Thursday, November 20, 2014

Short Term Stops: The All-(Devil) Rays Team


I think the Tampa Bay Rays might be the most sympathetic team in baseball.

Sure, they might've been a laughingstock at first. The team never won more than 70 games in any of their first ten seasons. And that's not even mentioning the horrific uniforms the Devil Rays wore during that time span.

But after what seemed like an innocent name change, the newly-christened Rays became perennial pennant contenders at the drop of a hat. They've won over 90 games in five of the past seven and made it to the World Series in 2008, a turnaround that was predicted by no one.

No matter what kind of team the Rays field, however, nothing can change their absolute pit of a stadium in Tampa. They've been last in attendance in each of the past three seasons despite the squad's successes. (And 29th in 2011.)

If baseball is serious about moving a team back to Montreal, the Rays should be the number one candidate. I'll say it until I'm blue in the face.

But enough about that. Let's get to why we're here tonight. With only 17 years of existence under their belt, the (Devil) Rays don't have as much history as a lot of my past "Short Term Stops" rosters.

Even so, I think they still managed to put a pretty good team on the field.



Pitchers

2001 Topps #543 Juan Guzman

"Short Term Stops" (Devil) Rays Accolades:

Juan Guzman (2000 Devil Rays, 1 game, sunset season)

We begin with the exceptionally rare one-game wonder.

Juan Guzman jumped around a bit after a bunch of solid years in Toronto, eventually hooking up with the floundering Devil Rays in 2000.

He gave up eight earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings in what would prove to be his only game in Tampa and the last appearance of his career. Not surprisingly, Guzman took the loss in that contest, wrapping up his Devil Rays tenure with a staggering 43.20 ERA.

43.20.



2005 Absolute Memorabilia #89 Hideo Nomo 

(Devil) Rays Accolades:

Hideo Nomo (2005 Devil Rays, 19 games)

Lots of once-great stars eventually found themselves in Tampa once their glory days were over.

Among them were Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, and Jose Canseco, to name a few. You can add Hideo Nomo to that list. I bet most fans don't even remember him being in the bigs past around 2000 or so.

After a three-year stint with the Dodgers, Nomo wound up in Tampa in 2005. He posted a 5-8 record with an awful 7.24 ERA during his forgettable tenure with the Devil Rays. An ERA like that makes you wonder how he lasted 19 games with the club.

Had it not been for a three-game comeback with the 2008 Royals which exactly zero people remember, it might've gone down as Nomo's grand farewell.



2014 Topps Heritage #71 Heath Bell

Rays Accolades:

Heath Bell (2014 Rays, 13 games)

It pains me to say it, but this might go down as Heath Bell's sunset card.

The Rays released the fun-loving reliever in May of 2014 after only a little over a month with the club. Considering the 7.27 ERA he put up in his 13 games in Tampa, it wasn't much of a shock.

Bell spent time in both the Oriole and Yankee systems for the remainder of the year, but never made it back to the bigs. 

I'm holding out hope for a grand comeback in 2015, but it's admittedly a longshot.

Honorable Mentions:

Jason Isringhausen (2009 Rays, 9 games)
Chad Bradford (2008-09 Rays, 41 games, sunset season in '09)
Rafael Soriano (2010 Rays, 64 games)



Catcher

2010 Upper Deck "Season Biography" #SB-152 Gregg Zaun

Rays Accolades:

Gregg Zaun (2010 Rays, 34 games, half-year stint)

This is, as far as I know, the only card of Gregg Zaun as a Ray.

No wacky parallels, no gimmicky SPs, nothing. This is it. While I love the high-five-tastic shot, it's a little sad that Zaun didn't even get his face on what would turn out to be his last baseball card.

Not the best way to go out.



First Base

2012 Gypsy Queen #199 Casey Kotchman

Rays Accolades:

Casey Kotchman (2011 Rays, 146 games)

For those who don't know, Casey Kotchman is the subject of one of my largest player collections.

He, Marlon Byrd, and Hoyt Wilhelm were the "Big Three" when I first started getting back into baseball cards around 2005 or so. Kotchman was fairly obscure then, and he was pretty much a no-namer by the time he signed with the Rays in 2011.

Then, much to everyone's surprise, he came out of nowhere to hit .306 in 146 games that season, good for eighth in baseball and worthy of a spot in the high-class Gypsy Queen checklist the following year.

After a woeful 2012 with the Indians and a short six-game stint with the 2013 Marlins, it looks like Kotchman might sadly be done for good.

Still, he'll always have a spot in my top tier of player collections.

Honorable Mentions:

Tino Martinez (2004 Devil Rays, 138 games)
Robert Fick (2004 Devil Rays, 76 games, half-year stint)



Second Base

2013 Topps #479 Kelly Johnson

Rays Accolades:

Kelly Johnson (2013 Rays, 118 games)

Kelly Johnson has the odd distinction of having played for all five teams in the AL East.

