Some years ago, my interwebtacular partner in crime asked me to contribute to his series entitled Tales of Depression and Sorrow. In said pieces, J-Dub of Dubsism fame asks fans of a particular franchise to share in the misery of their sporting experience. What can I say? Dubsy is a sick man who relishes in the sadness of others. That’s why we love him.
For the longest time, I resisted writing about the Tampa Bay Rays. After all, I’ve only been a fan of the franchise for about six or seven years. I’m not a lifer by any stretch. But having grown up in New York City a Red Sox fan – which by the way, I don’t recommend – I’ve been a follower of the AL East for forty years. Upon moving back to Tampa, I decided to abandon my lifelong devotion for the BoSox and support the hometown Rays.
They needed me far more than Boston.
The Tampa Bay Rays are the American League East’s underprivileged youngest brother, the kid who scrounges for scraps from the dinner table if he’s lucky to get any at all.
The recent trading away of the franchise’s biggest name, Evan Longoria, was finally enough to make me lift up my pen and succumb to J-Dub’s request. It’s not that Longo was great, a career .270 hitter and 261 HRs in ten seasons in Tampa. He was just great by Rays’ standards. And, he was, the Rays. If any player was ever thought to retire a Ray, it would have been Longo.
Not so much anymore.
Longoria now plays for the San Francisco Giants. In return, we got a handful of players you’ve never heard of before. It was another sad day for a franchise that doesn’t see many happy ones.
So here goes nothing, Dubs. Per your request and on behalf of every disillusioned fan in the Bay, I humbly present your Tampa Bay Rays Tales of Misery and Depression.
J-Dub: How long have you been a fan of the Rays?
Sportschump: As I mentioned above, I moved back to Tampa a little less than ten years ago but I didn’t immediately jump on the home team’s bandwagon. (Note: it’s a small bandwagon.) The Red Sox had finally won the Series in 2004 and again in 2007 and 2013. I saw what success was doing to their fan base. They had gone from lovable losers and a fan base that didn’t know what winning was to a bunch of boastful chowderheads who had never heard of Calvin Schiraldi. It’s not that I enjoy suffering. I just didn’t want to be lumped into a bunch of ungrateful Sox fans who couldn’t properly spell Yastrzemski.
The Rays were welcoming, inviting even with plenty of seats to be had. Even though every home game versus either Boston or New York is still overloaded with fans of the opposing team, one can perhaps visualize when that’s no longer the case.
It’s happened here with hockey. Baseball might take a little longer.
J-Dub: What made you become a fan of the Rays?
SC: I live in Tampa now and don’t plan on leaving, certainly not to live in Boston again. It just no longer made sense for me to root for the Red Sox.
Although I will say this. With some of the moves the Rays have made, and continue to make with the Longoria deal, being a fan of this team is a real struggle.
J-Dub: Who is your favorite all time Rays player?
SC: Again, tough call here, Dubs, because players are barely here long enough for us to buy their jersey and get mustard stains on it. Sure, Longo was here for ten years but look at some of the players that have come and gone. James Shields, David Price, Carl Crawford, Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist, Matt Garza, Matt Moore. Having a favorite Rays player is like having a series of slightly satisfying one-night stands.
J-Dub: Who is your “brother-in-law” player (meaning guy you hated, but tolerated him because he was on your team) and why did you pick them?
SC: Carlos Pena comes to mind, Dubs. In 2009, he led the league in home runs (39) but hit .227 and struck out 163 times. He followed up that season hitting. 196. I mean, what kind of major league franchise starts players that hit below the Mendoza Line? But Pena was charismatic and fans loved him because they knew he’d occasionally knock the ball a mile.
But, like most Rays, Pena was soon let go as well. Story of our lives.
J-Dub: Who was your “bad, but hot girlfriend” player (meaning guy you loved but you knew was bad for your team) and why did you pick them?
SC: You know what, Dubs? The answer here might be Evan Longoria, although staff “ace” Chris Archer did have 19 losses in 2016. Longoria, however, was slated to make $81 million over the next five seasons. It was the Giancarlo Stanton syndrome, just with a lot less home runs.
The Rays, like the Marlins, had a heavily backloaded contract they weren’t going to be able to afford. While most Rays fans are sad to see the Rays part ways with Longoria, financially it had to be done. Heck, the Rays annual payroll isn’t even $81 million.
I’ll tell you this. For a team that really struggled defensively last year, we’re going to miss Longoria’s glove. Note: Longoria won three Golden Glove awards while playing in Tampa, including one in 2017.
J-Dub: What is your personal highlight moment for being a Rays fan?
