Over the next week, we'll be putting together a series of posts about past (Devil) Ray All-Stars. Considering the Rays have such a spotted history of All-Stars, it should hopefully be a somewhat humorous walk down memory lane. And afterward, we'll be introducing our next ticket giveaway!
Since I began following the Rays a few years into their history, I sadly missed the full glory of those multicolored uniforms. I also missed the Innaugural Season, the Hit Show, Crime Dog McGriff, and the sad disappointment of Ben Grieve. I'm disappointed about this; while I'm sure those years were painful to live through, for better or worse, they are the Rays' history. I used to be embarrassed of the Rays' history back when the franchise was bad, but winning has a way of turning even 10 straight seasons of suffering into nostalgic memories.
As I didn't fully experience the Rays' 1998 inaugural season, I've always been intrigued by Rolando Arrojo, the Devil Rays ace starter that season and first all-star. He was a rookie in 1998, and he also had the best season of his career, pitching 202 innings while striking out nearly seven batters per nine and posting a 3.56 ERA.
Arrojo fell apart after that season, so I'm always left wondering: where did he come from, and why did he have such a limited period of success?
In case you're as clueless as I was, Arrojo was a Cuban baseball player that defected from the Cuban National Team in 1996; the Devil Rays signed to a contract and had him play the 1997 season in the minors, and then called him up to start with the D-Rays in 1998. By the time he reached the majors, he was already 29 years old -- possibly older, considering Cuban players rarely can produce a birth certificate -- and he'd dominated Cuban baseball in the early '90s, leading the Cuban National Team to a gold medal in the '92 Olympics.
Not all Cuban players translate well to the majors, but Arrojo was a very respectable pitcher for the Devil Rays in 1998. His strikeout and walk rates suggested that he was more a mid-rotation starter than an ace (2.3 K/BB ratio, 4.23 FIP), but he looked like a legit ace for a long stretch in the beginning of the season:
Pre-All-Star Break: 120.2 IP, 96 K, 27 BB, 3.06 ERA
Post-All-Star Break: 81.1 IP, 56 K, 38 BB, 4.32 ERA
Arrojo could never quite recapture the success he had on first breaking into the majors; batters seemingly adjusted to his repertoire and Arrojo could never get his walk rate below 3 batters per nine again. He developed health issues in 1999 and was traded that following off-season to the Rockies, and he managed to linger around the majors for a few more seasons before exiting the game after the '02 season.
The Devil Rays' early years are filled with many, many "What if...?" moments, and I can't help but be slightly disappointed that Arrojo couldn't at least be a serviceable middle of the rotation starter for the Rays. But at the same time, it's pretty fitting that the Rays' very first all-star was only on the team for two seasons and was out of baseball before the D-Rays could get out of fifth place for the first time.