Fishing for Compliments

There was once a World Series in which all of the following things happened:

  • All seven games were needed to decide the winner
  • Game 7 went to extra innings
  • The winning team tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, and won in the bottom of the eleventh, in thrilling walkoff fashion, in front of an adoring home crowd

This, you would think, would live in permanent baseball lore. After all, it isn’t October until ESPN airs footage of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 Game 1 World Series walkoff (which has its own Wikipedia page), Bill Buckner’s infamous error, the Curt Schilling ALCS Bloody Sock Game, or a multitude of other great moments which did not decide championships but are still (rightfully) part of baseball’s highly selective canon. People, when asked for the name of a World Series hero, might mention Carlton Fisk, or Joe Carter, or Jack Morris, or Kirby Puckett. Few of these people, I am assured, would ever mention Edgar Renteria. Renteria had a very fruitful 15-year Major League career, complete with five All-Star appearances, and multiple Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, all of which is to say that he was among the best at his position for a spell. He also hit a walkoff single that won a World Series for the Florida Marlins in 1997, a highlight that has made it onto exactly zero ESPN Top 10 lists that I’ve seen, and which has been brought up by nobody, ever, in talk of baseball.

Why is this? One would imagine that if the Yankees ever won a World Series in such a spectacular fashion, ESPN would cancel all of their programming to air a GIF of the game-winning hit for a month. Perhaps this is at least partly due to the lack of goodwill the Marlins have fostered among those who have observed the game during the last 17 years, between their multiple fire sales, civic fraud of a new stadium, and rock-bottom attendance figures. Maybe it’s the responsibility of the fans to toot their own horns incessantly, as to engrain the success of their team in the heads of all nonbelievers. A more likely scenario is that the people who cared enough about the Marlins, a team then only in its fourth year of MLB participation, did not have too strong a voice in the national media. Or maybe the television markets involved (Miami and Cleveland) were not conducive to wall-to-wall coverage of the games. The disheartening truth proven by these facts is that a small-market team can do the biggest possible thing in the most dramatic possible way and STILL never be appreciated as a legacy juggernaut that pulls off lesser feats.

Will it always be this way? Will the expansion teams of the 1990s ever have their achievements recognized with the same weight as those of an old or big-city team? Will things like the Steve Bartman incident continue to overshadow the fact that the ’03 Marlins overcame a 3-1 NLCS deficit against the Cubs and eventually won the World Series? In that World Series, by the way, the Marlins faced the New York Yankees, fresh off of their newly canonized ALCS Game 7 win (The “Aaron Boone” game). The Bartman incident was perhaps the closest that any expansion team of the last 25 years has had to a mythical on-field event, and the Marlins’ Cinderella run through that postseason is usually regarded as but a footnote to the Bartman morass.

Historical evidence points negatively, if you think of the other expansion teams that entered the league in the 1960s and 70s. Not a team among the Astros or Mariners or Angels owns any of baseball’s most remembered moments, even though there are teams in this group that have appeared in and won World Series. The Padres might be best known for Roseanne Barr skewering the national anthem at one of their games. The Brewers might be best known for the fact that a player once assaulted a participant in their on-field sausage race with a bat. The Royals have won a championship, and I can still only bring to mind the mental image of George Brett going nuclear over pine tar that gets replayed on ESPN “Best Meltdowns” segments time and again, when an insane minor-league coach puts on an elaborate ejection song and dance.

It’s hard to conceive of a future where these teams garner the same reverent tone as their more prestigious older brothers in New York and Boston. Curt Schilling’s bloody sock sold for over $92,000 at auction last year.