In Praise of the Rays:

Not to take attention away from pressing matters like the collapse of the world economy and the end of life as we know it here on earth, but . . . even those of you who are, like me, casual Red Sox fans gotta love those Tampa Bay Rays, who may be on the verge of pulling off one of the remarkable worst-to-best turnarounds in sports history. For those of you not following the developments, the story, in brief, is this: Tampa Bay has had the sorriest franchise in baseball for a couple of decades — hardly any fans, an awful stadium, and a terrible team, year after year after year. With a roster of no-names (and a payroll of around $40 million — one of the lowest in Major League Baseball), they started out strong this year, but everyone — and I mean everyone — was just waiting for them to collapse into their usual mediocrity.

But this year, they didn't. They actually won the American League East division race, beating out the big boys from NY and Boston, and then they went on to clobber the White Sox in the division series, earning the right to meet Boston in the AL Championship series. In the first game, things seemed to have caught up with them; they (finally) had that deer-in-the-headlights look, and they were shut out, 2-0, at home. So once again, everyone figured this had to be it for them, the World Champs would mow them down, restore the Old Order, and we'd get back to baseball as usual.

But the Rays won Game 2 in a thriller (12 innings), and then went up to Boston where, in the last two games, they have murdered - humiliated, really - the Red Sox, winning by lopsided scores (9-1 and 13-4) before Boston fans who are getting quieter and quieter with each passing inning.

It's an amazing performance by a bunch of 24 year old kids taking on a very talented veteran team and, so far, kicking their butt. It's pretty hard to root against them. They seem to have come up with a new team-building strategy; in the spring, they announced that they had signed Evan Longoria, their young third baseman who had just a few months of major league experience, to a 6-year, $36 million dollar contract. It seemed insane, at the time -- you're giving $36 million to who??? Evan Longoria - who the hell is he??

But it turns out to have been a sublimely brilliant move. Longoria looks like a superstar in the making -- already, given his performance in the postseason (five home runs in 7 games!), he could probably command more than $6 million on the open market, and it is quite possible that in a couple of years he'll be a $15 million per year (or more) player. But they've locked him in. It was a good deal for Longoria, too -- he's got a whole bunch of money in the bank and lots, lots more coming, guaranteed. So everyone's happy, and the Rays could be a very good ballclub for a very long time.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. An Amazing Red Sox Comeback:
  2. In Praise of the Rays:
The Rays first season was 1998, so although they've been horrible until this year they haven't had to wait as long as some teams (Seattle and Washington nee Montreal) to have a great team.

I'm a big White Sox fan and I'm very impressed at the Rays and their style of baseball. Longoria was out for awhile this year and the Rays still played great.

I hate baseball in a dome, though I'm pulling for the Rays to take it all this year.
10.15.2008 8:48pm
GMUSL '07 Alum (mail):
Wow, baseball AND desperate housewives! Dude is raking it in.

10.15.2008 9:02pm
If he has another great season, Longoria will become very familiar with the words "holdout" and "renegotiate".
10.15.2008 9:05pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Tampa Bay's not as big a surprise as, say, the 1969 Mets. People knew they had improved, most importantly in finally having a pitching staff, and a lot of people, including me, has them as playoff contenders. They've been collecting promising young players for several years, and it's been a mystery the last couple of years why they weren't better. (Before that, it was no mystery.)
10.15.2008 9:06pm
And props to Evan Longoria for having the courage to come out and to marry Tony Parker....What? ....Oh....Never mind.
10.15.2008 9:11pm
Ilya Somin:
As a more than "casual" Red one Sox fan, I am not amused. However, one lesson of 2004 and 2007 is that it's a big mistake to count out the Sox too early.
10.15.2008 9:24pm
David Warner:
"Evan Longoria - who the hell is he??"

Mike Schmidt, evidently.
10.15.2008 9:34pm
Cory J (mail):
Their success wasn't surprising to baseball nerds.

For example, see this article from Baseball Prospectus contributor Nate Silver, from February 2008. Their PECOTA system predicted a 22 win increase from 2007.

I love how Nate throws in the article that BP accurately predicted the White Sox tremendous drop last season, which according to more than a few baseball columnists was completely unexpected.
10.15.2008 9:43pm
Tampa Bay has had the sorriest franchise in baseball for a couple of decades — hardly any fans, an awful stadium, and a terrible team, year after year after year.

