MORE

You Move, You Lose

Joe Rocco

What's up with Wayne Huizenga's suits? The chipper green number the mogul wore Sunday for the Dolphins' last game made him look like a racetrack official or an Irish bureaucrat. A billion dollars and he wears bad suits. Just goes to show that all the money in the world can't buy you style.

And it apparently can't buy you football sense either. Think about the move he made in the case of Dave Wannstedt. Instead of firing the coach for missing the playoffs two years in a row, he's keeping him around for another year or two.

It's almost as senseless as the Marlins' losing the superstar of their World Series championship team -- which, in a weird way, is connected to the Dolphins' plight. More on that later.

Huizenga decided to keep Wannstedt and hire a general manager to oversee personnel. The irony is that Wannstedt has made decent decisions in that regard. Getting Ricky Williams was sweet. Quarterback Jay Fiedler isn't great, but he's good enough. Junior Seau and Sammy Knight were strong defensive pickups. Don't blame the offensive line's injuries and underachievement on the coach. Receiver Derrius Thompson may have been a bust, but hey, it happens. And Brian Griese? Well, none of us knew he would be that bad, did we?

The only way a new GM is going to help Miami is if he holds Wannstedt's hand on the sideline. The mustachioed man with the eerily perfect TV studio hair too often plays footsieball instead of football, and that's the reason he should have been kicked out of South Florida this week.

Witness the crucial October 19 game against the New England Patriots. On that day, there was still baseball infield dirt on the Pro Player grass. Any kicker will tell you it's at least twice as hard to kick field goals on dirt, which is probably why Olindo Mare had a 35-yard try blocked with two minutes left in the game and missed another in overtime before the Patriots won on a Tom Brady bomb to Troy Brown.

Mare has gotten a lot of grief over the misses, but he doesn't deserve it. He never should have been out there for the first one. The Dolphins were driving and might have scored a game-winning touchdown if not for their pensive coach. They should have at least tried. Even if the first kick had been good, you give Tom Brady, a great pressure quarterback, plenty of time to tie or win the game. You go for the throat in that situation, not the lapels.

But Wannstedt played for the field goal all the way, running the ball on third down to set it up. When it was blocked, the coach got exactly what he deserved. He'd turned the Dolphins into the real Chickens of the Sea.

Wannstedt also blew the game at snowy New England. Down 3-0 in the third quarter, the Dolphins had a third-and-three at the Patriots' ten-yard line. Aside from an occasionally accurate fling, Fiedler was playing like George Plimpton back from the grave. Williams had run the offense most of the way down the field on the drive. With the snow, you pound the ball in that situation. If Williams doesn't pick up the first down, you kick the chip shot, tie the game, and give it back to the defense, which was dominating Brady and his boys.

Instead, Fiedler dropped back to pass, was sacked, and coughed up the football. End of game. End of season. Should have been the end of Wannstedt's reign of error with the Dolphins.


Strangely, the Dolphins' demise was helped along by the Marlins' miracle. Had they not beat the Chicago Cubs to win the National League pennant, there would have been no infield dirt to foil Mare that day in October.

And the reason the Marlins were still playing is no secret: Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, the only sure Hall of Famer on the team, had a revelatory and volcanic post-season, the kind of play that the average fan gets to see, oh, maybe once every generation or so, if he's lucky.

But Rodriguez, of course, is gone. And he left all too quietly.

"It wasn't tough to wave goodbye to Pudge Rodriguez," Sun-Sentinel nonsense-spinner Dave Hyde wrote December 9, the day after the announcement. "Not at all."

Columnist Hyde, who seems to be steadily losing whatever clammy grip he ever had on reality, went on to say that giving up Rodriguez was "smart moneyball." The Miami Herald, for its part, featured a story about the "silver lining" of Pudge's departure -- more cash for bullpen help.

This is like telling a wounded soldier from Iraq to look on the bright side: He may have lost his right leg, but he gets a really cool prosthetic in the bargain, along with lifetime membership to the VA.

Truth time: The Marlins never would have made it to the World Series without Pudge, and, though they'll be competitive and might even make the playoffs, they won't win it next year without him.

Close your eyes and remember the decisive games against San Francisco for the division championship, when Pudge all but single-handedly won two games for Florida in the space of 24 hours.

It culminated in an image that should be carved in marble. After absorbing a wild collision by San Francisco's J.T. Snow at the plate in the top of the ninth inning, Pudge leaped up to reveal the ball in his hand, holding it as if it were a newly discovered element, a miracle, the answer to all questions. The look on his face, with thick charcoal under his cat eyes, was an atomic explosion of glory and defiance. He held on.

They should have made a 12-foot-tall statue of Pudge holding that ball and put it at Pro Player Stadium in place of the Dan Marino monument, which signifies nothing more than soul-siphoning defeat.

But there won't be a Pudge statue next year. Not even a bobblehead. The Marlins let him go over a few million measly bucks.

And, strangely, it's as if his unforgettable achievements have gone with him. The Marlins are erasing him from our history. The day after it was announced that the Marlins had failed to sign the catcher, the team mass-mailed a season-ticket pamphlet throughout South Florida. Among several pictures, there was none of the superstar.

The pamphlet also included a list of individual achievements. Jack McKeon, Manager of the Year. Dontrelle Willis, Rookie of the Year. Mike Lowell, Silver Slugger. Josh Beckett, World Series MVP. Juan Pierre, Stolen Bases Champ.

No Pudge, MVP of the championship series.

It's good that special Sports Illustrated World Series issues, which show Rodriguez hitting a homer, are still gracing the checkout aisles at Publix. It's all that's left of the future legend. And that's just flat-out weird.

Blame moneyball. It can be debated how far apart Pudge and the Marlins were in terms of contract. Pudge wanted four years and $40 million. The best the Marlins would offer is $24 million for three years. I'm guessing if they had added $5 million to their offer -- or a mere $1.67 million a year -- Rodriguez would have agreed.

But Marlins' management wouldn't budge, so we lost Pudge. It's true that he probably won't get the money he wants from any other team, but he deserved it in South Florida. He made baseball history here, but you never know if that kind of magic will translate elsewhere.

Pudge is the opposite of the only other truly great catcher I've seen play, Johnny Bench. (Mike Piazza doesn't make the cut because he plays the position like a bush leaguer.) Bench made the ungainly, hunching catcher's spot seem absolutely graceful. He was cool and easy on the field like a southern breeze. Pudge doesn't make it look easy -- he has worked too hard for that. He isn't cool either. Rodriguez burns. And the furnace brimming behind that facemask fueled the World Series run.

Now, thanks to moneyball, we're left with a void where the Pudge used to be. And that will make for a cold October in Fishland this year.


Sponsor Content