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20 years of Rays baseball: 2001, a Rays Odyssey

Out with the old, in with the new

Devil Rays Media Day X
HAL (9000) McRae takes the helm

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were struggling in every way possible.

The on-field product had been lousy as the multitude of roster moves made by the front office had failed to bring a winning atmosphere to Tropicana Field.

Attendance lagged as well. After drawing 2.5 million people during their first season in 1998, the flagging Hit Show failed to sustain interest and the team finished the 2000 season with a draw of 1.4 million people.

Clearly, in the eyes of Rays leadership, this called for a new start. The first change was in the uniforms. They dropped the rainbow gradient uniforms in more a traditional style with plainer colors. They were still known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but they’d no longer have the full name on their jerseys as they dropped the Devil and simply went with, ‘Rays’.

The team distanced itself away from their inaugural season, letting go of Miguel Cairo and Quinton McCracken. In January of 2000, the Rays were part of a three team deal that sent their All-Star closer, Roberto Hernandez, to the Kansas City Royals and Cory Lidle to the Oakland Atheltics. In return, the Devil Rays received the 1998 American League Rookie of the Year, Ben Grieve.

Just a couple of weeks into the season, the Devil Rays split with another inaugural part of their roster. Larry Rothschild was fired after just 14 games and he would be replaced by Hal McRae, who had been the bench coach.

Just a few weeks after that move, the Devil Rays removed another core piece from their roster, a key player in their marketing of the Hit Show in 2000. On May 10th, 2001, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays released Vinny Castilla, whose struggles continued as he only slashed .215/.247/.344 with 2 HR over 24 games before being released.

*Castilla would go on to sign with the Houston Astros and provided them with 2.3 fWAR the rest of the way in 2001

He would put his mark in the team record books though as one of his two home runs from that season is still the longest home run in franchise history.

The Devil Rays continued to reconfigure their roster throughout out the season as they looked to get younger and cheaper. In June, they let go of veteran outfielder, Gerald Williams, and signed short stop Chris Gomez.

Meanwhile, in the annual draft, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the 3rd overall selection and upon hearing that they would not be able to sign Mark Teixeira if he were drafted, they went with RHP Dewon Brazelton of Middle Tennessee State. Some other notable selections from that draft included Jon Switzer, Jonny Gomes, Chad Gaudin, and Joey Gathright.

At the trade deadline, Tampa Bay was an active seller once again as they traded Mike Difelice and Albie Lopez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for prospects Nick Bierbrodt and Jason Conti.

They also sent fan favorite Crime Dog Fred McGriff to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Manny Aybar and Jason Smith.

As for things actually taking place on the playing field, the Devil Rays were absolutely dreadful. During the first half of the season, the team was on pace to lose 112 games as they compiled a record of 27-61. They somewhat turned things around a bit as the season flipped to its second half, and they’d finish the year at 62-100, once again in last place in the division. The only time they were over .500 was on Opening Day. They’d never reach that mark again.

The Devil Rays would, however, serve as a footnote in a stirring moment. On September 25th, 2001 the New York Yankees returned home for the first time since the devastating attacks just two weeks earlier and their opponent was the Devil Rays (Tampa Bay would win, 4-0).

Despite being traded mid-season, Fred McGriff still managed to lead the team in fWAR (2.4). Meanwhile, Chris Gomez (who was picked up in June), was second on the team as he accrued 1.5 fWAR over 58 games. A couple of prospects had their first prolonged taste in the majors and they dealt with poor results as Aubrey Huff, Jason Tyner, and Brent Abernathy all struggled.

On the pitching side, Joe Kennedy was excellent in his first exposure to the majors and was easily the top pitcher on the staff.

From a season that didn’t feature many bright spots, Toby Hall and Joe Kennedy were reasons to be excited as the former had a wRC+ of 101 and 1.1 fWAR in just shy of 50 games.

Heading into 2002, the Devil Rays knew they wouldn’t be competitive, but were hoping they’d have an exciting team to watch as they’d give their young prospects opportunities throughout the season.

Here’s a preview.