- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Samson Is Wrong: Marlins Aquarium Is 2nd to Rays

The Miami Marlins just announced plans to give their new ballpark an aquarium theme, and they have already installed two 450-gallon fish tanks. One each will be along the first- and third-base lines — the fish safe in soundproof, shatter-proof glass. In an exclusive interview with MLB.com, team president David Samson explained: “The reason this has never been done before, is not that it can’t be done…. It’s because no one thought to do it.”

But Samson is wrong. In fact, the other Florida team got there first. All the way back in the hazy mists of 2006, the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays installed a 10,000 gallon aquarium — with 22 Cownose rays — beyond their outfield wall in right-center field. The Rays Touch Tank is still there, and the number of Rays’ rays has increased to 30. It was controversial at the time because the team offered to donate $5,000 to charity — half of it to the Florida Aquarium — any time a batter hit a home run into the tank. But both the team’s and the aquarium’s officials took pains to maintain that the rays themselves were not in danger.

Samson says the same about his fish. “We are working with people who work with fish for a living,” he told MLB.com. “If we thought for one minute that the fish were in danger in any way, we wouldn’t have done it.” That sounds to me like protesting too much. I mean, Randy Johnson killed a bird with a pitch in 2001, and I’m sure no one thought for one minute that he was going to — so there’s a necessary caveat that the inability to predict catastrophe doesn’t constitute the impossibility of catastrophe. But I don’t have any animal cruelty objection to the aquarium. I just object to the historical inaccuracy.

Back in 2006, because he’s Joe Maddon, the Rays manager had something quotable to say about how the outfield rays resembled the on-field Rays.

If you’re braver than I am, you just put your hand down there with no reservation whatsoever. But they’re just little cownose rays. They can’t really hurt you.

There’s a [bullpen coach Bobby Ramos] ray, there’s one that’s kind of big… And I saw a Rocco [Baldelli] ray — he’s very, very smooth. And I noticed a very quick, darting Carl [Crawford] ray out there. And there was a very graceful left-finned ray, kind of like a [Scott Kazmir]. Very smooth.

But even before Tampa Bay put an aquarium in their stadium (or the Diamondbacks installed a swimming pool at their stadium, which opened in 1998), cities have long mentioned aquariums in the same breath as stadiums in municipal meetings: both require huge outlays of public capital and both convey a certain sense of a city having “made it” in terms of its national importance. There’s a reason that SimCity 2000 features stadiums and zoos in its Recreation menu: from a city planning standpoint, there are a lot of commonalities. (Is this a completely gratuitous fact? Yes. But it gave me an excuse to do more “research” for this article.)

The Rays have long had an association with the Florida Aquarium. Back in 1995, two and a half years before their first pitch, the Devil Rays unveiled their game uniforms in a ceremony at the aquarium — and aquarium members were admitted for free.

In 2000, when the Cardinals were looking to build a new stadium, the proprietor of the nonprofit St. Louis Children’s Aquarium wanted to be included in the discussions so that he could take over the old stadium site and move out of his then-current digs, “a former computer store… crammed with a hodgepodge of stuffed roadkill, whale bones, sloths, iguanas, sharks and more than 100 fish tanks.” (In 2004 the aquarium reopened as the World Aquarium at another location, not the former stadium site.)

In 1987, after the Phil Simms-Lawrence Taylor New York Giants won the Super Bowl, New Jersey’s sports authority announced its desire to build a baseball stadium and aquarium in the state. All the way back in 1915, as it was planning its development of Lakewood Park, Atlanta’s City Council planned for the public park to include both a baseball field and an aquarium.

Samson’s aquarium might well be savvy. But it isn’t unprecedented. Neither is the swimming pool, which is opening at the stadium’s Clevelander pavilion, operated by the proprietors of the legendary South Beach hotel and outdoor bar. (Although I have to admit, the fact that the Marlins’ Clevelander will have DJs and dancers straight from South Beach might be unprecedented — and undoubtedly distracting.)

I can’t praise the Marlins for their new logo, but I can praise them for many of the other things they’re doing: They’re clearly investing a lot of money into their team and their stadium, and for a franchise that has been publicly censured for penny-pinching, that’s obviously a very welcome development. They just need to stop saying that they’re the first team to think about putting an aquarium at the ballpark.