Sunday, February 8, 2015

I Didn't Know He Played For: Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay had a rough start to their history.  They had plenty of young prospects but very little money and for quite some time it seemed as though they were the training grounds for the rest of the Major Leagues.  Often they would develop a great young player, know that they could not afford to keep him and then move him along to somewhere else.  Of course, over the last several years the team has developed their own identity thanks to players like David Price, Evan Longoria, Justin Upton, Wil Meyers, James Shields and Carl Crawford.  Here are some of the people who you may not have realized wore a Tampa Bay uniform.

Wade Boggs

Boggs was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame when he retired.  He is easily remembered as a member of the Red Sox playoff teams in  the 1980s and for the joy he showed in finally winning the World Series as a Yankee.  Did you remember that Boggs played his final two seasons in Tampa Bay, even achieving his  3000th hit with Tampa?  It may seem like an odd choice for a Hall of Fame player on his way out of the league to sign with a non- contending team but Boggs was born and raised in the Tampa area so his time there put a nice cyclical end to his career.

Wilson Alvarez

The White Sox began to build a strong young team around Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura in the early 1990's.  One of the big pieces of that young group was Wilson Alvarez.  As a rookie in 1991 Alvarez threw a no-hitter and when the White Sox made the playoffs in 1993 for the first time since 1983, Alvarez was essential to their success.  By 1997, with the Sox looking to rebuild again, Alvarez was traded to the Giants for the pennant race.  A free agent at the end of the year, Alvarez signed with the newly formed Devil Rays.  He would play parts of 3 seasons for Tampa Bay and finish with a 17-26 record for the team.

Jerome Walton
Expectations were high for Jerome Walton when he came to the Cubs.  In his first year in the league he formed a 1-2 rookie punch with Dwight Smith and joined future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson for arguably the best outfield that year (Pittsburgh and Oakland were likely better but the Cubs for one year were close.) Walton won Rookie of the Year but injuries slowed his development.  As he moved from one team to another Walton always seemed to land on a winner.  He played in the post season with the 1995 Reds, 1996 Braves and 1997 Orioles.  Following his stint with the Orioles, Walton signed as a free agent and was one of the original 1998 Devil Rays.  He played in only 12 games for Tampa before retiring.

Jose Canseco

For a brief period Jose Canseco was recognized as the best player on the planet.  Unfortunately,  outside forces got in the way of Canseco's on field performance.  He was bannished from Oakland and sent to Texas followed by a stop in Boston.  After one successful season (production wise) in Toronto, Canseco signed with Tampa Bay for 1999.  Jose displayed his usual power with 34 Home Runs in the season and another 15 through late July in 2000. Following the trade deadline in 2000 Tampa waived Jose who was claimed by the Yankees and would be a part of his final World Series team when the Yankees beat the Mets.

Julio Franco
Julio Franco became a bit of an ageless wonder in the early 2000's.  Making his Major League debut with the Phillies in 1982 before being traded to Cleveland for Von Hayes, Franco became an All Star and fan favorite in Cleveland and Texas.  Following the 1997 season it appeared that his Major League career was over when he signed with Japan's Chiba Lotte at the age of 39.  In 1999 the Rays took a chance on the former batting champion and on September 22 Franco finally saw action.  He appeared in an 8-5 loss to Anaheim as a Pinch Hitter.  The former batting wizard struck out in his only at bat. By the following off season he was gone.  Franco would emerge in a few years with the Braves and Mets and would amaze everyone with his ability to hit.  He did not retire until he was 48 years old.

Ozzie Guillen
Known in his playing days as a spectacular defensive short stop for the White Sox, younger fans will know Ozzie as the outspoken manager of the White Sox and Marlins.  Following a very brief stop in Baltimore Guillen contributed to the Braves 1998 and 1999 playoff teams.  Just a few days into the 2000 season Guillen was released by the Braves and signed by Tampa Bay.  He would play in 63 games for the Devil Rays before retiring at the end of the year.

Dwight Gooden

Few pitchers had the potential, talent and determination that Dwight Gooden had.  He was an unhittable pitcher with the Mets before almost losing his career.  He was reborn with the Yankees in the mid to late 1990's but a young Yankee pitching staff caught up with him.  In 2000 Gooden signed with the Astros who sold Gooden's contract to the Devil Rays after one game.  Gooden was one of the first of the 1980s stars to come out of the Tampa Bay area (the city has a long tradition of sending talent to the majors including Al Lopez, Tony LaRussa and Lou Piniella along with many others) and had a brief home coming with the Devil Rays.  After just 8 appearances Gooden was released in May of 2000 and was quickly signed by the Yankees.  He helped the 2000 Yankees win the World Series before retiring.

