Marlins look to avoid repeating history

Updated: November 12, 2011, 12:00 PM ET
By Buster Olney

The Marlins are working from a well-worn playbook as they prepare to open a new ballpark. The theory is that if they invest in big names, fans will be inspired to fill the place. Build it and they will come -- if you fill it with stars. Albert Pujols is a star, and so is Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle would be an excellent complement to Josh Johnson.

We don't yet know the substance of the offers made to the trio of players, and whether the proposals are designed for a nice public-relations show and timed as a corollary to the unveiling of the club's new name. A new ballpark, a new team, a new payroll, a new bank account. The Miami Marlins: They're not your dad's Florida Marlins.

But if the offers are substantial enough to actually entice the players to South Florida, and Pujols decides he wants to co-own the city with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Marlins' great experiment would tell us, once and for all, whether the area can support baseball. Barry Bonds signed with the Giants and soon thereafter San Francisco unveiled a new park, where baseball thrives. The Tigers traded for Juan Gonzalez in the hope of making him the face of Comerica Park, and he rejected an offer of almost $150 million -- and as it turned out, he didn't help the team or attendance much, and Detroit was lucky he didn't sign.

The Diamondbacks mortgaged future payrolls by immediately loading up their roster, signing Randy Johnson and trading for Curt Schilling, and they won the World Series in their fourth year of existence -- but the debt for the initial rush forced major cost-cutting, and attendance collapsed. The Pirates took half-measures, signing the likes of shortstop Pat Meares, and with the team losing 100 games in the first season of PNC Park, attendance dropped from about 2.5 million in the first year to about 1.8 million in the second year -- an opportunity missed, clearly.

Over the last year, I asked about a dozen folks with past ties to the Marlins and to Miami about the chances that the new ballpark, on a new site, will change the way the franchise is perceived, and it would be charitable to say that there is enormous skepticism. Quite simply, there is doubt about whether South Florida will embrace baseball.