It was the end of the World Series as we know it. It ended with
the first pitch of the first game last Saturday night, and not
because it prompted an unprecedented Fall Classic announcement
of game-time humidity (82%, for those of you scoring at home).
The Series, which began with a moon over Miami, had never before
been this far south or this far afield from its roots. Hosted by
a second-place team in its fifth year of existence--a club of
transplants playing in a region of transplants--this Series was
different from the previous 92. This is baseball at the turn of
With all due respect to the Atlanta Braves and their 716 wins
this decade, the Florida Marlins are the Team of the '90s. They
reached the World Series by playing checkbook baseball and
capitalizing on the three gizmos produced by major league owners
this decade: expansion, the wild card and interleague play.
Florida, established in 1993, reached the Series faster than any
other expansion team, despite having only the third-best record
in its own division against National League teams. The Marlins,
who finished nine games behind the Atlanta Braves in the
National League East, also lost more games within their league
than the New York Mets. Florida's 12-3 record against American
League opponents in the first year of interleague play
essentially qualified it for the postseason and the eventual
showdown with the Cleveland Indians, another Rotisserie-like
team heavy on turnover and payroll.
The Faux Classic began, appropriately enough, not in a pitchers'
park or in a hitters' park, but in a quarterbacks' park, Pro
Player Stadium. Last year the Series was played in The House
That Ruth Built; this year it was held in The House That Marino
Built, where Marlins fans trekked to a place only Dolphins fans
have typically ventured: the upper deck.
"Can I bring my glove?" 10-year-old Frankie Rodriguez asked his
father, Leo, before Game 1. Leo, 43, checked the tickets--ninth
row of section 411--approximated the mileage and said, "Forget
it. No way a ball will ever come up here."
October 27, 1997
How appropriate, too, that the first pitch of this new era was
hurled by someone to whom the great mythology of the World
Series meant nothing. "When I was a child, I didn't even think
of this, because it wasn't something that passed through my
mind," said the Marlins' Game 1 starter, righthander Livan
Hernandez, who defected from Cuba two years ago. Until he
watched the Game 6 telecast last year, he never had seen a World
Hernandez was not even aware that his veteran counterpart,
39-year-old righthander Orel Hershiser, had won a Cy Young Award
(in 1988, when Hernandez was 13). No matter. From the moment the
pubescent group Hanson sang the national anthem before Game 1,
this World Series had a fresh look. In the allegorical pitching
matchup, Tradition took a beating.
Hershiser spent the days leading up to the opener defending
himself against accusations that he throws a spitter. Once the
game began he established beyond a reasonable doubt that he had
absolutely nothing on the ball. The Marlins blasted the man who
had lost only one of 16 career postseason starts for seven
earned runs; no pitcher had allowed more in the previous 545
World Series games. Hernandez, who turned 22 in February,
pitched serviceably into the sixth inning to become the youngest
pitcher to win a Game 1, as Florida prevailed 7-4.
"This isn't the kind of Series I'm used to," Hershiser said
before the thrashing. "It's a Series where we're writing history
instead of reliving it."
The only thing harder than packing for this World Series (snow
flurries were forecast for games in Cleveland this week) was
predicting it. In Game 2 on Sunday night Indians righthander
Chad Ogea, who had a losing record (8-9) in the 1997 regular
season, thoroughly outpitched Marlins ace righty Kevin Brown,
who had not lost in 14 starts since July 27. Brown allowed 10
hits in Cleveland's 6-1 win, including two to shortstop Omar
Vizquel, who had struggled so badly in his previous 29
postseason at bats that he had had as many hits as Hanson--one.
The Series, to the apparent delight of both teams, lacked a
clear favorite. As Indians DH-outfielder David Justice, a former
Brave said, "I think everybody is tired of seeing the Braves in
the World Series." The Marlins and the Indians each peddled the
no-one-expected-us-to-be-here position. That was as difficult to
buy as an undeveloped corner between Miami and Palm Beach. In
truth the Indians, with a $60 million payroll, outspent every
team in baseball except the New York Yankees and the Baltimore
Orioles, and the Marlins finished fourth in that department
Last winter Florida reaffirmed the importance of spending when
it veered from its player-development strategy and dropped $89
million on free agents. That's why the Marlins look a lot like
their fans: Everybody seems to be from someplace else. While the
three-county South Florida region includes more people born in
New York than in Florida, the Marlins' roster includes only one
player not imported from another team or another country:
catcher Charles Johnson. Even the security guards at Pro Player
Stadium have trouble keeping up with this team. During the
National League Championship Series one of them collared Craig
Counsell, who was acquired in a July trade with the Colorado
Rockies, as the second baseman tried to enter the clubhouse.
