Today in sports history (1995), an ownership group led by Vince Naimoli was approved for an expansion team in Tampa Bay. After three unsuccessful decades of trying to bring a team to Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays were approved. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ first season was 1998.
In late 1997, Larry Rothschild was named the first manager of the team. In the expansion draft in 1997, the Devil Rays selected 35 players, including Tony Saunders. Later, the Devil Rays were able to acquire Kevin Stocker, Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff and Wilson Alvarez.
Tampa Bay Rays Get Off to Rocky Start
Most expansion teams are destined for failure for their first couple of seasons in the MLB. This is obviously due to starting with no players, trying to garner fan interest and limited funds. The Devil Rays flipped that around, as they got off to an 11-8 start in their inaugural season. Even though the team finished the season with 99 losses, Boggs recorded his 3,000th hit as a part of the Devil Rays. After the season, Tampa Bay acquired three star hitters — Vinny Castilla, Jose Canseco and Greg Vaughn. Teaming these three up with McGriff, the team was called “The Hit Show.” However, all three of the big-name acquisitions were past their prime and did not turn out to be the superstar quartet that the Rays had hoped. After a lack-luster three seasons, the Rays went into a rebuild.
Aubrey Huff, Carl Crawford and Toby Hall began to emerge as franchise cornerstones, come the 2002 season. A key part of the Rays rebuild is when they acquired manager Lou Pinella. The Tampa Bay native immediately improved the team, winning seven more games than the previous season. After a bad 2004 season, the Rays actually finished third in the league in batting average in 2005. Pinella became frustrated with the team and Joe Maddon took over.
In 2008, the Devil Rays changed their name, by dropping the “Devil” to just become the Rays. They also welcomed in new players, including Troy Percival, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria. They also signed their number one draft pick, David Price. The Rays held the best record in the MLB through Memorial Day. Scott Kazmir, Dioner Navarro and Longoria were all selected to the All-Star game. On September 20, the Rays clinched a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history.
Tampa Bay Rays Become Contenders
Tampa Bay defeated the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS in four games and was presented with a matchup against the Boston Red Sox. They defeated their divisional rival in a wild seven-game series. They were then matched up against the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2008 World Series. The Phillies ended up winning 4-1. The next biggest piece of Rays history came in 2011. In the 162nd game of the season, the Rays were tied with the Red Sox for a Wildcard spot. They were matched up with the New York Yankees. Three minutes after the Orioles beat the Red Sox, Longoria hit the most famous home run in Rays history, a walk-off playoff-clinching home run. They were eventually eliminated in the ALDS by the Texas Rangers.
In 2012, the Rays failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, but found a shining light in Fernando Rodney. Price also took home the Cy Young Award. In 2015, Kevin Cash took over the reigns as the manager from Maddon. The Rays clinched their first postseason under Cash in 2018. This culminated in a 2019 playoff berth led by Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo on the mound. Tampa Bay eventually lost to the Astros in a five-game ALDS.
They got to their second World Series appearance in 2020 during the shortened season. The emergence of Randy Arozarena gave fans hope that a World Series trophy was coming to Tampa. In an incredible World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers prevailed in six games and the Rays were sent packing once again. They made it back to the playoffs in 2021, but lost to the Red Sox in four games, during the ALDS.