Tampa Bay DevilRays Information
The Tampa-St. Petersburg area, one of the fastest growing areas in the United States during the 70s and 80s, made many attempts to acquire a baseball team before receiving the Devil Rays in the 1998 expansion. The main obstacles were city infighting and the lack of a stadium. That changed with the building of the state-of-the-art Florida Suncoast Dome in 1990. The dome was built without any notification of receiving a team (Major League Baseball recommended highly against it), and was solely meant to attract an existing team. Soon, teams started to look in to moving to the area, the first being the Chicago White Sox, who but for a last minute action by the Illinois Legislature would have moved to St. Petersburg. The price for keeping the White Sox in Chicago was high--a brand new Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field). The Seattle Mariners also looked at the area. While nothing came of it, an indirect result was what became Safeco Field. The San Francisco Giants also came close to moving there in 1992 but the team was eventually purchased and resultingly AT&T Park came about. Prior to the building of Tropicana Field, The Minnesota Twins expressed interest in moving to Tampa in 1984, before the team was sold to local businessman Carl Pohlad.
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Another shot at baseball came when San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie agreed in principle to sell the team to a Tampa Bay-based group, who would then move the team to the Suncoast Dome. A press conference was announced, uniforms were drawn up, and tickets were about to be printed. However, at the last minute, MLB's owners vetoed the move under pressure from San Francisco city officials. The Giants were eventually sold to a local San Francisco group who eventually built AT&T Park.
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From their inception in 1998, the Devil Rays have yet to be major contenders, finishing in last place in the American League East every year from 1998 to 2003. In 2003, the team signed manager Lou Piniella (a Tampa native), a proven manager who led the Cincinnati Reds to a World Championship in 1990 and then helped the Seattle Mariners become competitive in the mid-1990s. One of their best players has been recent Hall of Fame inductee Wade Boggs who, while with the Rays, became the first MLB player to have his 3,000th hit be a home run.
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After setbacks in the 2005 season that left them again last place in the division, and tired of what he felt was an insufficient commitment to winning by the ownership group, Piniella agreed to a buy out of the last year of his contract. There were positives in the situation, as the team went on a tear after the All-Star Break, leaving them above .500 for the remainder of the season. They finished 67-95 overall, making them 39-34 since the All-Star Break after a 28-61 start. The Rays continued to play spoilers in the second half, with a winning record and timely victories over contenders such as the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
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Immediately after the season ended, Stuart Sternberg, who bought into the ownership group in 2000, took over from Naimoli as managing general partner, thus taking over executive control of the team. He immediately fired Chuck LaMar, who had been the team's general manager since the team's first season, and most of the front office. Matt Silverman was named as team president, and Andrew Friedman took the role of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. Gerry Hunsicker, former General Manager of the Houston Astros, has taken over as Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations, and will advise Friedman. Sternberg has decided not to have a de jure General Manager, calling the position "outdated", and Friedman and Hunsicker will share that role at MLB functions.
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Expectations were low for the team entering the 2004 season, but the team surprised most baseball experts by compiling a 42-41 record (.506) in their first 83 games, staying within 5 games for the American League wild card, a remarkable feat considering the team was 18 games below .500 at one point. However, the team soon returned to its losing ways, finishing the 2004 season with a record of 70-91, the best in team history, and in 4th place in the American League East, also a team best.
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The team may have also set the tone for future contention with the play of young stars and up and coming players such as outfielders Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Infielder Jorge Cantu (who hit 28 home runs and drove in 117 runs in his rookie season of 2005) and pitcher Scott Kazmir (who finished in the top 5 in the American League in strikeouts). In 2006, the Rays also should have centerfielder Rocco Baldelli back, who missed the 2005 season with injuries, along with super prospects Delmon Young and BJ Upton. The next manager has tools to work with provided the new ownership group spends the money necessary for the team to contend.
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Although Sternberg has committed to keeping the team in Tampa Bay, rumors have begun to surface that he may change the name of the team in the near future. It was later stated that any name change would not come until after the 2007 season. A poll of season ticket holders suggested that the change may be as simple as the term "Devil" being dropped, making the team the "Tampa Bay Rays".
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On April 26, in a game against the Pawtucket Red Sox, Delmon Young was ejected from the first inning of a game for the Triple-A Durham Bulls for arguing a third strike, and struck the umpire in his chest protector with his bat. He was suspended indefinitely the next day by the International League pending an investigation, which ultimately resulted in a 50-game suspension without pay and a minimum 50 hours of community service. This is considered a big setback, as Young is one of the Devil Rays' top prospects, and was expected to see time in the Majors this season. On June 20, 2006 the Rays made their first trade of the season sending outfielder Joey Gathright and infielder Fernando Cortez to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher J.P. Howell.