Well, at least they don't have a terrible team anymore. One out of three ain't bad.
10.15.2008 9:51pm
Ilya Somin:
However, I should note that there's no question that Tampa Bay took a huge step forward this year, and their management deserves credit. Whether they can sustain that success over time remains to be seen. Among other things, Longoria may be injury-prone, and the team's success is heavily dependent on several young starting pitchers. Young pitchers, of course, are notoriously inconsistent and injury-prone. If a couple of them fade or get injured, TB probably won't do as well next year. We'll have to see.
10.15.2008 10:25pm
They stomped the White Sox pretty good. If they make it, it should be a good WS against the Cubs, er the Phillies.
10.15.2008 10:26pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):
In the wake of the historic collapse of my Cubs, baseball is dead to me . . .

until next year when the Cubs will FINALLY break through!!

10.15.2008 10:41pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
So what's their payroll look like this year?
10.15.2008 10:43pm
Hippos--You had me through the end of the elipses. Then you left for Mars.

The Cubs will never win the World Series. Because they will never win a pennant.

Never, never, never, never, never.

Please consider: The NY Highlanders officially took the name "Yankees" in 1913. The Cubs have not won a World Series in the entire existence of the "NY Yankees" franchise. Not one.

It will never happen.

It can never happen.

I hate everything.
10.15.2008 11:02pm
Captain Easychord:
If you didn't know who evan longoria was, it's only because you weren't really paying attention... baseball america rated him as the game's #2 prospect coming into this season, just two years after being the #3 selection in the draft... he may not get quite as much ink as - say - joba chamberlain (behind longoria on both lists), but that's just because the four letter network does such an awful job with their baseball coverage...

oh, and the rays should be around for awhile too... note that they also had three pitchers amongst BA's top 20 prospects (although mcgee did get hurt this year)...
10.15.2008 11:37pm
Captain Easychord:
oh, and it's also worth noting that longoria's value on the open market is largely irrelevant for the next six years due to the way MLB teams control players' rights... the rays could unilaterally give him a deal for the next two years at the major league minimum... longoria would probably be arbitration eligible after 2010, at which point he would STILL earn below his would-be market value... the rays probably will save a bit of cash over his arbitration-eligible seasons if he follows their expected career arc... the big savings, however, would come in the following three years (when longoria would be eligible for free agency), when the rays have club options at *very* generous rates, IIRC...
10.15.2008 11:44pm
New Pseudonym:

Please consider: The NY Highlanders officially took the name "Yankees" in 1913. The Cubs have not won a World Series in the entire existence of the "NY Yankees" franchise. Not one.

By this reasoning, the Tampa Bay Rays have finished first every year of their existence. It was the Devil Rays that did poorly. Perhaps the Cubs could change their name to "Satan's Bears" for a couple of years, then when they exorcised their name they could win the pennant, too.
10.15.2008 11:54pm
mrshl (www):
Rays did a great job offering Longoria a tremendous contract with his upside still tremendously least uncertain for Longoria. Seems like they believed in him more than he did.

Some kind of expected value expert will have to weigh in here, because (like David) I think a lot more teams may start to gamble large contracts on their untested, but highly regarded prospects. My somewhat obvious hunch is that they can afford the gamble much more easily than the untested prospect.
10.15.2008 11:58pm
New Pseudonym— "By this reasoning" . . .

85 years versus one? That's not MY reasoning.
10.15.2008 11:58pm
John R. Mayne (mail):
Cory J points out that it was not a surprise to Nate Silver; I and scores of others also have been hawking the Rays for a couple of years. It wasn't everyone. I thought they'd beat the Red Sox, and I think they'll beat the Phillies. They're better; it's a short series, so there are no guarantees.

Props to their management for doing some excellent talent-building, then using that talent to build a team.

10.16.2008 12:09am
Another bonus: One less excuse for the Pirates.
10.16.2008 12:15am
John Burgess (mail) (www):
As one born to be a BoSox fan and now living a few miles south of Tampa, there is nothing, nothing at all 'sweet' about this ACLS. Actually, the entire season Hoovered as most of the Sox games on TV were against the Rays.

The only thing worse (or to make it worse) is the bush league announcers the Rays have. Obnoxious, stupid, and borderline anti-Semitic (one of them heaps inordinate complaints about opposing teams Jewish players), they really do make it a better experience to turn off the volume and either find the Spanish radio broadcast or listen in silence.

St. Pete voted down a new stadium, so the Rays will be stuck in the juice dome, dank and dark, for quite some time.

