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A history of baseball in Miami

A 1993 expansion club, the Marlins have brought the heat to South Beach for the past 25 seasons
June 22, 2017

The magic on the diamond in Miami all started in 1912 when the baseball gods gave an abracadabra and a Minor League squad called the Miami Magicians appeared.The Magicians were the first professional team in the city, an upstart area that was still establishing its own place on the map.

The magic on the diamond in Miami all started in 1912 when the baseball gods gave an abracadabra and a Minor League squad called the Miami Magicians appeared.
The Magicians were the first professional team in the city, an upstart area that was still establishing its own place on the map. Miami was incorporated as a city in 1896, in large part due to Julia Tuttle, a visionary local landowner who convinced railroad magnate Henry Flagler to expand his Florida East Coast Railway to this largely uninhabited beachfront property. Despite having a population of just 300 at the start, Miami grew quickly and was soon referred to as the "Magic City," replete with sunshine and sandy shores. Favorable weather made the region a natural haven for baseball.
The Magicians, who played in the Class D East Florida State League, had a short-lived existence. Both the team and the league ceased operations after the United States entered World War I. But the sport didn't suffer a long hiatus in South Florida. In fact, baseball has prospered there since Major League teams began to head south to prepare for the season in the late 1910s and early '20s. 

Baseball in South Florida firmly took root after World War I, as more professional teams were established. The 1930s brought the Miami Giants of the Negro Leagues, and by the outset of World War II, the Florida East Coast League had added four teams to its Rookie Level circuit: the Miami Beach Flamingos, the Miami Wahoos, the Fort Lauderdale Tarpons and West Palm Beach Indians.
The Second World War helped change the baseball landscape in Miami, as well. With so many male ballplayers enlisted, Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, created the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Many of these franchises trained at a facility in Opa-locka, just north of Miami.
In 1949, just after the war and long before colorful Marlins Park was built, the old Miami Stadium served as the city's first baseball shrine. With a capacity of 13,000, the park boasted a design that was ahead of its time. Because of its cantilever-style roof there was cover over much of the grandstands, and unlike most other stadiums of the era, there were no cumbersome pillars to obstruct fans' views of the field.
Miami Stadium welcomed the Baltimore Orioles' training camp from 1959-90. During the city's early tenure as a Spring Training hotbed, future Hall of Famers such as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. all prepared for the regular season in Miami. At age 18, Ripken also played Class-A ball for the Miami Orioles there.
"I remember going to Miami Stadium as a kid and watching Spring Training games," said Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, a graduate of Southwest Miami High School in the early '70s. "I remember watching [Jim] Palmer and Frank with the Orioles. The list was extensive."
South Florida baseball buffs also are quick to note that the original Miami Marlins played at Miami Stadium, too. Yes, in another era, the Marlins existed as a Minor League franchise. The team was born in 1956, with the name coming courtesy of contest winner and Miami native Earl Purpus. For his idea, Purpus was awarded two box seat tickets for the '56 season.
The Marlins initially played in the International League, from 1956-60. While undergoing several transformations over the years, the club developed a storied history, featuring plenty of high-profile names. Satchel Paige, the ageless right-hander of Negro League and MLB fame, was one of them, pushing 50 years old when he joined the Marlins for their inaugural season in 1956.
Years later, the club reorganized and took up residence in the Florida State League, from 1962-70 and again from 1982-88. During that latter span, in 1983, catcher Benito Santiago -- who would go on to be the Florida Marlins' Opening Day catcher in 1993 -- was just an 18-year-old prospect with the team, then a Minor League affiliate of the Padres. Fittingly, Jack McKeon -- who at the time was San Diego's general manager and would later come out of retirement to resurrect the Big League Marlins -- was responsible for assigning Santiago to Miami.