"Uh, where do you think you're going?" the guard asked.
"I'm a player, Craig Counsell," he replied.
"Let's see some I.D.," the guard said.
Counsell produced his driver's license.
The most important newcomer to the club, outfielder Moises Alou,
a $25 million free-agent pickup and the Marlins' regular-season
RBI leader, provided the biggest hit of Game 1. In the fourth
inning he drilled a three-run home run off the leftfield foul
pole, which is actually an advertisement painted to resemble a
giant yellow pencil. Talk about erasing a deficit. Having been
down 1-0, Florida took a 3-1 lead with that hit. Something about
clunking one off an oversized writing implement, though: It
hardly seemed as classic as Carlton Fisk's 1975 Series homer off
the unadorned pole at Fenway Park.
Johnson then became the 10th batter in Series history to follow
one home run with another, but the first to do so over a
football ring of honor covered with sheeting. He hit the ball so
far that it cleared the hidden Bob Kuechenberg nameplate--not
exactly the same as reaching the Lou Gehrig monument. Johnson
hit it so far that Hershiser had to squint to follow it. He hit
it so far that the elder Rodriguez caught the darn thing
(barehanded, naturally) way up in section 411. Of course,
Rodriguez isn't a native Floridian, either. Like Hernandez, he
emigrated from Cuba, arriving in 1970 and becoming a fan of the
Cincinnati Reds and fellow countryman Tony Perez. Now he roots
for the Marlins and Hernandez. Amid more Cuban, Colombian and
Puerto Rican flags than Stars and Stripes, this postmodern
Series has such an international flavor, mirroring baseball's
diversity in the '90s, that by the ninth inning of Game 2, eight
of the 18 players in the game had been born outside the U.S.
The Marlins, who like to call themselves the Team of the
Americas, have come so far so fast that none of their fans can
claim what is a birthright in Cleveland: the classification of
long-suffering. The Indians have not won a world championship
since 1948, the year their general manager, John Hart, was born.
Cleveland won a pennant in '54 and then not again until '95, by
which point Hart had built what looked to be a foundation for
long-term success with young players signed to multiyear
contracts. But Hart so disliked the undisciplined personality of
his team that he broke it apart and remade it. Two years later
only 10 players remain from the club that lost the World Series
If the frosty Albert Belle best personified that '95 team,
centerfielder Marquis Grissom is the ambassador for this one.
Hart telephoned Grissom last March to tell him that the Indians
had acquired him and Justice in a trade that sent centerfielder
Kenny Lofton and lefthander Alan Embree to the Braves. A year
earlier Grissom had happily signed a contract extension to play
in Atlanta, near his home in Fairburn, Ga., through at least
1999. "I'll never forget his reaction," Hart says. "He gets a
phone call out of the blue telling him to go to Cleveland, and
he says, 'I'm a baseball player. I'll be there tomorrow.'"
What Grissom brought with him was one of the most potent bats in
World Series history. He broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning of
Game 2 with an RBI single, one of the three hits on Sunday that
raised his career World Series average to .441 (26 for 59 in
three Series), better than anyone else who has batted at least
50 times in Series play. "I didn't come here to set records,"
Grissom says. "I came here to win."
That's the one aspect of this Series that makes it like the 92
others. It's not the humidity, it's the heat--the competition
with a world championship on the line, wild cards, payrolls and
ridiculous pencils be damned. Something happened on that first
pitch in Game 1. Leadoff hitter Bip Roberts, who was obtained in
a trade only hours before the Sept. 1 deadline for postseason
eligibility, stood in the batter's box for the first World
Series of his life. He had played 1,204 regular-season games and
would turn 34 in nine days. The moment made his knees tremble so
much that he prayed right there between the freshly laid chalk
lines. "Good Lord, help me," he said to himself. "Give me
Hernandez, with all of 18 regular-season games behind him, let
fly with the pitch. Suddenly hundreds of cameras flashed,
burning bright in the moist night, triggered so closely together
in capturing this new kind of history that they seemed to create
a single explosion of light. Roberts was blinded. He never saw
the pitch. He only heard home plate umpire Ed Montague shout,
"I've always watched the World Series and seen how players get
so excited," Roberts said later. "I just had to experience it.
I'd sit there and think, It can't be that exciting. You know
what? It is, man. It's all of that. And then some."