Legends On Deck

A Look Back At Some Of The All-Time Miracle Stars

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Most regular Miracle fans remember seeing the likes of Brad Radke, Joe Mays, Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz and Luis Rivas (among other Twins stars) play for the Ft. Myers Miracle at Hammond Stadium, over the last eleven years. But, prior to moving back to Ft. Myers in 1992, the Miracle had a rich history in Miami as the Miami Marlins, Miami Orioles and Miami Miracle.

As many long-time regular fans in Ft. Myers can vouch for, most Florida State League franchises have had some type of changes over the years, including changes in home city, team name and/or affiliation. The Miracle franchise is no exception and has certainly had its share of these types of changes as the decades have gone by.

The one constant theme, though, has been a great reputation for sending an impressive list of alumni on to “The Show” and some, on to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. (In fact, the Miracle are the only Florida State League franchise to be able to boast three alumni as Hall of Famers.) Here, we take a brief look at some of the all-time greats of the Miracle franchise from the past, with a short biography on each.

Ferguson Jenkins was the first Hall of Famer to play for the Miracle franchise. The year was 1962 and the Miracle were then known as the Miami Marlins and were a Class D team in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. (The Florida State League became a Class A league the next season.) Jenkins hurled a 7-2 record, with an unbelievable ERA of only 0.97, for the Marlins that year. The next season, the young Phillies hopeful pitched a 12-5 record. Jenkins made it up to the Majors with the Phillies just two years later and went on to win 284 games with four Major League teams. He was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 1991.

Jim Palmer, also a Hall of Famer, pitched for the Miami Marlins in parts of the 1967 and ’68 seasons. His manager in 1967, with Miami, was none other than the late Cal Ripken, Sr., the father of the famous Baltimore Orioles player, the later of whom Palmer would be teammates with for four seasons in Baltimore. Palmer was already an established Major League pitcher, having posted a 15-10 record in 1966. He also was 1-0 in the ‘66 World Series, as his Orioles defeated the Dodgers in four games. On an extended rehab assignment, he started five games with the Marlins, in 1967, going 1-1, with an ERA of 2.00. During this time, he struck out 16 batters in 27 innings. He also took the mound for Miami the following season, starting two games and posting an ERA of 0.00, with no decisions. Over the course of the rest of his Major League career, in 16 more seasons with Baltimore, Palmer won 20, or more, games in a season a total of eight times. He went on to win 268 games in his career in the Majors. He is also the only pitcher in Major League history to have won at least one World Series game in each of three different decades. He was inducted into The Hall of Fame in 1990.

Eddie Murray, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 27, 2003, became the third player in the history of the Miracle franchise to be so honored. Murray played for the Miracle (then known as the Miami Orioles) in 1974, during his first full season of professional baseball. He hit .289 for Miami that year, in 131 games, including 12 homers, seven triples and 29 doubles, which was a Miracle franchise record for two-baggers, until Doug Mientkiewicz broke it in 1996. Murray went on to play 21 seasons in the Major Leagues, mainly with Baltimore. He played in three World Series (including one championship with the 1983 Orioles) and played in six All-Star games. He amassed 504 home runs and 1917 RBI, in his Major League career. He was voted into the Hall of Fame, in January of 2003, in his first year of eligibility.

One of Murray’s teammates in 1974 was possible future Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Martinez, who made his professional debut with the Miami Orioles that year. In 25 games, (all starts) Martinez went 15-6 (2.06 ERA) and pitched an amazing 10 complete games, including four shutouts. He also had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 162/53, in 179 innings of work. His numbers for the next season, 1975, with Miami, were almost as incredible, as he went 12-4, in 20 starts, with nine complete games and three shutouts. He then made it up to Baltimore in 1976, where he would be a fixture for the next decade. He briefly came back to Miami twice more during his career, in 1980, on a rehab assignment and in 1987, as a free agent. During his 1980 tenure with Miami, he went 0-0 in two games with an ERA of 0.00. In 1987, the Miami Marlins were independent and Martinez pitched there for three starts (posting a 1-1 record), before re-signing with Montreal, whom he had been traded to the previous year. Just a few seasons later, in 1991, he threw a perfect game against the Dodgers. This was only the 13th such game in modern Major League history. Martinez would go on to win 15 or more games in a season, four different times, over the last ten years of his career. All told, Martinez won a total of 245 Major League games, retiring at the end of 1998, after stints with the Indians, Mariners and Braves. He became eligible for The Hall of Fame, for the first time, this year. Although he didn’t receive enough votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame and his Expos jersey, worn during his perfect game, is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame. As well, he still has a chance of getting voted in at some point in the future.

