New name, but deep-rooted tradition in Miami
Marlins taking on new identity, but name has historical significance
MIAMI -- Everything is on the verge of changing for the Florida Marlins, as they've been known since their inaugural season in 1993.
At their retractable-roof ballpark in Little Havana on Friday night, the team will become the Miami Marlins. The introduction will be shown on www.marlins.com, marking a new beginning for the franchise.
After spending 19 seasons as the Florida Marlins, and sharing their home with the Miami Dolphins, the organization is rebranding itself. Replacing Florida with Miami has been in the works for years, as it was part of the agreement with local officials to help secure funding for the ballpark.
On Friday night, the Marlins will unveil new uniforms, a new logo and a new identity. What isn't completely new is their full name. Long before the Florida Marlins debuted at spacious Sun Life Stadium, there were the original Miami Marlins.
The Miami Marlins were a Minor League outfit that underwent several transformations. They initially played in the Independent League from 1956-60. They also developed their own history, their own legacy, featuring some high-profile names.
Leroy "Satchel" Paige, the legendary right-hander of Negro League and MLB fame, was pushing 50 when he joined the 1956 Marlins in their first season.
Years later, the Miami Marlins reorganized and played in the Florida State League from 1962-70, and then from 1982-88.
Catcher Benito Santiago, the Florida Marlins' Opening Day catcher in 1993, was an 18-year-old playing for the Miami Marlins in '83. The up-and-coming catcher actually was sent to Miami, an affiliate of the Padres, by Jack McKeon, who at the time was San Diego's general manager.
"I sent players down there to Miami," said McKeon, who managed the Marlins for much of the 2011 season on an interim basis. "In fact, I sent Benny Santiago to them to get some work. They were in the Florida State League. I came down to see them play."
The original Marlins played at Miami Stadium, a structure whose design was ahead of its time. Because of its cantilever-style roof, there was cover over much of the grandstands and no pillars, which commonly caused obstructions for fans in most stadiums of the era.
|"The thing I do remember about the stadium was the Baltimore Orioles playing there for many years. So basically anybody who was anybody played at that stadium."|
|-- Jorge Maduro|
In its heyday, Hall of Famers like Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. all played Spring Training in Miami. At age 18, Ripken played Class A ball for the Miami Orioles at Miami Stadium.
To Miami, the original Marlins and Miami Stadium were the connections to professional baseball.
Sports journalist/personality Roy Firestone, who attended the University of Miami, once was an Orioles bat boy at Miami Stadium.
But over time, the fate of the ballpark mirrored much of what transpired in Miami.
"Very, very tough district," McKeon said of the park's location. "The stadium was kind of beaten up there a little bit."
The stadium was in the shadows of one of the worst race riots in American history in 1980, causing uneasiness to those either playing or attending games.
In 1987, the building was renamed Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium, honoring a man who greatly influenced the growth of baseball in the Latin community.
The legacy of Maduro is not being lost today. One of the four bordering streets around the Marlins' new ballpark is named Bobby Maduro Drive.
Jorge Maduro, Bobby's son, had the distinction of playing and attending games as a fan at the ballpark renamed for his late father.
"I played professional baseball. I signed with the Yankees," Jorge said. "I played for the Fort Lauderdale Yankees in 1969, and we played against the Miami Marlins."
Once the stadium played host to the Orioles, big leaguers commonly came to Miami.
"The thing I do remember about the stadium was the Baltimore Orioles playing there for many years," Jorge said. "So basically anybody who was anybody played at that stadium."
|"I chose the name because the Marlin is the sportingest game fish I know of."|
|-- Earl Purpus|
Orioles players headed to Spring Training in 1989 to find their stadium's tunnels lined with cots and people.
The Miami Marlins were born in 1956, with the name coming courtesy of a contest winner. Miami native Earl Purpus suggested the Marlins, and team officials overwhelmingly approved the submission. For his idea, Purpus' prize was two box seat tickets for the 1956 season.
Architect and life-long baseman fan Rolando Llanes has done extensive research on Miami Stadium. His efforts resulted in a documentary, and a book that he has not yet completed called "White Elephant: The Rise and Fall of Miami Baseball Stadium."
