The Curious Case of Josh Booty and the Miami Marlins

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Last year, Mets pitcher R.A Dickey showed the baseball world that it is still cool to be a knuckleballer, winning 20 games, leading the league in strikeouts, and, most importantly, capturing the first Cy Young ever won by a knucleball pitcher.

The sudden resurgence of the knuckleball’s popularity led MLB Network to launch a reality TV competition titled “The Next Knuckler”, in which former college and pro football quarterbacks opted to learn the craft, in the hopes of resurrecting their sports careers. Among them were Doug Flutie, the former CFL, USFL and NFL star, David Greene, the former quarterback of the University of Georgia, Ryan Perriloux, the former Louisiana State University thrower, and brothers Josh and John David Booty, who had distinguished college careers and nonexistent NFL careers.

Josh ended up winning the title of “The Next Knuckler”, beating out Greene, and earning himself a spot in the Arizona Diamondbacks training camp, in the hopes of making the big league team as a knuckler. But, like all M.Night Shamalyan movies, there is a twist in this story.

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Booty was once a highly touted first round draft pick of the Florida Marlins, as an infielder. He actually played Major League Baseball before; in parts of three seasons. Booty was  on the Marlins postseason roster and won the World Series with them in 1997. Booty never appeared in the big leagues after 1998, and because of the huge investment that the Marlins had made in him, a $1.6 million signing bonus, he was labeled as one of baseball’s biggest busts.

Flash forward to yesterday. After the Diamondbacks brought Booty into spring training, the Marlins made a rather unorthodox proposal: Booty, who was on the team’s retired list (I had no idea such a thing existed) would be removed so he could pitch for Arizona, but on the condition that if Booty did make the Major Leagues out of camp, then the Marlins could take him back for nothing.

What was even crazier, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, is that neither the Diamondbacks, nor Major League Baseball, knew that Booty was a major leaguer 15 years ago. Amazing. Isn’t there a records office in Major League Baseball where all names are kept?

Anyway, I don’t understand why the Marlins would be willing to take back one of their biggest disappointments, just because he decides to come back as a knuckleballer. Then again, the Marlins are known for making novelty transactions that seem to defy the standards of baseball, after all, they did sign Adam Greenberg, the baseball player who never had an official at-bat, to a one-day contract so he could realize his dream, and they traded half of their team to Toronto, just a year after signing several megadeals in the hopes of challenging the then-uncertain NL East.

If Booty makes the Diamondbacks out of Spring Training, and the Marlins claim him, this is going to be an awkward reunion. Jeffery Loria has practically alienated all Marlins fans by duping them into paying for the space-age monstrosity that is Marlins Park, with the promise of adding a championship caliber team, then dropping the team at the first sign of trouble. Even if Booty was a fan favorite, bringing him back isn’t exactly going to compel Marlins fans to come to the stadium in droves. However, the novelty of Booty in spring training for the first time since 1998 should make for some interesting tv. Whatever happens, be that Booty makes the team or ends up in the minors, it will be quite the storyline for a non-star in baseball.

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