1997 Baseball Season

Jim Thome hit 40 home runs for Cleveland in 1997.
Jim Thome hit 40 home runs for Cleveland in 1997.

The 1997 baseball season was a good one for fans of the Florida Marlins -- they didn't have to wait long to celebrate a world championship. The 1993 expansion club squeaked into the playoffs through the wildcard but knocked off three heavily favored teams to sit atop the baseball world -- if only for a little while.

The Marlins, headed by veteran manager Jim Leyland, featured just three pitchers in double figures in wins (Kevin Brown at 16-8, Alex Fernandez at 17-12, and Al Leiter at 11-9). But they had quality players at every position, including left fielder Moises Alou (23 homers, 115 runs batted in) and Gold Glove catcher Charles Johnson (19 dingers, 63 RBI).

After earning the wildcard berth, Florida knocked off the Giants in the first round. San Francisco led in each game, but ultimately fell. The underdog Marlins then took the Braves in six to win the National League title, battering Atlanta pitching stars Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Prior to losing the NLCS, the Braves had easily extinguished National League Central champ Houston.

The biggest individual stories in the National League were Tony Gwynn, who hit .372 in winning his eighth bat crown, and MVP winner Larry Walker, who slugged 49 homers for the Rockies. Only one National League pitcher, Denny Neagle of Atlanta, won 20 games, but the senior circuit's Cy Young Award winner was Montreal's Pedro Martinez (1.90 ERA, 305 whiffs).

Meanwhile, despite great seasons from American League Cy Young winner Roger Clemens (21-7, 2.05 ERA) and Randy Johnson (20-4), homers flew out of American League ballparks. Mark McGwire rapped 34 homers for Oakland before a July 31 trade to St. Louis, where he added 24 more. Big Mac's 58 homers were the most hit by any player since Roger Maris in 1961. Frank Thomas of the White Sox hit .347 to win the batting title and added 35 homers of his own. Seattle's Ken Griffey, the American League's MVP, knocked 56 four-baggers and drove in 147.

Griffey's heroics helped the Mariners win the American League West, but Seattle was shut down by Baltimore in the first round of playoffs. The Orioles then went on to lose to the Cleveland Indians, who had previously vanquished the wildcard Yankees, in the ALCS.

Cleveland connected for a club-record 220 homers, with Jim Thome (40), David Justice (33), and Matt Williams (32) helping to overcome the Tribe's mediocre starting pitching.

The 1997 World Series, though sometimes comically sloppy, was highly entertaining. After splitting the first two games in Miami, the teams moved to Cleveland and were greeted by high winds and freezing rain. Game three, which took more than four hours to play, featured six errors in a 14-11 Marlins win. The Tribe had blown an earlier 7-3 lead and allowed seven runs in the ninth.

The teams then traded victories before returning to much warmer Miami. In game six, Chad Ogea stepped up and pitched Cleveland to a 4-1 win, forcing a final winner-take-all matchup.

Game seven was one of the most thrilling World Series games ever. The Indians held a 2-0 lead before the Marlins scored one on Bobby Bonilla's seventh-inning homer. In the last of the ninth, facing defeat, Florida tallied again on second baseman Craig Counsell's sacrifice fly.

In the home 11th, Counsell reached on Tony Fernandez's error. A walk and an infield out later, he stood on third. Marlins shortstop Edgar Renteria then rapped a single up the middle to score Counsell, end the series, and send 67,204 fans into hysterics.

However, Miami fans' ardor was cooled during the winter. Owner Wayne Huizenga, intending to sell the club, cut costs by trading most of the key players from the series club.

The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1997 baseball season.

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