The Miami Marlins join the Philadelphia Phillies in mourning the loss of a franchise hero today.
Former Philadelphia Phillies and Florida (now Miami) Marlins player Darren Daulton died on Sunday of brain cancer. He was just 55 years old.
The 1997 Major League Baseball season was just the fifth in the history of the expansion Marlins franchise. The team had begun play in 1993 along with the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies fielded winning teams in both 1995 and 1996. But the Fish were taking a bit longer, and were unable to field a winner over their first four seasons.
For that fifth year, Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga opened the vault. He signed free agent slugger Bobby Bonilla to play third base, as well as outfielder Moises Alou and starting pitcher Alex Fernandez.
These players were added to a core group already present that included “Mr. Marlin” Jeff Conine, emerging star outfielder Gary Sheffield, veteran outfielder Devon White and starting pitchers Al Leiter and Kevin Brown.
Young catcher Charles Johnson, second baseman Luis Castillo and shortstop Edgar Renteria were also in place. A rookie starting pitcher, 22-year-old Cuban Livan Hernandez, would emerge as a reliable arm for the club. The closer was talented 27-year-old Robb Nen.
The Marlins brought in a proven winner to manage that 1997 club in Jim Leyland. With all their new blood, the Marlins got out to a blistering 8-1 start. They would eventually level off, but another hot stretch in mid-May pushed the team out to a 27-16 record. Florida spent most of the next two months in second place behind the talented Atlanta Braves.
LOCKER ROOM LEADER WAS MISSING INGREDIENT
As the MLB trade deadline approached at the end of July, the Marlins dropped six of eight games, falling into third place in the division. Huizenga and general manager Dave Dombrowski believed their big investment and talent collection was missing something, some key ingredient.
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That ingredient arrived on July 21 when the Marlins dealt prospect outfielder Billy McMillon to the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies. In exchange, coming to South Florida would be one of the greatest locker room and on-field leaders in the game’s recent history.
Darren Daulton was 35 years old by that point, and moving through his 12th big league season. He had spent his entire career in the Philadelphia organization, making his MLB debut all the way back with the “Wheeze Kids” pennant winners in 1983.
Daulton’s reputation as a leader of men was cemented during the 1993 season. Those Phillies shocked the baseball world by going from last place to first, and reaching the World Series. Known as “Macho Row”, they were a hard-scrabble bunch of swashbucklers who bashed the ball all around the National League that summer.
Daulton was their acknowledged leader, the man who was unafraid to stand up to anyone no matter their status or role with the team. He was their policeman and captain, and the Marlins wanted that kind of strong, experienced leader in their own clubhouse.
DAULTON HELPS MARLINS REACH PLAYOFFS
Now a first baseman due to the effects of his knee injuries, Daulton received his first start with the Fish on Wednesday, July 23 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. He went 2-for-3 and scored a run in a big 8-1 win over the host Reds.
Daulton found a friendly face waiting for him in Florida to help ease the transition. Jim Eisenreich had been one of his teammates with those 1993 Phillies and had also been brought in as a free agent the prior offseason.
Florida would go 36-24 from that first Daulton start until late September, when they clinched that NL Wild Card berth. Daulton hit for a .262/.371/.429 slash line with 21 RBI and 22 runs scored in 152 plate appearances. More importantly, he added just that very veteran leadership the club needed.
The Marlins dispatched the San Francisco Giants in three straight games in the NLDS. Then the Fish captured the final two games of the NLCS to put away the Braves in six.
THE 1997 WORLD SERIES
In the World Series, the Marlins faced off with a mega-talented Cleveland Indians squad. The Fish and Tribe threw haymakers at one another, with Florida taking Game Three by a 14-11 score. The Indians responded by scoring 10 to even up the series in Game Four.
The Marlins responded with an 8-7 win in Game Five to go up 3-2. But with the Fish a game from winning the championship, Cleveland came right back to win 4-1, sending the Fall Classic to a classic seventh game.
When Leyland presented his lineup card for Game Seven, his cleanup man was none other than Daulton. In one of the most dramatic final games in World Series history, Renteria drilled a base hit in the bottom of the 11th inning to score Craig Counsell with the walk-off, title-winning run.
There were the usual locker room celebrations and parade, and right in the middle of it was Daulton. When interviewed, his teammates frequently mentioned his positive leadership and influence.
It would turn out to be the final game of Daulton’s career. He walked away a world champion, having hit cleanup in his team’s lineup in the seventh game of the World Series.
John Kruk was one of Daulton’s closest friends, and a teammate with the 1993 Phillies. He was quoted in a piece today by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald in reference to Daulton’s influence on those 1997 Marlins champions.
"“Jim Leyland told me they don’t win the World Series if it wasn’t for Dutch,” Kruk told Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, per Spencer. “He told me when Dutch stepped in that locker room everyone on that team looked at him and said, ‘There’s our leader.’”"