Another Baltimore Orioles hero who played for the Miracle franchise (under the Miami Orioles name) was none other than Cal Ripken, Jr., who played most of the 1979 season with the club. In 105 games with Miami, Ripken hit .303-5-54, which included his first-ever professional home run on July 2nd. His performance that year earned him a spot on the Florida State League All-Star roster. Two years later, he was in Baltimore to stay. He had 3184 hits, 431 home runs and 1695 RBI in his Major League career. He has appeared in 18 Major League All–Star games (including two times as the game’s MVP) and played in one World Series, which the Orioles won in five games versus Philadelphia, in 1983. Ripken is probably best known, however, for breaking Lou Gehrig‘s Major League record for most consecutive games played, in 1995. The former Miami Oriole will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, in his first year of eligibility, becoming (at minimum) the fourth former Miracle franchise player to get in.

In 1982, Baltimore ended their sixteen-year working agreement with the Miami Orioles, so the franchise dusted off the old Marlins name from the ‘60s and was back in business right away as an independent member of the Florida State League. They still got a few players on loan from the Orioles organization, but, for the most part, were on their own to sign whatever kind of talent they could find that was available. One player who was available was local hero, Jose Canseco, who the Marlins signed out of Coral Park High School, near West Miami. Although, he only went one for nine, in six games, during his tenure with Miami, the Oakland A’s saw some promise and purchased his contract. Three years later, he joined Oakland in the Major Leagues. Canseco led the league in both home runs (42) and RBI (124), in 1988, while still a member of the A’s. Three years later, with Oakland, he would again lead the league in home runs with 44. Canseco would go on to play for six more Major League teams, retiring in 2002. He was an annual regular in the MLB All-Star game, for much of his career and played in four World Series, winning two rings. His career MLB totals include 1877 hits, 462 home runs and 1407 RBI.

During the 1983 and ’84 seasons, the Miami Marlins were affiliated with the San Diego Padres. There were several top Padres prospects who played for the Marlins during this era, a few of which, made the Majors. Making his pro debut during that first year was catcher Benito Santiago, then only 18 years old and fresh out of high school in Puerto Rico. Santiago caught 122 games that year, hitting .247-5-56 for the season. He also banged out 25 doubles and three triples.Three years later, he would make his Major League debut with the Padres. Ironically, after seven years in San Diego, he joined another team called the Marlins who played in Miami–the Florida Marlins. Benito was their original catcher and played for them for two years. Since then, he has played for six different Major League teams and is currently the starting catcher with the Kansas City Royals.

These players represent just a handful of some of the all-time great Major League players who have played for the Miracle franchise, at one time or another. Some are in the Hall of Fame, while others may, or may not, ever get there, but each one has made a lasting contribution to the history and legacy of both Major League Baseball and the Miracle franchise. With all of the Twins talent that has been flowing through Ft. Myers over the last decade, though, don’t be surprised if you see a few more former Miracle players become Hall of Famers in the decades to come.

This story appeared in the 2004 edition of The Fort Myers Miracle Official Souvenir Program. Copyright 2003, Kurt Schweizer.

Kurt Schweizer

Kurt Schweizer

Schweizer is a writer, musician, photographer and a minor league baseball historian. His formal experience in the baseball world includes a stint as an intern, account executive and radio producer/broadcaster for the Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League from 1997-1999. Schweizer has written on the history of the Miami Marlins/Ft. Myers Miracle franchise and his work has been featured on the team's website, as well as other various locations on the internet and in official team publications for the Miracle and the Minnesota Twins. In 2001, Schweizer was one of the founding members of The Minor League Baseball Alumni Association. In 2007, Schweizer served as one of the main interviewees, as well as a contributing photographer and historical consultant for a PBS documentary titled, "White Elephant: What is there to save?", dealing with the history of Miami Stadium.
Kurt Schweizer