June 28, 2005



How bad are things with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?

Well, columnist Dave George at the Palm Beach Post on Saturday said the franchise has no parallel.

When the Devil Rays allowed 13 runs in one inning Tuesday night, for instance, and lost 20-11 to the New York Yankees, were you shocked? Of course, not.

This is the same outfit, after all, that lost 18-2 to Pittsburgh earlier in the month. With a $29 million payroll, lowest in the majors, and a roster lined by raw kids, the Devil Rays are on pace to challenge their franchise record of 106 losses in a season.

The Florida Marlins, in St. Petersburg this weekend for an interleague series, may not be pleased with their recent run production or their lack of a new stadium plan or even the bad luck of Josh Beckett's blister, but there is absolutely nothing to complain about compared to Tampa Bay.

The Devil Rays are simply the lousiest franchise in the history of American professional sports.

Worst in terms of never giving fans anything to cheer. Worst in terms of name recognition, home and away. Worst in terms of totally abusing the patience of a market that endured years of false promises before finally fielding an expansion team in 1998.

Put it all together and you've got an organization that appears to be no better off today than it was for the inaugural game eight seasons ago.

Talk about your bad weekends... Baseball writer Peter Golenbock tagged them on Sunday for the way they've drained the fun out of going to the ballpark:

My biggest peeve is that the Devil Rays management has a policy that no one who goes to the games is allowed to have any fun. I am certain this is true. Perhaps this has something to do with fun being the work of the devil.

Because the team has been crushingly bad for so many years, the 7,000 or so die-hard Rays fans who religiously show up at the Trop have found small pockets of enjoyment over the years. The first was the devotion to rightfielder Bubba Trammell. I'm not sure why - maybe it was his name - but Bubba had a fervent, loyal following. His fans all sat in a section of the stands right behind him and rooted for him like a son. It didn't take long for Devil Rays management to decide those fans were having too much fun. They traded Trammell and Rick White to the New York Mets for Jason Tyner - one of those favored good-field, no-hit journeymen who never made it - and pitcher Paul Wilson.

No one ever had a fan club for Jason Tyner, though the Devil Rays did make 15,000 Jason Tyner bobblehead dolls just days before sending him to the minor leagues. He's still in the minors, with another organization. A bobblehead collector, I wonder what happened to all those dolls.

The next impromptu nightly celebration came from an unlikely source: groundskeeper McArthur Church, who would walk onto the field in the middle innings with a broom to sweep the infield, then would break out into a dance routine that would thrill the fans. For several years, Church's nightly performance was the highlight of the game. But then Church was accused of stealing used baseballs, and he was fired. Management didn't care that he brought all this joy to the fans. Rather than give him a second chance, they summarily banished him forever from the field. He is missed to this day. Where have you gone, McArthur Church?

With Church gone, yet a third entertainment highlight appeared one evening, when a group of ushers spontaneously walked onto the roof of the home dugout and spelled out the letters YMCA with their arms while the song blared on the loudspeaker. This was unadulterated fun, and it inspired the crowd to sing and dance along.

Then one day YMCA was no more. Someone in the killjoy Devil Rays organization decided that it had to go. Ushers relayed to me several reasons, all of them stupid: The song went on too long. The Devil Rays don't want any entertainment unless a product is being hawked. It was distracting to the players.

Whatever the reason, the Devil Rays have gotten their wish: All fun has fled from Tropicana Field. You'd think the Rays were handing out Ritalin and Prozac before the game, the fans are so subdued. The Kiss Cam is now the highlight of the game, perfect family entertainment, though when the two gay guys who were pictured on the Jumbotron to get a laugh actually kissed each other on the lips, I thought the Kiss Cam would be history as well. I understand the spot is taped now to keep spontaneity from ever breaking out again. Too bad.

Whenever unruly fans begin to carry on in the box seats, ushers rush over to tell them to keep the noise down. Fans who want to sit near the field in the ninth inning are summarily returned to their seats with stern admonitions. If the Trop is a church, it's a Puritan church.

Posted by Jeff at June 28, 2005 07:30 AM | TrackBack

I heard a joke around town that when a Coach wants to light a fire under his players, he'll warn them that if they don't pick up the slack, they'll get traded to the Devil Rays.

they're a boring team, they need new owners!

Posted by: Laura at June 28, 2005 07:51 AM
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