Earlier we put out the welcome mat for those who may be new to Rays fandom. If you are just now jumping on the Rays bandwagon you might want get caught up on these last two plus decades of baseball history. We will spare you watching Shawn Camp close out a game, and instead we offer you this précis of Rays baseball history.
The Tampa Bay region was awarded a Major League Baseball franchise in 1995; the team’s first season of play was 1998, with the likes of Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, and Wilson Alvarez on the Opening Day roster. The Rays ownership wanted to win, and they wanted to win fast. So they traded off young talent for proven veterans with the hopes of bringing a title to Tampa Bay by the new century.
Unfortunately, the veterans that the then Devil Rays brought in, didn’t exactly light the world on fire and team settled in for a last place finish...and finished there again in 1999, and again 2000. Over next decade the team’s roster changed, but it’s position in the American League East standings seldom did.
Prior to the 2000 season, the Rays brass made one last desperate attempt to field a competitive team. They made large free agent signings and trade blockbusters, focusing on veteran power hitters, and dubbed the team thus created ‘The Hit Show.’
It was a disaster; and the Rays were burdened with bad contracts and horrific play.
In 2002, they let the kids play...and it showed as they lost 106 games. Following the season, they even traded their lone All-Star for a new manager. However, a couple of the kids displayed tremendous promise, as Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Aubrey Huff emerged as the core of the team in 2003.
In 2004, the Devil Rays made one of the trade coups of the decade as they acquired young southpaw Scott Kazmir from the New York Mets. Kazmir would become the first bonafide ace in Tampa Bay history.
Soon thereafter, the entire franchise underwent a shift, with new ownership and, as of November 2007, a new name. Following a postseason exorcism the team kicked out the devil and entered 2008 as the Tampa Bay Rays.
The exorcism was successful. The 2008 Rays, seen as a promising team perhaps capable of having the franchise’s first over-.500 season, exceeded all expectations. Top draft pick Evan Longoria debuted and the team never looked back. Everything clicked for the 2008 Rays. Stars like Longoria, Upton and Crawford played like stars. Their late round lottery selections came through, and they uncovered diamonds that most other teams had refused to polish.
This all culminated in the Rays reaching the playoffs and the World Series, unfortunately losing to the Philadelphia Phillies (and Mother Nature) in five games.
The Rays winning ways continued over the next several years, thanks to a front office that was able to consistently field a competitive team despite losing most of their core to trades and free agency. In 2011, when all looked bleak, the Rays pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history and eventually took center stage for one of the greatest nights in sports history.
The Rays competitive run ended following the 2013 season. During that six year run, the Rays reached the playoffs four times, had a Cy Young winner, multiple Gold Glovers, and two Rookie of the Year award winners.
Unfortunately in 2014, the Rays front office faced the realization that their winning ways were not likely to continue and started making some of the toughest decisions in franchise history, such as trading away David Price and then eventually parting ways with the likes of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman.
In December 2017, the Rays made the polarizing choice to trade away Evan Longoria. However, Longoria has since declined while the Rays went on to post one of the best seasons the franchise had seen in nearly a decade in 2018.
Now, in May 2019, the Rays currently hold first place in the division and seem well on their way to another winning record and potentially their first playoff appearance since 2013.
How will history remember the 2019 Rays?