- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

The Florida Marlins’ stunning World Series victory, which saw them dispatch the heavily favored New York Yankees in six games, is one of the greatest Cinderella sports stories since the ‘69 Mets. Back in May, no serious baseball fan could have possibly thought that this team, which fired its manager, Jeff Torborg, and was just 19-29, had any chance of getting to the World Series. But no one bothered to tell Torborg’s successor, a cigar-chomping 72-year-old curmudgeon named Jack McKeon, who had been fired by the Cincinnati Reds three years earlier.

With McKeon at the helm, the team rallied to edge out the Philadelphia Phillies and won the wild card in the final week of the season. But that was only the beginning of the story. In the first round of the playoffs, the Marlins lost game one to the defending National League Champion, the San Francisco Giants, then proceeded to win the next three games and advance to the National League Championship Series. They then went up against the Chicago Cubs in a best-of-seven series, and fell behind 3-1 against the team that seemed poised to advance to the World Series for the first time in 59 years. Even after the Marlins salvaged game five, the Cubs, with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood scheduled to pitch, seemed sure to clinch things when the series returned to Wrigley Field for the final two games. But the Marlins dispatched the Cubs, then went to the World Series, fell behind the Yankees 2-1, then rallied to win the series in six games and to celebrate their victory in Yankee Stadium, while the locals looked on in stunned silence.

The Marlins, a franchise that has completed its 11th season, has compiled losing records in all but two of those campaigns — 1997 and 2003, when it won the World Series. After 1997, the Marlins conducted a fire sale, trading many of their best players, and the following year, they lost 108 games. But the terrible record left the Marlins with a high draft choice, which they used to acquire Josh Beckett, who pitched so brilliantly against the Yankees. Through trades and free-agent signings, they obtained key players such as catcher Ivan Rodriguez, first baseman Derrek Lee and pitchers Brad Penny and Braden Looper. Thanks to “our” Orioles, they acquired outfielder Jeff Conine, who hit .367 during the postseason.

The Marlins’ victory should reduce some of the moaning from Commissioner Bud Selig about the fate of small-market teams. The Marlins’ payroll this year was just over $63 million — just over a third of the Yankees’ $180 million. Look for George Steinbrenner to begin the purge any day now.

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