After a little over a year with the Blue Jays, he wound up in Tampa in 2013. Johnson suited up for the Orioles, Yankees, and Red Sox this past season, rounding out his trek through the AL East.

An impressive feat, yes, but not exactly an honorable one.



Shortstop

2001 Fleer Triple Crown #246 Ozzie Guillen

(Devil) Rays Accolades:

Ozzie Guillen (2000 Devil Rays, 63 games, sunset season)

Mr. Guillen is probably the king of this "Short Term Stops" roster.

After a long and distinguished tenure with the hometown White Sox (and short stints with the Orioles and Braves), Ozzie found himself in Tampa, a city that was fast becoming a home for washed-up stars.

He hit .243 in 63 games with the Devil Rays before calling it quits. This is one of those odd stints that will never look right to me.

I can deny it all I want, but the truth is in the few cards I have of him as a Devil Ray.



Third Base

2006 Upper Deck #826 Sean Burroughs

(Devil) Rays Accolades:

Sean Burroughs (2006 Devil Rays, 8 games)

Sean Burroughs is kind of like the poor man's Josh Hamilton.

Like Hamilton, Burroughs was a one-time top prospect who flamed out and eventually battled with substance abuse. He never lived up to his full potential with the Padres and looked to be done after a brief eight-game stint with the 2006 Devil Rays.

After four full years out of baseball, however, Burroughs made it back to the bigs with the 2011 Diamondbacks. He's still playing in the Independent League at 34 years of age, a testament to his love of the game.

It's stories like these that make baseball the most magical sport on Earth.

Honorable Mention:

Geoff Blum (2004 Devil Rays, 112 games)


Outfielders

2003 Bowman Heritage Rainbow #185 Matt Diaz

(Devil) Rays Accolades:

Matt Diaz (2003-04 Devil Rays, 14 games)

Matt Diaz had a few solid years as a pinch-hitting extraordinare for the Braves.

His career actually started in Tampa Bay back in 2003. I don't have a whole lot to say about him aside from the fact that this card is one of the most fascinating pieces of my collection. 

As far as I can tell, Diaz never played a single inning at catcher in his professional career. And yet Bowman felt the need to use a shot of him wearing a catcher's mask for this particular card.

What gives?



2005 Topps Total #537 Josh Phelps

(Devil) Rays Accolades:

Josh Phelps (2005 Devil Rays, 47 games)

I can't tell you exactly why I collect Josh Phelps.

He put up a couple good years with the Blue Jays, but was mainly a bench player by the time he wound up with the Devil Rays in 2005. Still, Topps Total had a way of making bench guys look heroic. 

It's one of the many reasons I miss the brand so much.



2011 Topps Heritage #20 Johnny Damon

Rays Accolades:

Johnny Damon (2011 Rays, 150 games)

I'm already starting to forget that Johnny Damon was ever a Ray.

Though he hit just .261 during his lone season in Tampa, he did club a healthy 16 home runs. 

I don't know about you but I always find it fascinating to see cards of relatively new squads like the Rays or Marlins in sets like Topps Heritage. 

Teams that weren't a glimmer in anyone's eye in 1962. 

Honorable Mention:

Eric Hinske (2008 Rays, 133 games)



Designated Hitter

2011 Bowman #90 Manny Ramirez

Rays Accolades:

Manny Ramirez (2011 Rays, 5 games, sunset season)

Well, we've come to the elephant in the room on this roster.

As you might remember, Manny was on the verge of receiving a 100-game suspension just five games into his Rays career for a second violation of MLB's drug policy. It wasn't the game's greatest moment.

Rather than face the ban, Ramirez simply decided to hang 'em up. It sent his tenure in Tampa (and his career, for that matter) to a screeching halt. Manny finished with exactly one hit in 17 at-bats as a Ray.

He served as a player-coach for the Cubs' Triple-A squad last year. From what I hear, Manny may have a future in the dugout. But I think it's safe to say that his big-league playing career is pretty much over.

It ended in Tampa, of all places.

Honorable Mentions:

Cliff Floyd (2008 Rays, 80 games)
Pat Burrell (2009 Rays, 24 games, half-year stint)

That's it for this edition of "Short Term Stops".

Tune in next time.

3 comments:

Zippy Zappy said...

"The Tampa Bay Rays might be the most sympathetic team in baseball."
I'd really hate to bring this to a dark place but I refuse to call a team that employs a rapist sympathetic.

Regardless, great post. Its funny how so many past their prime players find themselves in Tampa and Miami.

Tony L. said...

An interesting group of players there. I have to admit to being 100% uninterested in Tampa Bay baseball prior to about 2014...

shlabotnikreport said...

Have you/are you going to do a Short-term stop for the Mets? I only ask because I've had my own post in the works for months.

Kelly Johnson might end up being "Mr. Short Term"

I can't say the Zaun card is great, but I have added it to my want list.

Two more things about Sean Burroughs:
His father, Jeff, was the 1974 AL MVP.
As a boy, Sean was a pitcher whose team won two Little League World Series.