Marlins Have Become Public Enemy Number One

There is something brewing in the National League East, a rivalry gaining momentum as the season rolls on and I can see that from here on out it will grow in intensity, perhaps with each passing season. It is the rivalry between the Florida Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies that has taken on a life of its own and already has some classic dramatic moments to it. It has made the Phillies realize one thing: they are going to need a bigger boat.

There is a feeling about the Marlins that Phillies fans just don't seem to feel about the Atlanta Braves right now, which is surprising considering their consistent knack of winning this division. Even the New York Mets don't bring out the same feelings from Phillies fans these days as the Marlins do. The momentum that the Phillies and Marlins rivalry gained happened late in the season last year when suddenly the Marlins dominated the National League East and especially the Phillies. They brought in veteran Jack McKeon to manage and brought back left fielder Jeff Conine and as if they'd all been drinking from some kind of magic waters in Florida the Marlins became virtually unbeatable. How unbeatable? After a late September game last season the Phillies would not again beat the fish until this past Wednesday night.

You could say that the rivalry is one fueled simply by those dismal facts. That they've managed to make us look like chumps so many times that we, as fans, and the Phillies as a team have to feel an overwhelming desire to simply prove that we can beat them. Rivalries are born from years of watching your home team or chosen favorite team lose consistently to one team in particular, a never ending batch of classic horrors that fans talk about for years to come. Or it can be a rivalry with a team that beat yours in a crucial moment that is so unforgettable it makes fans shiver for eternity (Joe Carter, anyone?). It would only make sense that the Braves would receive the most contempt from Phillies fans for their endless domination. And perhaps at one time that would have been the answer. Maybe I am speaking for myself here but that isn't the obvious answer. And as I said earlier the fact that the Marlins have beaten the Phillies so brutally would make them an obvious choice for public enemy number one for many Philadelphia Phillies fans. But, and again I will say I speak for myself, I don't see it that way. The brutal losses made me hate the Marlins for how good they were; I respected them. But in incidents that occurred in the early part of this year's baseball season the tide turned and I disliked them for other very personal reasons.

When the season ended last year for the Phillies it ended with a thud. For the Marlins it ended with a World Championship. It was remarkable to watch as they outplayed the great ones, the New York Yankees in a six-game series. The image of a defeated Derek Jeter, the much celebrated Yankee shortstop, throwing his hands up in resignation in the final moment of the final game when Josh Beckett made the last out catch stands out for me. It seemed to signal a changing of the guard. There was a new team to be intimidated by and give all other teams a run for their money. The Marlins had won a World Series before (In 1997) but now they seemed to have an edge, toughness and an endless supply of talent that left them with no vulnerabilities. They were a challenge, plain and simple, and to be respected and feared for that reason alone... I saw them that way, as did fans of baseball, opponents and definitely Philadelphia Phillies fans. That is until three months ago when the competition between the Phillies and the Marlins took on a different feel. It became nastier and bad blood developed.

It was the series in early summer between the Phils and the fish that seemed to change everything. In two games of that series there were key players on their team that made some moves that would get under fans skin and admittedly get to the players too. In one instance a ball hit by second baseman Placido Polanco went into the direction of Jeff Conine. He chased the ball and Polanco rounded the bases, thinking Conine was simply not coming up with it. But then the man the Marlins call Mr. Marlin threw his hands up to indicate the ball had to be called a ground rule double because, cough, cough, it was stuck in the wall. Conine stood with his arms folded like a proud peacock, his head held high. These Phillies weren't going to do well on his watch. He had to come up with something questionable and frankly, laughable to insure that the Marlins would not be taken by the Phillies. You can call me foolish but as John Marzano said in the post game wrap up "Conine is a great actor...and also apparently, an umpire". The contempt for the team had taken on new meaning. But it was followed by something even more contemptible.

The following day reserve catcher Todd Pratt was in for Mike Leiberthal and Brett Myers was on the mound. In the second inning Myers would give up a homerun to Mike Redmond. Next up was shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Myers threw high and tight to Gonzalez and Gonzalez pointed aggressively at Myers, and stated something to the effect that he had better watch himself. Myers stood there a moment but Gonzalez started going towards the mound just as Pratt was about to go out and cool his frustrated pitcher off. When Pratt tried to hold Gonzalez off for no apparent reason the shortstop began hitting Pratt's glove. Pratt finally pushed him. When David Bell ran in to break things up the Marlins toppled him and starting pitcher Carl Pavano found it necessary to put Bell in a head lock. It seems to me everyone was to blame in some way. But every time I watched the playback it was clear that Gonzalez was instigating a fight and even more clearly he was knocking at Pratt's door for a fight. I came away from that series not so much frustrated by the slaughtering the Marlins gave us on the field with their equally impressive offense and defense but disgusted by their attitude. It became very clear that their egos were inflated by their status and my admiration of them as underdogs against the Yankees faded. To me they were bullies with a bad attitude. And now it was personal. I wanted the Phillies to beat them good three months later in their next series because they were for lack of a better word, jerks. Need proof? Mike Redmond spoke to reporters after the brawl and eventual win for Florida, "We like coming to Philadelphia" Redmond grinned smugly, "we have fun when we come here." He knew the Phillies looked like losers compared to them at that point and he delighted in it. And so with gritted teeth and lots of hope we waited for the next time the Phillies faced the egos and bats of those Florida Marlins.

A funny thing would happen, however, on the way to that next meeting and it would give Phillies fans and the team early justice. The Marlins began to play lousy. Suddenly they were dropping behind in the NL East and the Phillies were pushing their way to the top. Considering the injuries and struggles of some of the Phillies valuable players this was no small feat. The Phillies have been stunning people with their ability to make it to the number one spot considering the circumstances. They were fighting hard and the Marlins were "sadly" not playing so well. Finally just this week we would face them again. Thankfully the spell was broken and in game one of a two-game series we beat them…finally. But the next night the Marlins were back to their old tricks. Juan Pierre pretended that a ball hit by Mike Leiberthal did not hit the ground before he picked it up in his glove. Though both offenses slugged their way through the day, the Marlins would take this win by two runs. I will say that that play might have made some difference and that it was dishonest of Pierre to play it off as an out. I think he probably knows better.

And so folks, we are approaching a big series coming up against the Marlins again this week, this time for four games. It will prove a lot. It will mean a lot. But in the end what it means to me is that the best man should win. If the contest is for integrity the Phillies win by a long shot. And don't forget that win or lose against the Marlins that means something too.

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories