The last time the major leagues expanded was a quarter-century ago, when the Milwaukee Brewers shifted to the National League and a team in Tampa Bay took their place. They actually play in St. Petersburg, which is to Tampa what Palm Springs is to Los Angeles–less upscale, much older and a schlep to get to. Their stadium, such as it is, sits under a non-retractable dome that sits so low to the ground that often batted balls hit the catwalks and the roof and are still in play when they do And considering how few people initially showed up to their games, the clank that would happen when those balls hit it would echo throughout.
The Devil Rays, as they were first known, were an embarassment. An aging Wade Boggs and an overmatched Jose Canseco were their best players. Their pitching was horrible. Their uniforms were mocked. They finished their first season with 99 losses, chum for a Yankees team that set an all-time record with 114 regular season wins and who left Tampa 51 games out of first place at season’s end. They reminded many of the 1962 Mets, who actually played their spring training games a mere few miles from the Tropicana Dome.
But once new management took over, and the team was rebranded as just the Rays, they became legitimate. Like the Mets, Marlins and Diamondbacks before them, they won a league championship before they completed their first decade, stunning the American League in 2008, the first year after Joe Torre left the Yankees. They couldn’t quite win the World Series, and then spent the 2010s struggling. But a new wave of young talent and savvy management took hold as the decade ended, and in the pandemic sprint of 2020 the team wound up with another AL title, eventually falling in six games to the Dodgers.
And so far this year, these Rays are literally perfect. At 13-0, with a resounding 9-3 win over Boston yesterday on getaway day, they equalled the modern season-opening record for consecutive wins, set by the 1982 Braves (the eventual Western Division champion) and the 1987 Brewers (who didn’t make the playoffs in a pre-Wild Card era, but with 91 wins would have easily qualified by today’s standards). Per FOX Sports research, here’s a few more nuggets of note:
Tampa Bay has trailed in just six of their first 117 innings. They join the 1884 Maroons (zero) and 1884 Gothams (six) as the only teams to trail in so few innings through 117 innings to begin a season.The Rays have a run differential of plus-71, the third-highest total through the first 13 games of a season, trailing only the 1884 St. Louis Maroons (+115) and 1884 New York Gothams (+73). Tampa Bay is the sixth team ever to record a plus-71 run differential during any 13-game span since 1900, joining the 1904 Giants, 1911 Pirates, 1922 Pirates, 1934 Tigers and 2017 Indians.
The Rays are one of five teams since 1901 to start a season with a home run in 13-plus straight games; the 2019 Seattle Mariners (20 straight), 2002 Cleveland Guardians (14), 2017 Tigers (13) and 1954 Chicago Cubs (13) are the others.
Tampa Bay’s 32 home runs are the third-most in MLB history through the first 13 games of a season, behind the 2019 Mariners (33) and 2000 St. Louis Cardinals (33).
Tampa Bay has seven players who have hit at least three home runs: Lowe, Diaz, Franco, Arozarena, Paredes, Ramirez and Luke Raley.
But yet…the crowds are abysmal. Earlier this week, an Orlando-based fan site called FURTN ran this emotional plea from an acronymed blogger labeled jqbtj:
The Rays are one of the best-run organizations in professional sports and do more with less than any other team in any sport, yet still have the fourth-worst attendance in all of baseball. Which is better than last year and the year before when they were third-worst in attendance even though they made the playoffs both seasons. And in case you were wondering, the last time they made it to the World Series during a COVID-free season was 2008, when they had the fifth-worst attendance in the league.
Translation: The Tampa Bay area simply doesn’t deserve such a quality team. It’s time to demolish the idea that baseball will ever work there.
Destroy the Rays!
Move them to Orlando!
If the Tampa Bay Rays were to move to Orlando, we already have a logo of the old Orlando Rays minor league baseball team.
Major League Baseball has already proposed that they perhaps consider playing a partial schedule in Montreal, which has a similarly outdated and poorly designed domed stadium as the Rays’ is, and would provide a natural rivalry with the Blue Jays. Fittingly, the Rays will visit Toronto tonight in their attempt to set the all-time record for consecutive wins at season’s outset, against a Jays team that will be their first opponent with a plus .500 record.
Orlando does have a decent football and soccer venue, which could serve as a Los Angeles Coliseum-like retrofit temporarily, and they are close enough to Tampa Bay to absorb the few fans who do appreciate the Rays, as well as the region’s media deals.
But I’d offer that a far better fate would be for Tampa Bay itself to find a way to support true winners. Tom Brady’s retired. The Lightning are in decline. The Raptors returned to Toronto. The Magic aren’t yours.
You’ve got perfection. You’ve got talent. Plenty of good seats are available.
They’ve raised the bar for being worthy of your support. It’s about time more Southwest Floridians stepped up to offer it.