Hideo Nomo

Hideo Nomo was a pitching sensation when he joined the Dodgers in 1995.  As his effectiveness decreased he moved on to several other teams including Boston where he pitched a no-hitter.  He would return to the Dodgers for three moderately successful seasons.  After the 2004 season the Dodgers again released the pitcher and Nomo signed with Tampa Bay.  During the 2005 season, his only season with the Devil Rays, Nomo pitched in 100 innings and finished with a 5-8 record.

Pat Burrell

Pat Burrell was the cornerstone of the Phillies youth movement of the late 1990's to early 2000's.  As the 2008 Phillies fought to their World Series title, Burrell was sometimes  replaced for defensive purposes and was considered too slow on the base paths.  A free agent after the 2008 season, the Phillies allowed Burrell to move on and signed Raul Ibanez as his replacement.  The next thing most of the country knew, Burrell was helping the misfit Giants hoist the World Series trophy in 2010.  But there was a stop in between.  After helping the Phillies beat the Rays in the 2008 World Series, Burell signed as a free agent with the team he just beat.  His  numbers in Tampa Bay were well below his normal numbers in Philadelphia and his playing time diminished.  In May of 2010 Burrell was released by Tampa Bay and signed with the Giants where he made a big impact in the San Francisco Bay.

Johnny Damon
Johnny Damon became a national name as a self proclaimed "idiot" with the Red Sox. Known for his clutch hitting as well as his beard and long hair, he shocked the Red Sox by signing with the enemy Yankees, cutting his hair and shaving for the 2006 season.  After winning the 2009 World Series with the Yankees, Damon tried to bring a 2010 World Series to Detroit but that failed.  After his stop with the Tigers Damon signed with Tampa Bay, although it was clear his skills were slowing.  In 150 games Damon had one of his lowest batting averages (.261) of his career, although his power and RBI numbers were up compared to his year in Detroit,  After one year in Tampa Bay Damon moved on.

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before being suspended for steroids in 2009.  His reputation changed over night.  Near the end of the 2010 season, a disaster for the Dodgers, Manny was released and signed with the White Sox for the pennant chase.  He was released again at the end of the year and was a free agent.  With his skills on the decline and the distraction of Manny being Manny having ceased to be fun, few people were throwing money his way.  Manny signed with the Rays but after 5 games Manny was 1-17 with no runs, 1 RBI and 5 strikeouts.  Then news broke that Manny had failed another drug test. Instead of serving the necessary 100 game suspension Manny retired.

Hideki Matsui

Known to Yankee fans as "Godzilla"  Matsui won the 2009 World Series MVP in leading the Yankees past the Phillies.  Matsui signed with the Angels for 2010 where he had a season comparable to his 2009 Yankees numbers.  He moved on to Oakland for a slower season in 2011.  The ride ended for Godzilla when he played the 2012 season with Tampa Bay.  In 34 games with Tampa Bay he hit only .147. On 8/1/2012 Matsui was released.

Ozzie Guillen was a successful manager for the White Sox and (somewhat) for the Marlins.  How many players featured in today's article played on a team while Ozzie was their manager?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
On 6/3/1997, with the 22nd overall pick of the first round, the Baltimore Orioles selected Jayson Werth.  Werth never played in the Major Leagues in an Orioles uniform.  He was traded on 12/11/2000 to the Jays for Pitcher John Bale.  Bale had pitched in a total of 3 games for the Jays in 1999 and 2000.  In 5 2/3 innings he had allowed 7 hits, 10 runs (9 earned), 2 Home Runs and had an ERA of 14.29.


  1. I found a similarity between baseball and real life. it is a fact that senior citizens and declining old baseball players go to Tampa to retire.
    This article was an eye opener. No wonder Tampa was so bad in those years.
    In four weeks I fly into Tampa. Maybe I can get a spring invite. I'm only 67 and that is about the right age for Tampa.
    Seems like in the late 90's and early 2000's Tampa had an old timers game every night.
    I do not remember Walton. Couldn't have been too good.
    I have no idea on the trivia question. I would have a good guess if the question had been who on the list played with Guillen.


  2. What a blast from the past! Not only had I forgotten about some of these players, but I also didn't realize that they didn't retire with the teams I associated them with. Oops!


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