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In Which I Finally Learn to Hate the Marlins

OK, the game. It was another beaut — it really was. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey faced off in a corker of a pitcher’s duel, with Buehrle’s deadly sinking change evenly matched against Dickey’s fluttering knucklers. Omar Infante hit a home run that would have gone out of old Yankee Stadium to give the Marlins a 1-0 lead. Yet the Mets would fight back, with old friend Jose Reyes’s throwing error giving them an extra at-bat — which David Wright used to launch a home run of his own that carried over the new wall and carried David over Darryl Strawberry for the club mark in RBIs. The rest was cosmetic but satisfying, with Lucas Duda hitting a line drive that nearly killed an outfielder, Mike Baxter chipping in a you-can-exhale-now double and even Ike Davis looking better. Mets 5, Marlins 1 [1]. Very nice.

Now let’s get on to the real subject — my strange, slow-building fury at the Marlins for having the temerity to exist.

Let’s be clear about this: I’ve never liked the Marlins, except that one October against the Yankees, and that was more of a highly temporary shotgun wedding. It’s more that I never hated them, the way I hated the Cubs when I was a kid and the Braves when I was a young adult and the Yankees since basically forever.

Which, ultimately, was a measure of my real contempt for them. Hating the Marlins would have been giving them too much credit; it would have been acknowledging them as a real baseball team deserving of notice, which I never wanted to admit they were.

I’m not proud of this — it’s a little too classist, a little too refusing to talk to the neighbors who keep the garage door open so we all have to see the mess inside. But screw it, it’s only baseball — part of sports is that you can let your inner demons run free, or if not free then loose within a reasonably fenced yard. So I’m a baseball snob — I always thought the Marlins were too fundamentally tacky to deserve my hatred, the way the Braves and the Cubs and the Yankees deserved it.

To review, the Marlins were born tacky and awful.

Those colors, ugh. Silver and teal, like an overpriced Cuban place in a half-empty mall, the kind of place you’d go to against your better judgment, where you’d order the fish and wind up heaving and drooling over the toilet for the better part of two days.

That park, Gawd. A football stadium whose dimensions perpetually went too far in one direction and not far enough in another, where everything was subtly the wrong color and the dugouts were full of Soilmaster, as if the owners were too slipshod and cheapjack to tell somebody to put it in a storage room somewhere. Which they undoubtedly were.

Those players, yakk. Bobby Bonilla and Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown and Armando Benitez and Brad Penny and Cody Ross and Luis Castillo. Plus the Marlins would specialize in employing the Worst Great Player in the Majors, a supremely talented ballplayer whose God-given gifts were only equalled by his sleepy disdain for the game that had made him millions. Miguel Cabrera, meet Hanley Ramirez.

Those owners, technicolor yawn. It’s really quite a distinction to have been owned by Wayne Huizenga and Jeffrey Loria. Huizenga, a garbageman by trade, dismantled the team and left it on the curb after its 1997 World Series title, one of the more amazing screwings of a fanbase ever perpetuated by an owner. Loria is a garbageman in spirit if not actual vocation, having aided and abetted Bud Selig’s shameful disemboweling of the Montreal Expos, for which bloody business he was awarded the Marlins in a shady three-way swap of franchises with the Red Sox and the commissioner’s office. Loria promptly decamped for south Florida, even taking the Expos’ computer equipment with him. Because the universe is malign, Loria got a World Championship in 2003, after which he screwed Miami’s handful of fans by getting rid of Derrek Lee in a salary dump and letting Ugie Urbina and Ivan Rodriguez walk.

To review, the Marlins can’t even win a World Series without immediately reminding any sentient fan that they are run by cynical, awful human beings. In fact, they’ve done it twice.

Marlins fans? It’s only a slight oversimplification to say they don’t exist — though after two post-title screwings, a certain lack of commitment is understandable as a defense mechanism. Soilmaster Stadium was always a home game of sorts for opponents, and after a good showing on Opening Night in the new park, the fans have mostly attended disguised as empty seats.

Tacky, tasteless, awful. For nearly two decades, those were your Florida Marlins. I could never bring myself to hate them so much as I simply wanted them to go away — to San Antonio or Portland or Contraction, whatever was available first. No, I’m not missing the fact that they were also a constant, gigantic thorn in the Mets’ side. They finished ahead of us in their inaugural season. They sat on our casket in 2007 and then again in 2008. Lots and lots of Marlins I loathed became Mets I loathed just as much if not more. They have as many World Series titles as we do. I am not blind to any of this.

