Column: Money can’t stop the Rays

By Connor Gregoire

The Hoya, Georgetown U. via UWIRE

The Major League Baseball season ended Sunday, and the Divisional Series begins tomorrow afternoon. Eight teams are still standing after 162 games, and one of them just won the American League East for the second time in three seasons — and it isn’t the Yankees or the Red Sox.

It’s the Tampa Bay Rays.

Before they open their series with the Texas Rangers, I think it’s appropriate to pose this question about the Rays: How the heck did they do that?

For perspective, since the AL East took its current five-team form in 1995, four of the five teams in the division have won the division title. The Boston Red Sox won the first flag in ’95 and then waited until 2007 to repeat the feat. The Baltimore Orioles took home the division championship in 1997 and haven’t won since. As you might have guessed, the Yankees won the other 11 times. (The fifth team, the Toronto Blue Jays, last made the playoffs in 1993 and decided, after winning two consecutive World Series, to quit while they were ahead.)

So since 1998, only the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays have won the AL East, and only the Yankees and Rays have won it more than once.

That’s all well and good, you might say, but what’s the big deal? Well, there’s $179 million. That’s how much the Rays have committed to combined Opening Day payroll over the last three seasons.

Then there’s $206.3 million. That’s how much the Yankees committed to this season’s Opening Day payroll. Add up the last three seasons, and New York’s total comes to a whopping $616.7 million.

Before you close the paper because you’ve heard the “ridiculousness of the Yankee payroll” story a million times, know that I know that the Red Sox haven’t shied away from the tab during that three-year span, either, committing to more than $417.5 million in Opening Day payroll since 2008. The Orioles and Blue Jays have also outspent the Rays over the last three seasons.

The point I’m making is probably obvious by now: The Rays, who hadn’t even enjoyed a winning season as a franchise prior to 2008, have done something fiscally incredible by beating the Yankees two out of three times despite the fact that New York spent more money this season alone than Tampa Bay has spent in total over three years. It’s even more impressive that the Rays outdid the top two spenders in all of Major League Baseball — the Yankees and Red Sox — with the second-to-lowest payroll in 2008 and the 21st-highest out of 30 teams this season. Imagine how much there would have been to talk about if Tampa Bay had beaten the Phillies in the ’08 World Series and won the whole darn thing.

So this column isn’t about the need for a salary cap or knocking the Yankees for paying Alex Rodriguez almost as much money this season ($33 million) as the entire 25-man roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates made ($34.9 million). It’s simply a call to all fans to pause before the playoffs begin tomorrow — whether your team is still playing or not — and appreciate the little baseball miracle that is the ball club from Tampa Bay.

It wasn’t long ago that the Rays were more famous for a Dennis Quaid movie about a hard-throwing reliever named Jim Morris (“The Rookie”) than they were for their play on the field. Some didn’t take them seriously until they knocked the Red Sox out of the American League Championship Series in Game Seven in 2008 on their way to the World Series. Others watched them miss the playoffs last year and dismissed ’08 as a fluke.

But now they’re back.

So pay attention to the Rays this time. They may not be the same again after this year as key players like Carlos Peña, Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano hit the free agent market this offseason, but the current group has one more shot at it.

And if for no other reason, wish the Rays well because — no offense to the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers — they might soon be the only thing left standing between the Evil Empire and another World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Read more here: http://thehoya.com/sports/Money-Cant-Stop-the-Rays-1051015/
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