I'm betting, though, that the team gets sold out from under Tampa as the fan base is actually quite poor. Average crowds run around 1/2-2/3 capacity.

And maybe it's just my attitude, but I get really pissed when tickets that normally sell for $50 are jacked to $250 when the Yankees or Sox come to town.
10.16.2008 12:19am
Devil Rays Fan:
Ilya- You are right that young pitchers can be injury prone and inconsistent. What you dont know is that the devil rays will have 8 quality starting pitchers next year. Even if they lose one or two to injury they will still be great for the next few years. The world is getting a preview of our young pitchers this year in the form of David Price. We also have Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Jeremey Hellickson, and Mitch Talbot, who will all be ready to start in the majors next year. Not to mention Jake McGee, who was one of the top prospects in baseball before suffering an arm injury this year which has pushed back his arrival date a few years. These young stars are on top of our starting rotation this year,which has been one of the best in baseball and also the youngest. The Rays are young and extremely talented. All of our key players are tied up for at least the next 3 years. This team will not be a one year wonder. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
10.16.2008 12:21am
Brian G (mail) (www):
The Rays have played well. Unfortunately for them, Cole Hamels won't be throwing batting practice come Next Wednesday night like Wakefield and Lester did the last two nights.

Go Phillies!
10.16.2008 12:24am
Cold Warrior:
I never thought anything could replace my annual October ritual of rooting against the Yankees.

But the Red Sox really are the new Yankees, and I'm loving it! And just 3 short years ago I was ecstatic when the Red Sox took out the Yankees in that amazing comeback series ... funny, I thought I liked the Red Sox, but really I just hated the Yankees that much ...
10.16.2008 12:37am
Maybe they thought it was "Eva" Longoria. If I had the money, I certainly would pay $36 million for 6 years with her.

Seriously, though. I lived in Tampa for several years while the Rays were one of the worst teams in baseball. Fantastic to finally see them make good.
10.16.2008 7:36am
jackal (mail):
This sounds like some effort by a "casual" Red Sox fan to jinx the Rays right before game five. Well, right back atcha: Isn't it amazing that the Red Sox made it to the ALCS without Manny? I mean, what a squad! That Pedroia kid is great!
10.16.2008 9:31am
Joe Gator (mail):
I'm betting, though, that the team gets sold out from under Tampa as the fan base is actually quite poor. Average crowds run around 1/2-2/3 capacity.

I always find it funny when fans of the Northeast teams cast judgment against the Rays fans, or lack thereof. The Rays have been in existence for only 10 years,

The Red Sox and Yankees have both been around since 1901. That means that someone my age (29) could potentially be a 4th generation Yankees or Red Sox fan. Whereas someone my age (or younger) in Tampa/St Pete was probably raised to like another team, a team that most likely hails from the Northeast or Midwest.

It takes time to build a devoted fan base. I think followers of teams from older cities take this for granted.

Additionally, the first owner of the Rays was a first class jerk who continually stuck his thumb in the eye of the fan base. Until now, they've really had no reason to get excited. Throw in the stupid provincialism between Tampa and St. Pete and that explains some of the lack of attendance.

With that said, it will be a disgrace if attendance next year does not markedly improve.
10.16.2008 11:02am
I hope the Rays do get sold, and to an owner who then moves them to Havana.

It's time already. And this would be great for baseball.
10.16.2008 12:51pm
Scott Wood (mail):
From what I recall reading, the Mets in 1969 were actually picked to finish 3rd (possibly out of 5 rather than 10, as 1969 was the first year of divisional play). They weren't quite as much a surprise as history remembers.
10.16.2008 2:15pm
KeithK (mail):
Scott, 3rd out 6 teams in the NL East. The Expos and Padres began play in '69 bringing the NL to 12 teams. (Pilots and Royals over in the AL.)
10.16.2008 4:21pm
I'd appreciate the Rays more if they simply put up a good fight but then ultimately lost to the (let's be honest) better team. But I've broken three t.v. controllers over the past three games so my opinion is (being honest again) not that objective.

Oh, that good management praise might have waited until tonight, when it will really be tested with the decision to start Kazmir.
10.16.2008 6:18pm
Joe Gator (mail):
I'd appreciate the Rays more if they simply put up a good fight but then ultimately lost to the (let's be honest) better team.

Better team? Based on what?

Money spent?
10.16.2008 7:00pm
David Warner:
You may have come to praise the Rays, but don't bury the Sox. They're not dead yet....
10.17.2008 2:01am