Justin Ruggiano: A grinder among grifters

USA TODAY Sports

A journeyman says all the right things as the Fish sink instead of swim.

Earlier today, the Miami Marlins tweeted:

Justin Ruggiano is 31 years old. It took him a long time to establish himself in the major leagues. He faced long odds from the outset as a 25th-round draft pick, playing over 800 minor-league games in the Dodgers, Rays, and Astros systems before the Marlins took a chance on him. The glass half-full version of their acquisition of Ruggiano is that they are canny judges of baseball talent who saw a useful player that others had overlooked. The half-empty, and perhaps more realistic version, is that if the Marlins were a more serious organization they might not have had cause to go looking for someone like Ruggiano in the first place. In short, he owes his deliverance to their fecklessness.

That said, it's probably not easy to play for the Marlins. No matter how cool your job, regardless of how much money you're making, there are days that you have to motivate yourself to get out of bed. We've all been there at various times, and undoubtedly ballplayers are no different. If Ruggiano's talk of grinding out at-bats seems naïve given a team on a trajectory for 116 losses, well, these are the kinds of lies we have to tell ourselves to get through the rough patches.

For Miami Marlins conversation without taxpayer subsidies, join Fish Stripes!

The alternative is that Ruggiano really is that naïve. This possibility reminds me a bit of myself during a tragic occasion when I was a child. When I was about nine years old, my great aunt had what proved to be a fatal heart attack. I guess she didn't go right away, though; I was left with a sitter while my parents went to be part of a long bedside vigil. Late that night, my grandmother called. I asked her if her sister had improved. "It doesn't look good," she said. She sounded so very sad. This was my first real encounter with death and I had never heard anyone sound quite the way they do when someone they love is dying. I felt that I needed to do something for her, to uplift her in some way, and so I made a long speech about if we just have hope and believe, perhaps things will be all right.

My grandmother didn't sound moved. She said something like, "I don't think it's going to happen that way, Steven." I found out later that my great aunt was already gone, they just hadn't wanted me to find out on the phone.

Heading into Wednesday night's action, the Marlins have a team OPS+ of 69, or 31 percent below average. This is the list of the worst team offenses since 1900 as measured by that statistic:

TEAM

YEAR

OPS+

Philadelphia A's

1920

69

Boston Braves

1901

70

Boston Braves

1909

70

Chicago White Sox

1910

71

Detroit Tigers

1902

72

Boston Red Sox

1932

72

Boston Braves

1904

73

Boston Braves

1922

73

Boston Red Sox

1922

73

Boston Braves

1924

73

Let's restrict that to just the postwar period:

Pittsburgh Pirates

1952

73

New York Mets

1963

73

Houston Astros

1963

73

Houston Astros

1964

73

New York Mets

1965

73

Cincinnati Red

1951

74

Florida Marlins

1993

74

San Diego Padres

1969

75

Washington Senators

1948

76

Chicago White Sox

1968

76

Cleveland Indians

1971

76

What you see in the second table is that via the draft, international signings, the farm system, and the abolishment of apartheid baseball, it has become very, very hard for a team to field an offense as poor as those of the early 20th century. The 2013 Miami Marlins have overcome those safeguards. Players like Ruggiano may be trying their utmost to win, but it seems abundantly clear that the organization is tanking it -- the only way you can be this bad is on purpose.

It seems clear that what Jeff Loria hath wrought is the worst offense of all time. In other words, Justin Ruggiano, your great aunt is dead: We thought it was time you knew.

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