"I chose the name," Purpus is quoted in an excerpt of the book, "because the Marlin is the sportingest game fish I know of."
Formerly a teacher at the University of Miami, Llanes' 2007 documentary "White Elephant: What Is There to Save?" aired on PBS.
Llanes was drawn to the project because of his affection for Miami Stadium.
"One of the uniquely American building types are ballparks," Llanes said. "After Camden Yards opened [in Baltimore in 1992], there was a lot of interest in old ballparks and traditional ballparks. I had gone to Miami Stadium many times to watch Spring Training games."
Llanes' passion for baseball, stadium architecture and how ballparks integrate with their communities led him to research the beginning of the Marlins.
History reveals the journey professional baseball took to Miami fittingly came on a fishing trip. Martin Haske, owner of the International League's Syracuse franchise, went fishing with Sidney Solomon Jr., a former executive with the St. Louis Browns.
Solomon owned a vacation home on Miami Beach, and for years, he felt Miami could support a professional team. In November 1955, Solomon and Haske set sail on a boat, fishing and discussing the future of Haske's Syracuse club, which was struggling financially.
Solomon inquired about purchasing the team, and the wheels were in motion for professional baseball to move to Miami.
"We didn't catch any fish, but it looks like we landed a ballclub," Solomon said at the time.
Knowing he had to sell the game to a community accustomed to going to the horse track, dog track and jai alai, Solomon sought the services of one of the game's best all-time promoters. Bill Veeck, the former president of the St. Louis Browns and Cleveland Indians, joined the original Miami Marlins to help launch the franchise as well as create some excitement.
Arguably the greatest promoter in the history of baseball, Veeck had high hopes for Miami, predicting the market would secure a big league franchise within "three to five years." Veeck foresaw MLB expansion, and he felt Miami was positioned to challenge other viable markets such as Denver, Houston and Atlanta.
To become a big league market, Veeck knew the importance of selling tickets. Confident of his ideas to lure big crowds, Veeck predicted 17,000 would attend the Marlins' first game on April 18, 1956. His lofty number fell short, but the gate was a respectable 8,816, and they experienced a night to remember.
Before the first pitch, a fireworks display illuminated the night, spelling out "Hi Fans" above the center-field wall.
Still, there was more.
Former Ringling Brothers Circus star Josephine Berosini performed a death-defying tightrope act. The wire was perched 80 feet above the field and strung diagonally from one end of the roof's overhang to the other. Making her trip more daring was the fact there was no safety net. With no complications, she made it.
Each player was introduced individually as they walked to their respective position.
Joining the players on the field was Max Patkin, baseball's clown prince who had a history of slapstick humor and working with Veeck. Patkin coached first base for two innings, gaining cheers with his humorous antics.
Even with all the fanfare and fun, the biggest trick Veeck had up his sleeve came after the first pitch was thrown. As the Marlins took the field for the top of the second inning, out of nowhere, a helicopter descended into the stadium, kicking up dust and bewildering the fans as it landed in the infield.
"As the dust settled and the chopper's blades came to a halt, the cab door opened to reveal Bill Veeck's final surprise of the evening," Llane wrote in his book. "While the astonished crowd looked on, the lanky figure of an aging ballplayer in a Marlins uniform gingerly hopped out of the helicopter.
"The player was none other than former Major Leaguer and Negro League legend Satchel Paige, who by some accounts was well into his 50s. Paige was a surprise addition to the Marlins' roster, one that Veeck had kept concealed from the local press for weeks prior to opening night."
Paige went to the bullpen, where he watched the rest of the game from a recliner that was brought in just for him.
A couple of months shy of turning 50, Paige wasn't in a Marlins uniform just for show. He wanted to pitch, and eventually he did, but not that first night. His first appearance for Miami was a four-hit, complete-game shutout.
Paige had his opportunity to prolong his career, and the Miami Marlins had a star attraction in their inaugural season.
On Friday, the Miami Marlins will once again be reborn.