The Florida Marlins won the World Series in 1997, but what did the path traveled to get there look like? Let’s take a statistical dive into Florida’s 1997 regular season.
The 1997 Florida Marlins would infamously win the World Series in such a way that would make Yogi himself a little jealous. Edgar Renteria walk off single to bring the title to a club that was just five years old which had been an unfathomable achievement. The spotlight will forever shine on that magical October, but let’s move it away from the postseason and shed light on that specific regular season and how the Marlins got there in the first place.
The ever-charismatic Jim Leyland would be appointed the team’s manager prior to the 1997 season. Leyland had the type of resume and gravitas the Marlins needed, winning 3 straight division titles with Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Marlins themselves went through three different managers over the 1996 season.
He would arguably prove to be the main factor in the success of the year, as the organization had yet to record a winning season in their short span. Under Leyland’s first year, the Marlins were never under .500 at any point in the season, marking a monumental turnaround in performance.
The Atlanta Braves would win the NL East with 101 wins in comparison to Florida’s 92, however, Florida won the regular season matchups between the two, going 8-4 against the Braves. Eventually, the two teams met in the NLCS, with the Marlins winning in six games.
So, who did the damage? Who put this team on their backs?
With a team .346 OBP, the answer for who did the damage could be all of them. Leading the way with a fat .424 OBP was sweet swinging Gary Sheffield. While he had an ordinary .250 batting average, he would churn out a staggering 121 walks in 135 games, and only 11 intentional walks. Although he had just 86 hits, he also belted 22 doubles, one triple, and 21 homers, meaning over half his hits were for extra bases. Add 71 RBIs to his totals and you got yourself a run producing on base machine.
Budding 20-year-old shortstop and eventual hero Edgar Renteria led the team in hits with 171. Despite producing just four homers, he crossed home plate 90 times. Doing the simple job of hitting and scoring, he also produced a healthy 32 stolen bases to boot putting Renteria on the map as one of the fastest growing prospects in the game at the time.
Moises Alou was the Marlins’ primary run producer. His only year in Florida would be a memorable one. Not only did he earn a World Series ring, Alou jacked 23 home runs, drove in a team leading 115 RBI, and produced .292/.373/.493 slash line, helping him to tenth place in MVP voting that year.
Catcher Charles Johnson gave the Marlins an always coveted solid offensive season out of the position as he belted19 home runs with a decent .802 OPS. He became a sneaky good bat towards the end of an already deep lineup that pulled his weight in production. Johnson himself a Gold Glove with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage while saving 19 runs and throwing out 47% of would-be base stealers in 1076.2 innings. He was a manager’s dream combo for a catcher, Charles finished just behind Alou in MVP voting at 11th.
We obviously can’t leave out Bobby Bonilla when talking about this team. The veteran third baseman put in quite a shift in his age 34 season, hitting .297, leading the team with 39 doubles, 17 bombs, and 96 driven in with a fat 73 free passes himself.
The core of Sheffield, Alou, and Bonilla amassed 264 walks by themselves, proving the backbone of that team .346 OBP.
The pitching staff across the board was reliable enough in all aspects to make the aforementioned potent lineup’s damage mean more. Kevin Brown ate up the most innings with 237.1, going 16-7 with a solid 2.69 ERA. Perhaps the most intriguing of his numbers that define Brown’s pitching style, a minuscule 0.4 HR per 9 innings showed he kept the ball down and stayed down.
Alex Fernandez finished second in innings, manning the rubber for 220.2 of them. Leading the Marlins with 17 wins and a decent 3.59 ERA. A reliable one-two punch that was more than enough for Bobby Bo and Co. to win games.
The other major factor on this pitching staff came out of the bullpen in fan favorite Robb Nen. He notched 35 saves while winning nine more, recording 81 strikeouts in 74 innings.
The Florida Marlins staff were fourth in the NL in Ks, ERA, and runs allowed, and third in the NL in hits and homers allowed. The name of the game was damage control for Leyland’s arms.
Over the course of the season, a handful of accomplishments that stood out were of note:
- During their season long eight game winning streak from May 11th to the 20th, the Marlins outscored their opponents 57-25
- Florida hit the All-Star break at 50-36, 2nd in the NL only to Atlanta
- 52-29 record at home. Pro Player Stadium was a fortress.
- Dennis Cook, Pat Rapp, and Tony Saunders, all pitchers, homered in the season
Florida’s 1997 season will forever be fresh in the mind of Marlins fans and baseball fans alike as they shocked the baseball world and defied the odds. Plate discipline and all around above average pitching was the formula that produced such a feat. The events to follow after the World Series victory would live in the minds of Marlins fans and baseball fans alike for other reasons as the infamous “Fire Sale” took place, nearly the entire team would be sold, and soon after the team would be sold along with it.
It can be fascinating to ponder on the what ifs of this squad. How would the NL East have looked in the following five or six years? Would they have had a chance to encounter the 90’s Yankees in the World Series, before beating that said Evil Empire in just a few more years in 2003?