Infamous 1997 Marlins fire sale still haunts Dave Dombrowski

His lone World Series title remains bittersweet. That's why a second would mean so much more to Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON -- As the chief architect of the World Series-winning 1997 Florida Marlins, Dave Dombrowski owns a 10-karat yellow-gold championship ring that probably still glistens two decades later.

But you will never catch him wearing it.

"No, I don't wear it at all," says Dombrowski, sitting in the Boston Red Sox dugout, iPad on his lap, in a quiet moment before batting practice. "I'm not a big jewelry person. They're big and they get in the way."

Besides, Dombrowski never got to enjoy the spoils of his lone World Series title in 40 years as a baseball executive. Edgar Renteria drove in the winning Marlins run in the 11th inning of Game 7 on Oct. 26, 1997. By Christmas, Dombrowski had traded away Moises Alou, Robb Nen, Devon White, Jeff Conine, Kevin Brown, Ed Vosberg, Dennis Cook and Kurt Abbott, part of an ownership-mandated liquidation that preceded the sale of the team.

The 1998 Marlins held the usual banner-raising ceremony and ring presentation. But with more than half the roster scattered across the majors, Dombrowski and then-assistant general manager Frank Wren spent the first few weeks of the season traveling to hand-deliver rings to players.

"I never thought of the 1998 Marlins as a defending world champion club," Dombrowski says.

And so it goes, 20 years and two organizations later, Dombrowski is still searching for that elusive second World Series winner. In his second full season as the Red Sox president of baseball operations, he's on verge of having built the first back-to-back division champions in franchise history. But he's also about to find out whether this year's team can actually win a playoff game, to say nothing of a World Series, and that's all that seems to matter.

For Dombrowski, 61, another world championship would be more than merely validation for that 1997 Marlins title. It would represent the chance to lead an organization through a sustained period of winning, an opportunity he never got in South Florida.

"From an organizational perspective and everything that goes along with that, being in a position to try to win that second World Series would mean a great deal to me," Dombrowski says. "I would like to do that. We didn't really have a chance to celebrate very long that last time I was involved in it. We've had good clubs [since then]. It just hasn't happened."

Dombrowski's teams have made seven postseason appearances and won three pennants. He got back to the World Series twice, both times as general manager of the Detroit Tigers. In 2006, the Tigers made three errors in Game 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals and eight errors in five games overall, including five by pitchers. In 2012, they batted .159 and got outscored 16-6 in a sweep by the San Francisco Giants.

Those teams were talented enough to win it all but were humbled by the randomness of baseball. The same went for the 2013 Tigers, who won the first game of the American League Championship Series and were four outs from taking a 2-0 advantage back to Detroit when reliever Joaquin Benoit hung a slider. David Ortiz's grand slam changed everything, including Dombrowski's odds at adding to his ring collection.

"One base hit here, one base hit there, that's how those games work," Dombrowski says. "That's what makes you sit on the edge of your seat so much in the postseason because anything can happen in a certain time period. A lot of it is beyond your control, yet your stomach's churning just like it is within your control."

It's undoubtedly the most helpless aspect of Dombrowski's job.

For 11 months of the year, Dombrowski tinkers with the roster and adds depth at every position to protect the team against injuries. When Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia's surgically repaired left knee flared up again, Dombrowski went out and traded for utility infielder Eduardo Nunez. When the team needed a proven setup man, he acquired reliever Addison Reed from the New York Mets.

And few executives make bigger, bolder moves. Dealin' Dave has pulled off blockbuster trades for Miguel Cabrera in 2007 and Chris Sale last winter, a three-way deal for Max Scherzer in 2009 and a star-for-star swap of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler in 2013. He acquired David Price at the 2014 trade deadline, then sent him away the next year before signing him to a $217 million contract as a free agent for the Red Sox.

"I never thought of the 1998 Marlins as a defending world champion club." Dave Dombrowski

But in October, when championships are won and lost, Dombrowski can only sit and watch, just like the rest of us.

"I guess I really don't think along those lines as much because your stomach churns with every game that you play," Dombrowski says. "My stomach churns now when you're in a pennant race. It churns a little bit during the year, but it churns more at this time of year from the very first pitch."

It churned in 1997 when Alex Fernandez, the Marlins' No. 2 starter, went down with a shoulder injury in the National League Championship Series. It churned in the World Series when Florida lost twice to a journeyman Cleveland Indians starter named Chad Ogea. It's churning now as the Red Sox try to lock up the AL East while being dogged by nagging injuries to Pedroia, Nunez, Mookie Betts and others.

And it will definitely churn next week when the postseason begins.

"That's what you're in it for," Dombrowski says. "That's what's fun about it."

Almost as much fun as, say, being able to celebrate a championship for more than a few days before selling off the team's parts.

Wren recalls the disappointment within the Marlins' baseball operations staff a few days after the victory parade when owner Wayne Huizenga wasn’t persuaded by the World Series championship to put off the fire sale.

“We had a small gathering of the front office where we watched a highlight film of the season and the playoffs,” Wren says. “And my memory is that every time there was a highlight of a particular player, I thought, 'He's gone. He's gone. He's gone,' because we knew we were trading almost everybody.”

A spring-training visit to the White House in 1998 doubled as a reunion, bringing together all the players who had been sent away. Manager Jim Leyland’s high-five of President Clinton was among the most celebratory moments of the season for a stripped-down team that would lose 108 games.

“Whenever I’ve talked about it with Dave, it’s always been more of what a disappointment it was that it ended the way it did,” says Wren, back with Dombrowski as Boston's senior vice president of player personnel. “I think really as a baseball executive all you ask is the opportunity to have a window of time to keep a team together to have an opportunity to win. We knew there was great ownership here with the Red Sox. When the window opened to start winning, we knew it could be sustained for a period of time.”

The majority of the Red Sox roster -- including the young core of Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez and Rafael Devers -- is under contract through at least 2019. Dombrowski inherited those players from previous general managers Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, but he also has traded more than 20 prospects over the past two years to help acquire Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA, 308 strikeouts), Drew Pomeranz (16-6, 3.38) and closer Craig Kimbrel, who has struck out 122 of 246 batters this season.

So, if the Red Sox are able to win the World Series, Dombrowski can look forward to bringing the band back and trying to do it again next year.

"I think the one part that was diminished [in 1997], which you just realize, is that part of the fun of winning is being with that group the whole year and then coming back as a defending world champion," Dombrowski says. "That was one thing that was taken away. But I know the joy of winning it, professionally, is as good as it gets, and that's something I'd like to be able to enjoy again."

It might even compel Dombrowski to finally show off his bling.