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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1997 Baseball Season Headlines
In 1997, Mark McGwire hit 58 home runs, and Barry Bonds had great stats -- again. Here are some of the headlines from the 1997 baseball season:
Larry Walker Cops 1997 MVP Award
Larry Walker did it all for the Colorado Rockies in 1997. The oft-injured Walker managed to stay healthy and (not coincidentally) enjoyed his finest season. He hit for power (a league-leading 49 homers) and average (.366), drove in 130 runs, stole 33 bases, drew 78 walks, and even threw out 12 baserunners from right field. As his reward, Walker took home the National League's Most Valuable Player trophy.
Mark McGwire Blasts 58 Homers
A July 31 deal sent Mark McGwire from the Oakland Athletics to the grateful St. Louis Cardinals. McGwire had already hit 34 homers for Oakland and added 24 more in 51 games with the Redbirds, becoming an instant fan favorite in the Mound City. His 58 total homers tied the mark set by Jimmie Foxx in 1932 for the most ever by a righthanded hitter.
Ken Griffey Jr.: 56 HRs, MVP Award
Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. batted .304 with 56 home runs and 147 RBI (both of which led the American League) in 1997 to become the 13th man to win unanimous selection as his league's Most Valuable Player. Griffey had the best season of his career, leading the Mariners to the playoffs. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, Seattle lost to Baltimore in the Division Series as Junior was just 2-for-15.
Mike Piazza Raps .362, 40 HRs
Cementing his reputation as the top offensive catcher in baseball history, Dodger Mike Piazza rapped 201 hits in 1997 and batted .362. He added 40 homers and 124 RBI. In another season, Piazza might well have piled up the awards. But for the second straight year, he finished second in National League MVP voting -- this time behind Larry Walker of the Rockies.
Craig Biggio Rings Up 146 Runs
Craig Biggio, Houston's scrappy second baseman, had one of the all-time great run-scoring campaigns in 1997. Crossing the plate 146 times during the club's division-winning season, Biggio scored more runs than any National League player since Hall of Famer Chuck Klein tallied 152 in 1932. How did Biggio do it? Batting .309 with 84 walks, 22 homers, 37 doubles, and 47 steals didn't hurt, and batting ahead of Jeff Bagwell helped too.
Roger Clemens Wins 1996 Triple Crown
Just one year after being called "washed up" by some in Boston, Roger Clemens won his fourth American League Cy Young Award -- for the Blue Jays. Clemens won the pitching "Triple Crown," leading the American League in strikeouts, wins, and ERA, becoming the first American League hurler to do so since Detroit's Hal Newhouser in 1945. Oddly, Clemens was 21-4 against the junior circuit but 0-3 against National League clubs.
Tino Martinez Steps It Up
First baseman Tino Martinez of the Yankees, always an outstanding defensive player, enjoyed a breakout 1997 season. Finishing second in the American League with 44 homers and 141 RBI, he set a new major league record by knocking in 34 runs in April. He led the Yankees in most key offensive categories as the club won the American League wildcard berth.
Barry Bonds Piles Up BBs, SBs
The seemingly mechanical superstar, Barry Bonds of San Francisco enjoyed another monster year in 1997, hitting .291 with 145 walks and 40 home runs. He also swiped 37 bases. It was the 33-year-old Bonds's fifth season of 30 homers and 30 steals, matching the mark held by another star Giants outfielder -- his father, Bobby Bonds.
Check out more headlines from the 1997 season on the next page.
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More 1997 Baseball Season Headlines
Below are more headlines from the 1997 baseball season, including Eric Davis continuing to play even after a cancer diagnosis and Nomar Garciaparra's amazing rookie year.
Pedro Martinez Mows 'Em Down
Young Pedro Martinez of Montreal made a quantum leap in 1997 and became the game's top pitcher. Pacing the National League with a 1.90 ERA and 13 complete games, Martinez fanned 305 hitters and fashioned a 17-8 mark for an Expos team that finished 78-84. The financially strapped Montreal club responded to Pedro's great season by trading him to the Boston Red Sox.
Eric Davis Back from Illness
When Orioles outfielder Eric Davis was diagnosed in midseason with colon cancer, many thought he would retire. Davis, however, returned to active duty on September 15. He even clouted a home run in the Birds' playoff series loss against Cleveland. After the season, he was presented with the Baseball Writers Association's Tony Conigliaro Award for his courage and determination.
