For the past decade, the most popular cause of argument between the great cities of Denver and Miami has been the relative worth of two quarterbacks.
Of course, this debate is as stale today as the search for Bill Clinton's passport records. For two reasons: First, Marino has long since proved himself superior; and, second, the great cities of Denver and Miami have redirected their priorities to argue baseball, a game of ever-evolving nuance, not football and its oppressive, Neanderthal pell-mell.
Which brings us to ask which of the two expansion franchises -- Florida's Marlins or Colorado's Rockies -- has done the better job of building itself, not just to withstand this weekend spent with each other, but for the long haul.
Clearly the Marlins are ahead on this count. I offer these reasons as evidence:
In the past week, the Marlins have become the most active source of trade rumors in the National League. The NL champion Atlanta Braves openly have coveted Florida catcher Benito Santiago and closer Bryan Harvey, and other clubs have shown interest in starting pitchers Jack Armstrong, Ryan Bowen and Luis Aquino. The Marlins have a proven talent pool that is deeper than Colorado's, and also previous expansion teams', and this translates into power and leverage for future building.
The Marlins have Charlie Hough; the Rockies do not. Any team with a 45-year-old who smokes three packs a day and pitches 200 innings a year will understand resilience better.
The Marlins have a baseball park; the Rockies have a football stadium where baseball is played. Atmospherics are influential on young ballplayers. After playing 81 games in the Mile-High place, some of the more impressionable Rockies might actually believe that hunks of sod are supposed to fly behind them when they run in the outfield.
The Marlins made more than a fashion statement when they chose their colors. In the history of humankind, nothing of any consequence had ever been done by a person or persons wearing teal. Florida aims to change that, a bold and valiant calling. The Rockies chose colors of black and purple. It was as if Al Davis bought the Minnesota Vikings.
The Marlins have H. Wayne Huizenga. They also have H. Wayne Huizenga's checkbook. It would be foolish to believe one man could buy a pennant. It would . . . wouldn't it? Never mind. The Rockies have Jerry McMorris, who has no video library to speak of.
The Marlins' Rene Lachemann began the season with 274 managing defeats; the Rockies' Don Baylor had never managed a defeat before April. Who would you say has the necessary experience to deal with an expansion season?
The Marlins are being held to a standard of relative excellence not seen by former first-year franchises.
Friday, Florida's winning streak ended at three games, and in the aftermath, third baseman Dave Magadan was surrounded by a group of area reporters who wanted to know how this could have been allowed to happen.
Finally an exasperated Magadan gave up trying to isolate the cause of what must be an inexplicable 6-2 loss to Colorado.
"Hey, we just got beat today," he said. "We lost a game. It wasn't like we got swept six games in a row. There's not always a reason why when you get beat. There's not some ulterior force. It could be you just lose, and maybe you have to tip your hat to their guy on the hill."
This, of course, is the ideal mix of philosophical purpose for any new baseball enterprise: a public that is obsessed to understand in detail each setback, and ballplayers who are capable of reducing analysis to the cosmic significance of a mere sunflower seed shell spit onto a dugout floor.
The Rockies have not demonstrated an approach to the game so sophisticated. Clearly, the Marlins are way ahead.