The Marlins' version of the Instant World Champions Exile Association is not, as widely assumed, the product of a fin de si�cle pattern of economic behavior. The boom-and-bust mentality that has seen high-priced Florida players like Gary Sheffield and Charles Johnson trundled off like a pile of overnight packages is actually an ancient baseball tradition. Building a championship team only to tear it down is as old as the World Series itself. Older, in fact.
The eeriest of several parallels to the Marlins is the 1887 Detroit Wolverines, the National League champs who upended the favored St. Louis Browns of the American Association in a tiresome 15-game championship series that antedated the first World Series by 16 years. Like Florida, the Wolverines were the product of free spending by owner Fred K. Stearns, a pharmaceuticals magnate who was the Wayne Huizenga of the Gaslight Era.
In September 1885, upon hearing that the Buffalo Bisons were about to go belly-up, Stearns, whose Wolverines were 41-67 that year, simply bought all the Bisons' players for $7,000. The deal was voided by the league, but after the season, Buffalo's Big Four infield of future Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, Jack Rowe and Deacon White visited the hunting lodge of a Detroit team exec and were signed as "free agents." After the start of the '86 season Detroit acquired star second baseman Fred Dunlap from the St. Louis Maroons, and by '87 it was the best team in baseball.
Despite winning the championship, Stearns didn't make money—or at least enough of it. Barely two months after the 1887 season ended, Dunlap was sold to Pittsburgh for $5,000. Hall of Fame slugger Sam Thompson, the Wolverines' rightfielder, missed much of the ensuing season with a bum arm, and on July 9, 1888, Dun-lap's replacement, Richardson, sustained a season-ending broken ankle. Detroit was somehow still in first place at the end of July, but it lost 16 straight in August. During the '88 championship series the news broke that Detroit planned to peddle its players. Brouthers, Richardson and catchers Charlie Bennett and Charlie Ganzel went to the Boston Beaneaters for cash. Rowe, White, centerfielder Ned Hanlon and 30-game winner Pete Conway were sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Thompson went to the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he would star throughout the '90s. On November 21, 392 days after they'd won a championship, the Wolverines went out of business and returned their franchise to the National League.
More recent World Series winners have been quickly dismembered as well. Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager Connie Mack was so disheartened (and financially strapped) by his defending world champs' having been swept in the 1914 Series that by June 1915 he had gotten rid of more than half his Series-winning roster. Mack's sale of second baseman Eddie Collins to the White Sox for $50,000 set the standard for the kind of deals now being done in Florida.
The Marlins, of course, have sped up the process impressively. The stretch between Florida's World Series win and the announcement of the Sheffield-Bonilla-Johnson exodus was a tidy 200 days. So to complete the Wolverines comparison, all the Marlins have to do is go out of business this winter. Go out of business officially, that is.