-- Smoking cigars and gulping champagne, the Florida Marlins basked in a noisy celebration and shrugged off an uncertain future.
"We just won the World Series," rookie Craig Counsell said. "I'm going to enjoy this until somebody tells me not to."
Despite the fact South Florida was to celebrate the title with a parade today, Wayne Huizenga may soon give the word: The party's over.
The billionaire owner is threatening to break up his team, complaining that he lost $34 million this year.
Unless taxpayers build a new ballpark for the world champions, Huizenga said, the team payroll will drop below $20 million next year from $54 million this season.
That means Gary Sheffield and Alex Fernandez, who have no-trade clauses in their contracts, could be the only millionaire players returning next season. And Fernandez, who faced surgery today to repair a torn rotator cuff, may be unavailable in 1998.
Only Pittsburgh was below $20 million this year. If the Marlins drop to that level, salaries for Sheffield ($10 million in 1998) and Fernandez ($7 million) would leave less than $3 million for the other 23 players.
Kevin Brown? Moises Alou? Bobby Bonilla? Jeff Conine? Robb Nen? Devon White? Al Leiter? All could be gone if Huizenga follows through on his threat.
The manager might be gone, too. Jim Leyland, who fled Pittsburgh because of the tight budget there, has said a drastic payroll reduction could prompt him to leave the Marlins after just one season, but he doesn't plan to work elsewhere in 1998.
"If I'm managing, it's going to be in South Florida," Leyland said.
Payroll slashing could cut deeply into Leyland, who spent 34 years chasing the title the Marlins won Sunday. Afterward, he was jubilant.
"I wanted to remind those guys in winter ball and the instructional league, guys like me that weren't very good players, they weren't going anywhere, thinking they have no chance to get to the major leagues," he said then.
"This win is dedicated to those guys. You're looking at a backup catcher in Double-A," he said. "And I finally arrived at the pinnacle of this sport tonight, so there's hope for all those guys out there. Don't give up, and maybe things will work out."
Like their manager, the Marlins never gave up. Two outs from elimination, Florida managed to score a run in the bottom of the ninth on Craig Counsell's sacrifice fly to make it 2-2.
Then in the 11th inning, an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez set up Edgar Renteria's bases-loaded single with two out that gave the wild-card Marlins a 3-2 win.
"I was too nervous to watch," said Conine, a member of the 1993 expansion Marlins. "I don't think you can find a better finish than that."
Leyland, who signed a five-year contract with the Marlins in October 1996, has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave if the team is sold.
Huizenga put the Marlins up for sale in June, but he said Saturday he'll keep the franchise if taxpayers build him a new ballpark that could cost $350 million or more. A stadium with a retractable roof to eliminate the threat of rain would improve attendance, increase revenue and allow the Marlins to remain competitive, he said.
"If we get a new stadium, then we can have a higher payroll," he said.
Huizenga said he'll meet soon with local politicians, but his chances of winning their support are uncertain. And with the expansion draft just three weeks away, decisions about the team payroll must be made soon so the Marlins can plan their 1998 roster.
Next year, Florida will likely be without White, 34; Leiter, 31; Darren Daulton, 35; and Conine, 31. Bonilla and Brown could also be gone. Less likely to depart are Alou and Nen.
"I think this is going to be a real solid club for the next five years," Leyland said. "We got pretty good reviews in the minor leagues this year. This organization looks real healthy to me."
The long-term prognosis, however, is not that good. Built to finish first, the Marlins might not be built to last.