For the summer months of 2oo7, I spent 31 wonderful nights at a nearly empty Tropicana Field watching the Devil Rays lose their way to the worst record in Major League Baseball. For two and a half months I made it to the bigs to work with the team's marketing department. During which time, in addition to combating one of the leagues worst products we had to learn how to market a team with troubled youthful prospect Elijah Dukes, who had been asked never to return to the Durham Bulls (The Rays AAA affiliate), threatened to kill his wife and children via text message and impregnated a teenage girl who (get this) was under Dukes' grandmothers' foster care. Yikes! This was a franchise in disarray, and it became increasingly difficult to convince fans that the product was indeed on its way up with Dukes creating such a PR nightmare and the bullpen on its way to setting records for haplessness.
A year later on June 1st, it appears as though the Rays have dropped the Devil and the losing association of their entire team history. The Rays have finally arrived and are being taken seriously by baseball fans across the country. This is an organization that exudes confidence in 2008 thanks largely to the psyche created by everyone in their front office. Joe Maddon has done an excellent job making the team believe and everyone in that front office should be commended in getting the public to believe through their hard work explaining that the young talent has arrived. On the final day of May, the Rays packed in 36,000 fans to Tropicana Field against the White Sox, a figure that I find staggering having worked there last season. Aside from the Kansas City Royals, the attendance for when the White Sox were in St. Petersburg felt to be the lowest of the summer. It seemed as though the team struggled to draw 10,000 fans to the games and to have 36,000 on Saturday and nearly 25,000 on Sunday really shows that some fans are buying into the teams’ success. Barring injury, the 2008 Rays should keep things interesting the rest of the way and keep having fans come to through the turnstiles.
Let’s quickly discuss the numbers involved. The Rays are thirteen games above .500 and lead the American League East with a payroll of roughly $43.5 million dollars (29th Overall – Ahead of only the Florida Marlins). You would have to just about triple that figure to reach the Red Sox payroll (133 Million) and multiply their payroll nearly five times to surpass the Yankees payroll (207 Million). Even the mid-market Toronto Blue Jays are more than doubling their payroll (97 Million), which examines just how small 43.5 million dollars is compared to what other teams are shelling out just within the American League East. The Rays have dedicated their money to their minor league system and are the model franchise for what to do with revenue sharing money as the relative amount of revenue sharing dollars project to significantly decrease to small market teams as a result of the 2007 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Kudos to the Rays front office as they have made 2008 interesting, challenging every economic factor facing small market teams head on.
Congratulations to the Rays on making it through May in first-place. Now we will see if they have what it takes to become the Cinderella story of the year.