His tenure with the then-Florida Marlins lasted only three months. Darren Daulton packed more meaningful impact in that brief but memorable period of 1997 than most who have worn the uniform in 25 seasons.
, who managed that team to the Marlins’ first championship, has said on more than one occasion that it wouldn’t have been achieved without Daulton, the gritty, take-charge veteran who died Sunday at 55 after battling brain cancer.
Daulton played all of his 13 seasons in the major leagues for the before a July 21 trade in 1997 to the Marlins gave him the opportunity to win his only World Series ring before retiring.
A long-haired, freewheeling figure known as “Dutch,” Daulton wasted no time asserting himself in South Florida.
Pitcher Alex Fernandez recalls that within the first few days after Daulton joined the club he called the players together in the clubhouse and upbraided them for lackadaisical play.
“He chewed our ass because he goes, ‘This is a country club here. What are we trying to accomplish here? We ain’t going to win anything by being this way,’” Fernandez recalled Monday.
“No question about it, we needed that,” Fernandez continued. “He kind of put everybody together on the same page. We had a lot of talent, we had a lot of egos, but we all got along great. But he was the final piece of the puzzle to come in and say, let’s do it together.”
While much has been made about Daulton’s reputation as a fiery leader, Leyland has pointed out that the Marlins needed a left-handed hitter for the stretch run and wouldn’t have acquired Daulton if he wasn’t still productive on the field.
He demonstrated that immediately in his second game with the Marlins (first start) when he sparked a rally that led to an 8-1 win against Cincinnati, hustling for a triple and then dashing home on a passed ball.
“That’s the way you’re supposed to run the bases all the time,” Daulton said after the game. “That’s what keeping pressure on the other team is all about.”
It was his third triple in four games (first two with the Phillies), attention-grabbing for a 35-year-old who had spent most of his career as a catcher and had undergone nine knee operations.
Fernandez remembers it well, as he threw 140 pitches that day in holding the to one run in eight innings.
“I still remember I came off and he patted me on the butt and said, ‘Hey, way to be a bulldog.’ I’ll never forget those words from him when he jogged in from first base with me,” Fernandez said. “We just had a good bond and he was awesome. He had bad knees and everything, and he played the game the right way.”
The Marlins had fallen into a bit of a midseason malaise. But with Daulton stepping into a platoon at first base with Jeff Conine, they won 10 of the first 13 games he started.
At that point, Bobby Bonilla, another veteran on the team, pointed to Daulton’s influence making a tangible difference.
“We’re having guys take out guys at second base [breaking up double plays], having guys taking an extra base,” Bonilla said following a win in Atlanta. “We’re playing to win. You can see it. He’s doing it and everybody’s pretty much following suit. He’s made a big difference. He’s been a spark for us.”
Third-base coach Rich Donnelly said, “He’s more than a spark, he’s a blowtorch.”
Looking back, Fernandez concurred, saying, “I truly believe that if he doesn’t come on board I’m not sure if we win it all.”
Daulton played a similar role for the Phillies in 1993 as an All-Star catcher spearheading a run to the World Series before losing in six games to Toronto. His personality stood out among a Type A cast of characters that included Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Dave Hollins, Pete Incaviglia, Mitch Williams and Curt Schilling.
Given a second chance at a title with the Marlins, he batted .364 in the postseason series wins against Atlanta and Cleveland. In the third game of the against the , Daulton drove in the tying with a double off John Smoltz and also scored during the decisive rally of the victory that put the Marlins ahead in the series.
Daulton played in all seven World Series games against the Indians, starting four of them and batting .389 (7 for 18) with a home run and two RBI. He hit the homer and scored three runs in the wild 14-11 win at Cleveland in Game. 3.
“I recall him being a big part of big hits for us — whether it was hits or moving guys over [with] a fly ball or ground ball. Or talking to the pitcher,” Fernandez said. “He was another veteran with playoff experience that we need.
“He was a huge part in us winning it all.”
Daulton retired following the Marlins’ walk-off victory in Game 7. He had a career average of .245 with 137 homers and 588 RBI in 1,161 games. He went to three All-Star games and led the NL with 109 RBI in 1992.
His death was announced Sunday, ending a four-year battle with cancer. He had two tumors removed during brain surgery on July 1, 2013, then was subsequently diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
“Very sad day for the game, very sad day for his teammates like myself,” Fernandez said. “Great guy for the game, great guy for a team and a huge part of our team.”
Daulton is survived by his parents, Carol and Dave; brother, Dave Jr.; wife, Amanda; and his four children: Zachary, Summer, Savannah and Darren Jr.
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