People need systems. Maybe not all the time – true genius creates its own rules – but most of us need lines to color in, because otherwise our dogs would start to look like cows. The Omnibus has its own order, progressing through the National League in alphabetical order, heading to Washington, then to Baltimore and on through to Toronto. I’m telling you this because our next stop is the sunny climate of Miami, Florida, and it is beyond my capacity to alter this.
I don’t want to be here. Miami resists irony: it is all-inclusive, all-extreme, the opposite of itself. Even its uniform teeters on alternate edges of the color wheel. Miami trolls itself, and laughs at its own joke.
Like it or not, however, travel to Miami we must. So, as a refresher, the rules: the Ironic Jersey Omnibuc attempts to explore what it is to be a fan of a given team, and how best to express that fandom through the name and number on one’s garment. In previous editions, this exploration has taken the form of a tour of the ghosts of a team’s past, but as you’ll soon learn, the easy path is not an option for us at present.
The first decision: to don the teal or the orange? One of the cardinal rules of the ironic jersey is the rule of time: any jersey too fresh, no matter how keen its edge, will often be confused with the simplistic optimism of yesterday. Take the example of Jose Reyes: five years from now, he will become the perfect symbol for the Loria Marlins, a promsing star sold like so much cattle at the first downturn in the market. But today, Reyes is just a random purchase off the 2012 rack; a fortunate chance, but a chance nonetheless. No, we must travel further, and venture into the teal.
Usually, with young franchises, the inaugural roster houses some sentimental or absurd names. And indeed, few could find fault with a crisp, clean Orestes Destrade jersey, or even a #51 Trevor Hoffman. Nor is it possible to ignore the Eight Days of Mike Piazza, emblematic of the Marlins’ willingness to treat roster construction like a game of OOTP 13. But how much pathos do we find in such names? The Marlins have never been an expansion team, and they are a perrennial expansion team. There is no loveable bum, no long-suffering despair. Not even Walt Weiss can bring a tear to the eye.
The next obvious choice would be a selection from the Fire Sale Years of 1998 and 2004, the former 54-108 club being particularly poignant. But who to pin the disappointment of an entire team? Shall we burn poor Andy Larkin in effigy? Mock the young men sent off to die?
This is what makes the Marlins so difficult to discuss: there are no barren wastelands. The franchise’s intermittent falls from grace must, logically, follow grace. What we need is a player who illustrates this schizophrenia, someone who is great and terrible, who attracts attention and distaste, admiration and pity.
So wear your Jeff Conine jersey if you must; no one will blame you. And if you can’t resist temptation and you feel the need to describe your feelings with a Taylor Tankersley, that’s a pretty decent little joke. But in my mind, no Marlin exemplifies the summer and the winter so majestically as Dontrelle Willis.
After all, there’s a strong lure to the artificial hues of fake tan and chemical neon. It’s too easy to smirk at the Marlins, to give in to its easy joke. Instead, celebrate with Willis, a guy who threw and smiled and shared just a little too much, who never wore the mask. Celebrate organic greatness, worn down by man and fame: virtue undone by lack of cunning. Earnestness can be ironic, too, as long as no one catches you smiling to yourself about it.