Denny Neagle Goes 20-5, 2.97
In his first full season for the Atlanta Braves, left-handed hurler Denny Neagle blossomed into one of the league's most effective pitchers. He set career highs in nearly every category, ending with a 20-5 mark and a fine 2.97 ERA. The 29-year-old, who got his big outs with a devastating change, also tossed 12 scoreless innings in the NLCS before undergoing shoulder surgery days later.
Tony Gwynn Wins National League Bat Crown
San Diego's amazing Tony Gwynn enjoyed his greatest season in 1997. Playing on bad knees at age 37, Gwynn led the majors by batting .372, added 49 doubles, and drove in 119 runs. He won his fourth straight batting crown (and eighth overall), rapped 220 hits, and even hit an inside-the-park grand slam against Los Angeles.
Jim Thome Jacks 40 Homers
When the Cleveland Indians acquired star third baseman Matt Williams from San Francisco, holdover Jim Thome took his glove across the diamond to first base and just kept on hitting. He slugged a career-best 40 homers, drove in 102, and led the American League by drawing 120 walks for the Tribe in 1997. Thome then added two homers in the 1997 World Series.
A Star Is Born in Beantown
Busting into the majors with one of the greatest rookie seasons in recent memory, Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra hit .306 with 44 doubles and 30 homers and paced the American League in at-bats, triples, and hits. An outstanding shortstop with good range and a rocket arm, the former first-round pick won favor both from fans and sports writers, who voted him a unanimous Rookie of the Year.
Chad Ogea's Two Series Wins Fall Short
Righty Chad Ogea of the Indians won two games in the 1997 World Series -- both victories, ironically, coming in Florida. Ogea (just 8-9 in the regular season) and the Tribe had vanquished the Yankees in a five-game Division Series and the Orioles in a six-game ALCS to reach the fall classic, but once again came away disappointed at Series time.
Deion Sanders Returns in Style
After taking the 1996 season off to concentrate exclusively on his football career, Deion Sanders returned to the Cincinnati Reds in 1997. Despite playing just 115 games (still a career high), Sanders finished second in the National League in stolen bases with 56. He batted .273 and led the injury-riddled Reds with 127 hits in what would be his final season as a major league baseball player.
Craig Counsell Scores Winning Run
Craig Counsell a 26-year-old rookie, took over at second base for Florida late in the 1997 season and batted .299 in 51 games to help spark the club's surprising 1997 World Championship.
The next page highlights key events and details from the 1997 baseball season.
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1997 Baseball Season Highlights
The 1997 baseball season saw the upstart Florida Marlins making a big splash. The unlikely Florida team won the 1997 World Series. Mark McGwire had 58 home runs -- the most since Roger Maris in 1961. Below, you will find the highlights from the 1997 baseball season:
- Florida wins the National League wildcard berth, edging Los Angeles by four games.
- The Marlins plow through playoff opponents San Francisco and Atlanta to advance to the 1997 World Series in just their fifth season.
- The Indians win the American League Central by six games, then outlast the Yankees and Orioles to win the pennant.
- The Marlins win a thrilling World Series, sliding by Cleveland 3-2 in an 11-inning game seven on Edgar Renteria's RBI single.
- Sandy Alomar of the Indians bats .367 and knocks in ten runs against Florida in the 1997 World Series.
- Tony Gwynn of the Padres wins his eighth National League bat crown, hitting .372.
- Marlins right-hander Livan Hernandez wins twice in the NLCS and twice more in the 1997 World Series, winning both LCS and Series MVP honors.
- Atlanta wins 19 times in April to set a major league record for the season's first month.
- Giants improve 22 games and win the National League West.
- Florida's Kevin Brown no-hits the Giants 9-0 at Candlestick Park on June 10.
- In the first-ever combined ten-inning no-hitter, Pittsburgh's Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon blank the Astros 3-0 on July 12.
- In the 50th year since Jackie Robinson broke the color line, baseball announces plans to retire his No. 42 permanently.
- The major leagues institute interleague play. On June 12, the Giants beat Texas 4-3 in the first interleague game.
- Marlins sign outfielder Gary Sheffield to a six-year contract extension worth $61 million.
- Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. leads the American League with 56 homers, 120 runs scored, and 147 RBI.
- Griffey is the unanimous American League MVP and takes home his fourth Gold Glove.
- Frank Thomas of the White Sox leads the American League with a .347 average and a .461 on-base percentage.
- Colorado's Larry Walker paces the National League in on-base percentage (.452) and slugging percentage (.720).
- Walker wins National League MVP honors and snags his first Gold Glove.
- Montreal's Mark Grudzielanek hits 54 doubles.
