up to eight?
Stop. Pause. Re-read.
Welcome back. I'm not done. Ready for more? On May 21, this team was 11-31. 11 wins, 31 losses, and well on its way, frankly as expected, to challenging the '62 Mets for all-time infamy. So "Springtime for Hitler" was in full production . But then suddenly, out of nowhere, Loria and his protégé David Sampson (cast as Leo Bloom) are belting out a show-stopping rendition of "Where Did We Go Right?" as the Guppies go on an extended tear, and after a September 11th 16-5 drubbing of the Mets, stand at 73-71. Let's do some math - that means that over a 102 game stretch, this team - the team you see remembered above - went 62-40. They were right in the thick of the wild card chase before fading down the stretch.
It was a pretty wild, improbable ride for the few who cared. I'll let Loria and Sampson have the last word:
Max: The two cardinal rules of producing. One: Never put your own money in the show.
Leo: And two?
Max: [yelling] Never put your own money in the show!
Amazin', Amazin', Amazin'. For making Pete Gray look like an under-achiever, for undoubtedly causing the Players' Association a few Pepto Bismol moments (unwarranted, as it turns out), the 2006 Florida Marlins are worthy recipients of the first TO'LC Sportsmen of the Year.
Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson in the green room, ready to accept the award.