In 1987, the Marlins' home ballpark was renamed in honor of Bobby Maduro, a Cuban entrepreneur who had greatly influenced the growth of baseball in the local Latino community. And although the team played in Bobby Maduro Miami Stadium for just one season after that, Maduro's legacy endures today. In fact, one of the four streets bordering Marlins Park is now named Bobby Maduro Drive.
When the Marlins vacated the venue, old Miami Stadium hosted several other teams. The Orioles continued to train there until 1990 -- sports journalist Roy Firestone even served as an O's batboy there during his youth -- while the Gulf Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association simultaneously spent two seasons at the ballpark.
It wasn't until 1993 that a Major League Baseball franchise arrived in South Florida. With the birth of the Florida Marlins, a National League expansion franchise, Miami finally achieved Big League status. 
At their inception, the Marlins shared Joe Robbie Stadium, a football-first, multipurpose facility, with the NFL's Miami Dolphins. Sporting uniforms trimmed in teal, the club, owned by H. Wayne Huizenga and managed by Rene Lachemann, brought a tropical flavor to the Big Leagues. The first game in franchise history occurred on April 5, 1993, at Joe Robbie, and a crowd of 42,334 turned out to watch knuckleballer Charlie Hough claim a 6-3 victory over Orel Hershiser and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Success followed rather quickly, and certainly surprisingly, for the Marlins in their formative years. In 1997, then-General Manager Dave Dombrowki assembled a star-studded squad featuring Gary Sheffield, Moises Alou, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and Bobby Bonilla. Under the guidance of gruff skipper Jim Leyland, the Marlins became World Series champions, hoisting the trophy after defeating the Indians in just their fifth season. 

"Had that been the Yankees and Mets playing, it would have gone down as one of the greatest World Series in history," Leyland told a decade later.
In 2002, Jeffrey Loria, the former owner of the Montreal Expos, took the reins of the Marlins in a three-way transaction. John Henry, who formerly owned the franchise, purchased the Boston Red Sox during the exchange.
Just one year later, the Marlins' World Series magic repeated itself. It was one of the more improbable runs to a title in the history of the sport. After a 16-22 start, the Marlins changed skippers, as McKeon, then 72 years old, was called out of retirement on May 11. General Manager Larry Beinfest dubbed the cigar-chomping McKeon a "resurrection specialist." With a no-nonsense approach, McKeon motivated the players, and all of them -- young and old -- responded. From veteran and future-Hall-of-Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez to hard-throwing, brash 23-year-old Texan Josh Beckett, the Marlins stepped up and turned their season around, finishing with a 91-71 record.
Upon rising from 10 games under .500 in May, the Fish went on to win the National League Wild Card and rolled to a World Series title. The final game was one for the ages, as Beckett, pitching on short rest, went the distance in a 2-0 win over New York at Yankee Stadium.

One hundred years after the Miami Magicians were established, the Miami Marlins embarked on a new baseball chapter, and it happened to be on sacred sports grounds for the community. In the midst of some tough campaigns, the Marlins rebranded in 2012, updating their identity while moving into a new, futuristic, retractable-roof home, located in the heart of the Little Havana section of Miami. Marlins Park has a capacity of 36,000 (1,000 more with standing room), and it rests on the old Orange Bowl grounds, home to so many great football memories, including Joe Namath's "guaranteed" victory for the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
As part of its changing scenery, the team changed its name to the Miami Marlins to reflect its longtime home city. Its colors evolved, too, incorporating burnt orange, black, light blue and some yellow.
Now, the growth of the sport is entrenched at all levels of the community, possibly nowhere more on the amateur scene than at the University of Miami, where legendary Hurricanes coach Ron Fraser took over the program in 1963. An All-American player at Florida State, Fraser guided the Dutch National Team for three years before The U came calling, and assembled the pieces for a rags-to-riches transformation. 
"The biggest impact on the city was the University of Miami," said Dawson, "the times they were vying for the College World Series, back in the days of Ron Fraser."
Known as "The Wizard of College Baseball," Fraser led his Hurricanes to two national championships in the 1980s. After Fraser retired, the team maintained its winning tradition with another two titles, in 1999 and 2001, when MLB outfielder Charlton Jimerson was a walk-on for the program.
"I think playing at Miami, the coaching staff gave me an edge," said Jimerson. "Playing in the College World Series helped prepare me for the professional level. It gave me the experience to play in those situations in the national eye. There is a lot of history with draft picks and Big Leaguers."
In addition to Dawson, South Florida has produced countless star players, including, but not limited to, Alexander Rodriguez, Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. And, of course, the face of the franchise is now homegrown stud Giancarlo Stanton. Born in California, Stanton grew up in the organization, and he's become an All-Star Week staple -- not to mention the reigning Home Run Derby champion. 

And now, 61 years after the birth of the Marlins, albeit as a Minor League club, Stanton and Miami will welcome MLB's All-Star Game to the city for the first time ever, the consummation of years spent building a now-storied tradition. 
This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.