So why do I finally hate them instead of just trying to make my contempt as withering as possible? Why, by the third inning tonight, was I tweeting misanthropic things that I kept misspelling in spastic anger?

I’m not sure. It’s probably a combination of things:

The first charge is, of course, nonsense. Nobody took Jose Reyes away from us because we let him go. Properly so, given the absurd number of years the Marlins gave a wonderful but fragile player, but it still rankles that he had to go there. I was hoping Jose would go somewhere far away, to be an occasional ache in the memory — Anaheim would have been ideal. Instead we have to see him 18 times a year, grinning next to the loathsome Hanley Ramirez. And while making Jose very rich (for which I begrudge him not a penny), the Marlins have also tried to neuter him, insisting he shed his Predator dreads. What on earth for? Because Hanley might develop a bad attitude? Because those uniforms cry out for clean-cut players?

The second complaint is thoroughly earned. The Marlins’ new uniforms are just stupendously, jaw-droppingly, apocalyptically awful. The everything-on-black color scheme looks like what you’d get after a teen barfed up Kool-Aid and a rainbow of pills on a formal dress. The new insignia looks like it was concocted by a neon artist on an ether binge. They have SIX team colors, for pity’s sake. And the unis suck in little ways, too — look at the back, at the contrast between the font used for the numbers and the font used for the names. I don’t have the vocabulary for what’s wrong there, other than to say something obviously is. And I haven’t even seen their stadium yet, with the fish tanks behind home plate and whatever the Mother of Holy Jesus is up with that giant Pachinko thing that celebrates home runs behind the center-field wall. I’m sure I’ll be very calm the first time Hanley Ramirez hits a home run and takes the better part of a global epoch to go around the bases while fake dolphins cavort beyond the fence.

But wait, you say, the Marlins’ unis aren’t that bad, Jace. They aren’t as bad as the Astros’ Tequila sunrises, or the Padres’ Taco togs, or the White Sox’x’x’s various disasters.

But that’s where you’re wrong, my well-meaning friend. (And stop trying to talk me down.) All of those uniforms were born in the mid to late 1970s. Look at snapshots from that era, and you’ll see everyone on Earth — hippies, office drones, doctors, White House officials — wearing horrifying things that they’ll cringe to recall today. The difference between what your hapless Padre middle infielder of 1976 was wearing and the clothes of the people in the stands wasn’t so enormous. Today’s mainstream style is essentially bland and inoffensive, stuck in a middlebrow amber —┬ácompared with someone in the stands at Citi tonight, poor Mark Buehrle looked like a rodeo clown. You have to judge baseball uniforms by their times, and by that standard, the Marlins’ 2012 uniform may well be the worst anything in the history of everything.

And now our final point — that the Marlins are up while we are down.

Weirdly, I think it’s the temporariness of this that’s grating. Of course it’s while the Mets are Madoff’d that the Marlins wind up throwing around free-agent cash like they’re on a coke binge. Of course they wind up with our beloved shortstop, dressing him in motley and making him cut his dreads. (Again — what the hell? Given the sartorial chaos of Marlin-land, wouldn’t it have made more sense to insist everybody else grow them?) Of course they are the talk of baseball while everyone snickers that the Mets’ biggest offseason move involved a wall. Who better than the Marlins to occupy that role?

The Marlins may even win a third title like this. But we all know it won’t matter. They still won’t have fans. Even if they win, they won’t make enough money to satisfy Jeffrey Loria. Soon enough, he will sell off his players, Reyes among them. The Pachinko thing will break and sit mute and gigantic behind the fence. Someone will get confused and pour Soilmaster in the fish tanks, leaving them cloudy and dead. The stomach-pumped-coed color scheme will get replaced by something dull but still awful.┬áThe park will once again be left to expats and Billy Marlin. The Marlins will be hapless again — divided into “over the hill,” “wet behind the ears” and “good enough to be dumped for prospects.” At best we’ll still only go 8-10 against them, with most of those losses infuriating.

Things will be back as they were, and perhaps my hatred of the Marlins will ebb, to be replaced by the old nausea and vague pity. Which will be better, yet at the same time worse.

I look forward to the day; for now, I’m just tired, and a bit surprised by how much bile the Marlins have stirred up. As well as frightened by a related question: How would I have felt if the Mets had lost?

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We hope to see you at Hofstra tomorrow. Details are here [2]. I promise to be calmer.