The Florida Marlins won the World Series in 1997, but what was the path it took to get there? Let’s take a statistical look at Florida’s 1997 regular season.
The 1997 Florida Marlins won the World Series in a way that would make Yogi himself a little jealous. Edgar Renteria went off the record to bring the title to a club that was only five years old which was an unfathomable feat. The spotlight will forever shine on this magical October, but let’s step away from the postseason and shed light on this specific regular season and how the Marlins got there in the first place.
The charismatic Jim Leyland would be named the team’s manager prior to the 1997 season. Leyland had the kind of resume and charisma the Marlins needed, winning three straight titles with Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Marlins themselves went through three different head coaches during the 1996 season.
It would arguably prove to be the key factor in the year’s success, as the organization has yet to record a successful season in its short tenure. Under Leyland’s first year, the Marlins have never been below . 500 at any point in the season, marking a huge turnaround in performance.
The Atlanta Braves won the NL East with 101 wins compared to Florida’s 92, however, Florida won the regular season games between the two, going 8-4 against the Braves. Ultimately, the two teams met in the NLCS, with the Marlins winning six games.
So, who did the damage? Who put this team on their backs?
With the .346 OBP, the answer to who did the damage could be all. Leading the way with a fat 0.424 OBP was swinging sweet Gary Sheffield. 250 normal batting average, he was striking out an astonishing 121 walks in 135 games, and only 11 intentional walks. Even though he only had 86 hits, he connected 22 doubles, triples and 21 homers, which meant two finishes. Half His hits were for extra bases. Add 71 RBIs to his totals and you’ve got yourself in the prime machine production.
The 20-year-old junior shortstop and eventual champion Edgar Renteria led the team in runs scored with 171. Despite producing only four hits, he skipped home plate 90 times. Doing the simple task of hitting and scoring, he also produced a healthy 32 stolen bases to pave the way for putting Renteria on the map as one of the fastest growing prospects in the game at the time.
Moises Alou was the Marlins’ lead producer. His only year in Florida would be a memorable one. Not only did Alou hit a World Series ring, he hit 23 home runs, led a team leading 115 RBI, and produced a .292/.373/.493 slash, which helped him finish 10th in MVP voting that year.
Catcher Charles Johnson gave the Marlins an always coveted solid offensive season out of position hitting 19 home runs with a decent .802 OPS. He became a sneaky good bat at the deep end of the lineup that really pulled his weight in production. Johnson himself is a perfect 1,000 Gold Glove percentage with 19 saves and striking out 47% of baserunners’ potential in 1,076.2 innings pitched. It was a manager’s dream set for a catcher, as Charles finished behind Alou in MVP voting in 11th place.
Obviously, we cannot exclude Bobby Bonilla when we talk about this team. The veteran baseman put together a big shot in his 34 season, hitting . 297, leading the team with 39 doubles, 17 hits, and 96 runs batted in with 73 free saves himself.
Sheffield heartthrobs, Alo, and Bonilla have combined 264 walks themselves, proving the workhorse of this team’s .346 OBP.
The staff across the board was reliable enough in all aspects to make the damage done to the aforementioned strong lineup mean more. Kevin Brown handled the most innings pitched with 237.1, going 16-7 with a solid 2.69 ERA. Perhaps the most interesting of his numbers defining Brown’s pitching style, his 0.4 small hour per 9 innings showed he kept the ball low and stayed low.
Alex Fernandez was second in the innings, with 220.2 of them. Leading the Marlins with 17 wins and a decent 3.59 ERA. A reliable two punch was more than enough for Bobby Boo & Co. to win matches.
The other major factor in this shooting crew came out of fan favorite Rob Nen. He made 35 saves while winning another nine, recording 81 strikeouts in 74 innings pitched.
The Florida Marlins’ staffers ranked fourth in the NL in Ks, ERA, runs allowed, and third in the NL in hits and homers allowed. The name of the game was controlling damage to Leyland’s arms.
Over the course of the season, there were a handful of notable accomplishments:
- During their long eight-game winning streak from May 11-20, 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, pitched this season
The 1997 Florida season will be forever fresh in the minds of Marlins fans and baseball fans alike as they shocked the baseball world and defied the odds. Discipline at the plate and all around it above average was the formula that produced such an achievement. The events that will follow after the World Series win will live on in the minds of Marlins fans and baseball fans alike for other reasons such as the infamous “fire sale”, almost the entire team will be sold, and soon after the team will be sold along with it.
It might be cool to think what if this team. What would the NL East look like in the next five or six years? Would they have had a chance to take on the Yankees of the ’90s in the World Series, before beating the Evil Empire a few more years back in 2003?