SBJ/April 27 - May 3, 1998/No Topic Name

Selling champs is an old art

The Florida Marlins of 1997 went up like prefabricated housing, built more rapidly than any champion in modern baseball history.

They were dismantled with even more fervors, reduced to a mish-mash of toddling prospects in the four months between their celebratory parade and the opening of spring training.

The Marlins felt the fallout immediately, losing 11games in a row after winning on Opening Day. At 1-9, the Marlins were off to the worst start ever by a defending World Series champ. Then they went ahead and dropped two more.

A new phenomenon for baseball, right?

Well, not really.

But to find anything comparable – a baseball owner who stripped down by choice, rather than because of the influence of free agency – you have to go back 65 years, to the spend-then-slash ways of gentlemanly Connie Mack.

Mack built his Philadelphia Athletics into a team to rival the storied New York Yankees. The A’s won American League pennants in 1929,1930 and 1931 with a lineup that included eventual Hall of Famers Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane, all in their prime, and a pitching staff anchored by Lefty Grove, whom Mack bought from the minors for 100,600 - $100 more than the Yankees had paid the Boston Red Sox for Babe Ruth.

But the Wall Street crash of 1929 put Mack deep in debt and, after the A’s lost the 1931 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals and finished second to the Yankees in 1932, he began selling his most valuable assets – his stars.

Mack had to know his club wouldn’t recover, at least not in his lifetime. After all, he’d conducted a similar purge in 1914, when he broke up a team that had won four pennants and three world championships in five years.

The A’s finished in the cellar in 1915 and spent the next six seasons there. His second sell-off didn’t go any better.

The A’s went from third place in 1933 to fifth place in 1934 before finally crashing to the cellar in 1935, Foxx’s last year with the club. The A’s would finish at the bottom of the AL in nine of Mack’s remaining 15 seasons. In 1951, his 50th and last, they lost 102 games.

The only other champion gutted so considerably also wore the A’s uniform, and also fell apart because of finances.

Remember what happened when Charley Finley’s A’s dynasty of the 1970s came undone?

In one winter, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, Gene Tenance and Phil Garner all left for greener bank accounts, following the paths cut by Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson the two previous years.

The A’s of 1977- Manny Sanguillen, Rob Piccolo, Marty Perez, Wayne Gross, Jim Tyrone, Billy North, Mitchell Page, Earl Williams and sometimes Dick Allen – lost 98 games and finished last.

What makes the Marlins think they’ll be any different?

Well, Florida actually got back players, rather than cash, in exchange for its lost stars. The Marlins stockpiled so much young talent that the organization’s farm system now is the envy of baseball. Management believes that those young players will form the core of a contender in two or three years.


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