The first swing a Marlins player ever took in All-Star competition came in the first inning of the 1993 Midsummer Classic, just months into the Marlins' first year of existence. It resulted in the first home run by a Marlins player in All-Star history, and the blast was a towering,
The first swing a Marlins player ever took in All-Star competition came in the first inning of the 1993 Midsummer Classic, just months into the Marlins' first year of existence. It resulted in the first home run by a Marlins player in All-Star history, and the blast was a towering, majestic one at that. The ball departed from the left hand of Mark Langston and met the ferocious bat path of Gary Sheffield, who sent it deep into the Baltimore night.
Sheffield's homer served as a grand arrival and a bright spot for an expansion organization that went 64-98 in its debut season. The Marlins may have needed a few years to find their footing, but they had a star in Sheffield, whom they'd eventually sign to a record contract for a third baseman.
Sheffield would be productive over parts of six seasons with the Marlins, but he exploded in 1996, hitting .314/.465/.624 with 42 homers and 120 RBI. Everything broke right that year, and in the end, all it took was a period of sustained health for him to showcase his otherworldly talent in the batter's box.
Using his signature, menacing stance and rhythmic, lashing swing, Sheffield bat-wagged his way to then-franchise records in almost every offensive category. His 1996 totals for home runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging remain the club's top marks to this day, giving Sheffield's campaign a strong case for the most productive season in Marlins history.
Before Sheffield, that distinction would probably have been most accurately ascribed to Jeff Conine, for either his 1994 or '95 campaign. Conine is the player most closely associated with those early Marlins years, and he's remained tied to the franchise in a variety of roles ever since.
Conine began shaping his "Mr. Marlin" legacy in 1993, when he placed third in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He then put up an excellent slash line of .319/.373/.525 over 115 games in the strike-shortened '94 season before posting nearly identical rate stats, along with 25 home runs and a career-high 105 RBI, in '95. He made the All-Star team and earned Most Valuable Player votes in both of those seasons.
Conine's longstanding relationship with the Marlins may make him the franchise's signature player. But by WAR, the advanced metric that attempts to quantify all of a player's attributes, he's the ninth best among position players in team history (at least by Baseball-Reference.com's calculation). WAR is meant to be an estimation, though -- a guide more than an absolute answer. It's reputability as the utmost authority is worthy of debate. What isn't is that the Marlins in Conine's company, at one point or another, enjoyed some of the most productive individual seasons in club history. Let's explore those players and their accomplishments.
Giancarlo Stanton, 2014
Video: Stanton crushed five longest Marlins homers in 2014
Stanton -- already the franchise's top player by WAR despite having debuted in 2010 -- has led the league in slugging twice. The second time, in 2014, he placed second in NL MVP voting, and probably would have won had a facial injury (hence the extended batting helmet) not ended his season more than two weeks early. Stanton hit .288/.395/.555 with a league-leading 37 homers and 299 total bases that year.
Hanley Ramirez, 2009
Stanton's 2014 showing was the most lauded campaign by a Marlins player since 2009, when Ramirez became the first player in franchise history to win a batting title (Dee Gordon won the second, in 2015). The shortstop also reached base more than 40 percent of the time and drove in 106 runs, earning a Silver Slugger Award and a second-place finish in NL MVP voting. Ramirez's 7.3 WAR that season set a franchise record, even though such metrics weren't yet widely used.
Jose Cabrera, 2006
Video: MIA@BAL: Cabrera gets an RBI single on attempted IBB
WAR may not have been in fans' vernacular in the mid-2000s, but batting average certainly was, and Ramirez's .342 mark in 2009 still stands as the Marlins' record. It broke the previous mark set by Cabrera three years earlier. And while it's difficult to choose just one of Cabrera's seasons that stands out above the rest -- he averaged a .313/.388/.542 slash line over five years in South Florida -- according to WAR, Cabrera's best year was 2006, when he hit .339/.430/.568 and earned his third-straight All-Star selection.
Carlos Delgado, 2005
Cabrera was certainly the best hitter on that 2006 team, but he may not have been a year before, when first baseman Delgado put up monster numbers (.301/.399/.582, 33 home runs) in his only season with the Fish. The Marlins finished with an 83-79 record thanks to their MVP candidate, who finished sixth in NL voting, just behind none other than Cabrera.
Luis Castillo, 2002
Along with Delgado, that 2005 squad featured a number of veterans without whom a discussion of single-season Marlins accomplishments would not be complete. The team included several stalwarts in second baseman Castillo (35-game hit streak, league-leading 48 steals in 2002), third baseman Mike Lowell (32 homers in 2003) and center fielder Juan Pierre (league-best 221 hits in 2004). Castillo amassed a 22.3 WAR over 10 seasons in Florida and batted better than .300 for seven of his 15 career campaigns, but 2002 was surely one of his best.
Dontrelle Willis, 2005
Despite all that lineup power, the Marlins' most lethal members from 2002-05 were all pitchers. It's been that way for much of their history, with dynamic hurlers like Josh Beckett, Jose Fernandez and Willis enjoying particular periods of dominance on the mound.
In 2005, it was Willis, two years removed from his NL Rookie of the Year season and at the zenith of his career. The exuberant lefty set or tied franchise records for wins (22) and shutouts (5) on his way to a 2.63 ERA (152 ERA+) over 34 starts.
Kevin Brown, 1996
Willis placed second in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2005, which tied him with Brown (1996) for the highest finish of any Marlins contender. Brown likely wouldn't have had any trouble winning the vote had it been held today, since he outpitched winner John Smoltz by more than a full run (1.89 ERA to 2.94), while posting a better WHIP (0.944 to 1.001) and a higher WAR (8.0 to 7.3).
"The only expectations should be the expectations that you put on yourself," Brown said at the time. "[Those] expectations should dictate how you play. Always put the same effort into everything."
Brown was one of the most dominant starters in baseball from '96-'97, and his tenure in South Florida is best remembered for numerous '97 highlights: a no-hitter against San Francisco in June and a complete-game performance in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Braves.
But '96 was Brown's better statistical year. His 1.89 ERA in 32 starts set a franchise single-season mark that will likely never be broken, and today remains one of just eight sub-2.00 ERA seasons by a starter since.
Jose Fernandez, 2016
The Marlins cultivated more than their share of talented right-handers after Brown -- see Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Josh Johnson -- but never found one quite as dominant until Fernandez debuted in 2013. He did almost everything differently than Brown, except rack up numbers. While Brown was stoic and serious, Fernandez was gleeful and jovial. Brown used a heavy sinker to induce soft contact; Fernandez deployed a wipeout slider to lead the league in K rate. Brown's career lasted 19 seasons. Fernandez's was tragically ephemeral.
If we're going to focus on one of Fernandez's seasons, it should be 2016, his last. At just 23, after injuries had limited him to 19 starts over the previous two seasons, he hit his stride, going 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA in 29 starts. It was, finally, nearly a full season of that vicious fastball and hellacious slider, that laugh, that smile, that fire.
"There was just joy with him when he played," says skipper Don Mattingly. "When he pitched, you'd see that little kid you see when you watch kids play Little League. That's the passion he felt about playing."
For now, Fernandez remains atop this list. And although he cannot be replaced, inevitably, another player -- maybe Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna or the aforementioned Stanton -- will come along and assume this high honor. After all, for a young franchise such as the Marlins, history is being re-written each and every day.
This article appears in the 2017 MLB Official All-Star Game Program. Read more features on allstargame.com.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.