SC: Years ago, I boldly proclaimed that the Rays would never be able to compete with the payrolls of AL East. Lately, they haven’t. But it wasn’t all that long ago that they did.
In 2016, the Yanks, Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays were 2nd, 3rd, 11th and 14th in payroll respectively. The Rays were 29th. I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses but the only people in Tampa benefitting from no salary cap in Major League Baseball are the Rays owners.
Pretty much everyone else takes it on the chin.
So, my personal highlight moment had to be reaching the World Series in 2008… where the Philadelphia Phillies quickly reminded them they weren’t quite ready for prime time.
J-Dub: What is your personal lowlight moment for being a Rays fan?
SC: The Longo thing sucks but trading away Matt Moore in 2016 and then seeing him almost throw a no-hitter for the Giants later that season is just sickening.
In 2012, it looked like the Rays had finally found their closer. Fernando Rodney finished the season with 48 saves. He followed that up with 37 the next season. In 2014, the Rays decided they weren’t going to pay him. He went to Seattle and led the league that season with another 48 saves. He was as automatic as they come in those days. He made $7 million in Seattle that year, three times what he made the year before in Tampa Bay.
I could go on but I think you’re getting my point. The Rays are Major League Baseball’s Dollar Store.
J-Dub: Was there ever a moment when you considered changing teams? If so what caused that moment? If not, why?
SC: Dubs, we’ve talked about this in the past. I’m not going to see a movie if I know it’s bad. I’m not going back to a restaurant where I’ve had bad service and an even worse meal. So why the hell am I rooting for a team that routinely and consistently sucks? Just because I happen to reside in the city in which they play?
Nah, I’m not switching to another baseball team. Heck, I can barely stand to watch the sport anymore anyway. I’d just stop watching baseball entirely. Ownership hasn’t really done much for the fans. The product is frighteningly mediocre and when the team does flirt with a .500 record, its seen as overachieving.
Much like with the Buccaneers, a change of culture is desperately needed. I’m not so sure I see that on the horizon for the Rays.
J-Dub: If the Rays re-located to another city, would you remain a fan?
SC: That, my friend, is a very interesting question, especially because one could make the argument that they are the Major League team most likely to get up and go.
Some interesting rumors have surfaced of late about building a stadium on the Tampa side of the bay (the Trop currently resides in St. Petersburg) but a new stadium is no guarantee fans will come. The franchise has struggled with attendance (and why wouldn’t they?) so why dump half a billion dollars on a structure that might not see fans walk through the doors?
There have been rumors of Montreal wanting another team but I’m not too sure how legit that is. The Golden Knights have done well in Las Vegas. I’m not sure Vegas is on the MLB’s radar but the Rays could most certainly use an overhaul whether it’s in Tampa or not.
If they moved, hypothetically speaking, I’m not too sure I’d root for ‘em. Watching them succeed elsewhere might be too bitter pill to swallow.
J-Dub: If there was one personnel decision you think could have changed your team’s fortunes, what was it and what would you have done differently?
SC: This team tries to come off as Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball, creating wins for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, those W’s haven’t come lately.
I get that this is a team on a budget. The entire town does. But where does it end? Kevin Kiermaier is one of the game’s upcoming young stars. The guy is a highlight reel in centerfield. He’s due to make $6 mil next year and $8 mil in 2019. After that he’s an eight-figure a year guy and will most likely be playing in someone else’s uniform. Why should I bother becoming a fan of the guy when I know he’ll be a Yankee in a few years?
I’m not sure there’s anything I’d do differently other than spend more money and market the team better. The system as currently comprised doesn’t allow for small market teams on a budget to compete in the long term. Tell Billy Beane to put that in his pipe and smoke it.
J-Dub: What was your toughest off-field moment being a Rays fan?
SC: Dubs, I don’t think this Longoria deal can be understated. Longo was in all the local promos. He was the face of the franchise and had been for the longest time. He was routinely named Tampa Bay’s favorite athlete. If people didn’t care about the Rays beforehand, they’re really not going to care now. There are local minor league teams around the country that get more support than the Rays.
You know I tend bar. I can go an entire season without having a customer ask me to put the Rays game on TV. If I don’t have a Lightning game turned on twenty minutes before puck drop, people are up in arms. Therein lies your difference, my friend.
J-Dub: If you could wave a magic wand, what is one thing about the Rays you would change?
SC: Way to end this thing on a positive note. Building a beautiful new stadium is putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. Until ownership stops looking at this team as a “business,” they’re going to keep putting their fans through the ringer. Those fans will return the favor by not going through the turnstiles.
I’d ask if it was baseball season yet but at this point, I’m not too sure any of us really care.