- Indians catcher Sandy Alomar's two-run homer carries the American League to a 3-1 All-Star Game win in Cleveland.
- Knuckleballer Phil Niekro is the only player inducted by the writers into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra is the unanimous choice for American League ROTY.
- Scott Rolen of the Phillies is a unanimous National League ROTY.
- Juan Gonzalez of Texas hits 42 homers despite missing the first month with a thumb injury.
- Labor-relations trailblazer Curt Flood dies at age 59.
- Expo pitcher Pedro Martinez's 13 complete games are the most by an National League pitcher since 1988.
- Martinez cops the National League's Cy Young Award.
- Barry Bonds of the Giants amasses 40 homers and 145 walks.
- Mark McGwire hits 34 homers for the Athletics-despite being traded to St. Louis on July 31.
- McGwire's 58 homers tie the mark set by Jimmie Foxx for most ever by a righthanded batter.
- Randy Myers of Baltimore blows just one save in 46 chances.
- Roger Clemens of Toronto wins his fourth American League Cy Young.
- Clemens leads the American League in wins, strikeouts, ERA, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.
For more highlights of the 1997 baseball season, see the next page.
To learn more about baseball, see:
More 1997 Baseball Season Highlights
Below are more highlights of the 1997 baseball season highlights, including Tony Womack's 32 steals and a 3-game series in Honolulu between the Cardinals and the Padres:
- San Diego's Greg Vaughn signs a $15 million contract, then hits .216 in 120 games.
- Randy Johnson of the Mariners strikes out 19 batters twice during the season and finishes 20-4 with 291 whiffs.
- Tony Womack of the Pirates steals 32 consecutive bases en route to leading the National League with 60 swipes.
- Yankee Mariano Rivera saves 43 with a 1.88 ERA and is the American League Fireman of the Year.
- Rookie Rey Ordonez of the Mets wins the National League Gold Glove at shortstop.
- The Cardinals and Padres play a three-game series in Honolulu on April 19-20.
- Angels left-hander Chuck Finley wins ten consecutive starts.
- Curt Schilling of the Phillies whiffs 319, most ever by a National League right-hander.
- Cincinnati's Jeff Shaw is named National League Fireman of the Year with 42 saves, 38 more than his previous career high.
- Greg Maddux of Atlanta is 19-4 and leads the National League in winning percentage.
- Andres Galarraga of the Rockies paces the National League in RBI (140) for the second straight season.
- St. Louis hitters strike out 1,191 times, just 12 short of the senior-loop record.
- Brewers reliever Doug Jones walks only nine hitters in 80-2/3 innings.
- Sammy Sosa of Chicago homers 36 times but also leads the National League with 174 strikeouts.
- Cincinnati's Deion Sanders steals 56 bases, then retires to concentrate on pro football.
- Thomas and Albert Belle of the White Sox become the second pair of teammates ever to hit 30 homers and bat in 100 runs in a season.
- Just 24-61 at the All-Star break, the Phils win 36 of their last 58.
- Maddux wins his eighth Gold Glove-all consecutive.
- Bonds's Gold Glove is his seventh.
- Walker's 409 total bases are the most since Stan Musial had 429 in 1948.
- Catcher Charles Johnson of Florida does not commit an error all season.
- Hector Espino, holder of the minor-league home run record with 484, dies in Monterrey, Mexico.
- Catcher Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers wins his sixth straight Gold Glove.
- Luis Gonzalez of Houston hits in 23 straight games, the longest such streak in the National League during 1997.
- Cubs second sacker Ryne Sandberg retires again, this time for good, at the end of the season.
- Pete Rose Jr., son of the all-time hits leader, makes his big-league debut on Labor Day for the Cincinnati Reds.
- On November 5, the day he is given American League Manager of the Year honors, Davey Johnson quits the Orioles.
- The Los Angeles Dodgers are sold to Rupert Murdoch for approximately $350 million.
- The Rockies lead the National League in attendance for the fifth straight season.
- Major league attendance is 63,168,689, the second-highest total ever.
- Maddux inks a five-year contract extension at $57.5 million, making him the highest-paid player in the game.
- First baseman Eddie Murray retires with 504 homers and 3,255 hits.
- On November 5, the Milwaukee Brewers elect to move from the American League to the National for the 1998 season.
- Baseball holds an expansion draft on November 18 to stock two new clubs: American League's Tampa Bay Devil Rays and National League's Arizona Diamondbacks.
- Within two months of winning the World Series, Florida trades stars Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Jeff Conine, Robb Nen, and Devon White in an attempt to dump salaries.