Originally founded in 1991 as the Florida Marlins, the Marlins’ first season in Major League Baseball wasn’t until 1993 when they played in the suburb of Miami Gardens. In 2012 the team moved to the city and changed their name to the Miami Marlins.
On March 7, 1990, the CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation, Wayne Huizenga announced that he’d purchased 15% of the Miami Dolphins of the NFL, while also buying 50% of the Dolphins’ current home stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium for around $30 million. Upon announcing his purchase, Mr. Huizenga also stated that he intended to begin pursuing an MLB expansion franchise. Just a few months prior, MLB had announced that they planned to add two new National League teams, and Huizenga wanted to aggressively pursue having one of those teams call Miami home. In addition to other state’s pursuing the chance to become the home of one of the two expansion teams, Miami also would have to contend with two cities within its same state: Orlando and Tampa Bay. Both of those cities already had infrastructure in place to host a Major League Baseball team, but despite their hard pursuit of getting one of the two expansion teams, on June 10, 1991, MLB awarded Huizenga and the city of Miami one of the teams for a fee of $95 million. In deciding for a name for their coming baseball franchise, the Florida Flamingos was a very popular choice early on, but they eventually went with the nickname “Marlins” from a minor league team that used to play in Miami from 1956 to 1960, and again from 1962-1970, and once again from 1982-1988.
On December 16, 1991, the then Florida Marlins made their first signing ever when they signed a 16-year-old pitcher from the Dominican Republic, Clemente Núñez, to a contract. In June of 1992, in their first draft in franchise history they would select catcher Charles Johnson from the University of Miami. Later in that same year, Marlins’ president Carl Barger unexpectedly died at the winter baseball meetings in Louisville, Kentucky, catching the franchise off-guard. To honor him, the team would later retire the number 5, Joe DiMaggio’s number, who was Barger’s favorite player, but they would later recirculate the number 5 jersey again when the team was moved to the city of Miami in 2012.
The Marlins would hire their first manager, Rene Lachemann, who was a former catcher in the league and had also previously been the manager of the Seattle Mariners and the Milwaukee Brewers. In their inaugural game, the Marlins defeated the Houston Astros by a score of 12-8 during a Spring training game. The team’s first homerun was hit by Jeff Conine at the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex Stadium in front of a small crowd of 6,696. The team would go on to win their first regular season game on April 5, 1993 against the Los Angeles Dodgers behind starting pitcher Charlie Hough. The team would finish their first season 5 games out of last place which belonged to the New York Mets. In their second season in MLB, the Marlins would finish in last place in their division with a record of 51-64, in a season that was shortened by the MLB strike of 1994. The following year they finished 4th in their division with a record of 67-76.
During the 1996 season, their first manager Rene Lachemann was replaced midway through the season by the director of player development John Boles. Despite replacing their manager midway through the 1996 season, there were a few bright spots for the team as they maintained a team ERA of 3.95, which ranked 3rd in the National League. On May 11, Al Leiter would pitch the first no-hitter in Marlins’ franchise history and catcher Charles Johnson led the league with a .995 fielding percentage. The team would finish in 3rd place with a final record of 80-82. After the season, Boles returned to his original position as firector of player development, and the team hired Jim Leyland, who had previously managed the Pittsburgh Pirates, to manage the club for the coming 1997 season.
They made a few big name free agent signings that offseason like the addition of 3rd baseman Bobby Bonilla, outfielder Moisés Alou, and pitcher Alex Fernandez. Expectations had never been so high for the relatively new team, and they would deliver in a big way. The team’s pitching ace, Kevin Brown would pitch the franchise’s 2nd no-hitter of all time on June 10, 1997. The team would go on to finish 9 games behind the Division winning Atlanta Braves, but were able to earn the wild card berth into the playoffs. In their first ever playoff berth, the Marlins would sweep the San Francisco Giants in the opening round, then win their next series 4-2 over the Division champ Atlanta Braves, and they’d finally close out the great playoff run by defeating the American League Champion Cleveland Indians in 7-games to claim their first World Series Title.
Following their first Championship title in 1997, Huizenga essentially dismantled the team, citing financial losses as the cause despite having won the World Series. He traded away most of the team’s best players in what was considered one of the biggest fire sales in major league sports history.
There was a lot of turnover from their Championship 1997 season to the following 1998 season. The team fell all the way to finishing with a 54-108 record that year, becoming the only team in MLB history to lose 100 games the season after winning the World Series. Huizenga would go on to sell the team that following off-season to John Henry, a commodities trader from Boca Raton.
After change in ownership, and a change in management, the Marlins would use the 2nd overall pick in the 1999 draft to select Josh Beckett, who was a high school pitcher from Houston. Before the start of that 1999 season, the team hired David Dombrowski as the 3rd President in team history, while also acting as the team’s General Manager.
The team would slowly climb back from their major selloff after their 1997 Championship season by finishing in 3rd place in 2000, but the following year had more disappointments. Manager John Boles was fired during that 2001 season and Hall of Famer Tony Pérez was named as the team’s interim manager for the remainder of the season. The team would finish in 4th place with a final record of 76-86 that year.
Following the disappointing 2001 season, the team went through another major overhaul that offseason with new ownership and front office. Tony Pérez promptly resigned and returned to his prior role as the front-office assistant of Baseball Operations. A month later, President and General Manager David Dombrowski resigned and accepted a position as President of the Detroit Tigers. Before the start of the next season, Henry sold the team to the owner of the Montreal Expos, Jeffrey Loria, which allowed Henry to soon purchase the Boston Red Sox.
The Marlins had garnered higher expectations once again going into the 2003 season with some big name free agents like Iván Rodríguez and Juan Pierre, but would get off to a very slow start that season with only a 19-29 record early into the season. Help was on the horizon as the team would bring up southpaw pitcher Dontrelle Willis from the Double-A Carolina Mudcats on May 9th, carrying an impressive 11-2 record in his first 11 starts with the team. Along with some other mid-season acquisitions the Marlins made a playoff push, eventually finishing 10-games behind the Division Champion Atlanta Braves, but still securing another NL Wild Card berth. They kept the momentum into the playoffs as they defeated the San Francisco Giants in the opening series 3 games to 1, and topping the Chicago Cubs in 7 games in the NL Championship round. The team would finish strong as they defeated the New York Yankees in a 6-game World Series, winning their second World Series Title in franchise history.
They followed up their 2003 Championship season with another winning season in 2004, but they fell just short of the playoffs finishing with an 83-79 record on the year. Following that season the team experienced another large turnover in both the roster and the front-office, and they entered the following 2006 season as a rebuilding year with a much smaller payroll. The Marlins made history when they started 6 rookies in that 2006 opening day lineup and their inexperience showed as they got off to an 11-31 start, but we’re able to right the ship as they climbed back to a 73-72 record by September 12th. That impressive turnaround made them the first team in MLB history to recover from as much as 20 games below .500 to achieving a winning record.
During the 2007 and 2008 seasons the team was able to string back to back winning seasons all while having one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball, and their success continued into 2009 when the team finished with their 3rd best regular season record in franchise history 87-75, only behind the two years they won the World Series in 1997 (92 wins) and 2003 (91 wins).
Since that 2008 season when they finished above .500, the Marlins have only finished above .500 one more time in the last 10+ years. That one winning season came back in 2009. Since then the Marlins have been mediocre to downright terrible, consistently being ranked as one of the worst teams in baseball.