|Jorge Cantu has been a bright spot as of late for the D-Rays. He leads the team with 12 home runs and is second on the team with 44 RBIs. Islander Photos: Kevin Cassidy
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Where did the Devil Rays go wrong?
Recent banter on local sports talk radio has focused on whether or not the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are the worst-run sports franchise of all time. Their main competition comes from the National Basketball League's San Diego Clippers, which is historically terrible, but actually was somewhat competitive this past season. Other "worst" competition comes from the Arizona Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League, the Toronto Raptors of the NBA and the National Hockey League's New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are expansion brothers to the Devil Rays and already have a World Series title that they captured in 2001 when they defeated the New York Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Devil Rays' high-water mark for wins in a season came last year when they won 70 games and finished out of last place for the first time in franchise history. By the way, the Devil Rays won 69 games in its first season of existence, which was four more wins than the Diamondbacks won in its 1998 inaugeral season.
So what went wrong? There are so many things that have gone the wrong way for this franchise that it's hard to pinpoint. They've tried to do it the way the Diamondbacks did, which is to spend big money on free-agent players. When the Diamondbacks won the World Series, they did it by riding the strong pitching arms of free agent pitchers Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.
Then Tampa Bay signed Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman. Alvarez is still pitching in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he was often injured and usually not very effective in Tampa. Guzman earned $10 million for pitching a few innings before injuries forced him out of the game.
"Hit show" was another ill-fated Rays venture into the free agent market. Jose Canseco, Fred McGriff, Vinnie Castilla and Greg Vaughn were supposed to combine for 120 or so home runs and pack the Trop with zealous long-ball fans, but that never panned out. Canseco had a great half season, hitting 30 home runs before the all-star break, but injuries ended his season. McGriff was a consistent performer for the Rays, but Vaughn and Castilla stunk up the joint. Vaughn hit 52 home runs for the Reds the season before signing with the Rays, but never found his swing in Tampa, while Castilla earned the nickname of Vinnie "Cashstealer" because he quit on the team after fans (all 8,800 of them) booed him for his ineffectiveness. He has since moved on and is playing well for the Washington Nationals.
This offseason, the Rays went out and signed free-agent outfielder Danny Bautista and future hall of fame second baseman Robbie Alomar. Both retired a few days before the start of the regular season, leaving the Rays short-handed and forcing them to rush rookies like Jorge Cantu, Damon Hollins and Jonny Gomes to the majors.
All three players, especially Cantu, have shown a lot of promise, but you don't see too many successful teams with three or more rookies seeing extensive playing time. Throw in the saga of Dewon Brazelton and you've got yourself a regular soap opera. Brazelton was the opening-day starting pitcher, but was largely ineffective. He was optioned to AAA Durham Bulls, but refused to report and was missing for two weeks. He re-emerged and pitched three effective innings for Durham last week and got called back up to the big-league club. He pitched Saturday night for the Rays in its 6-2 loss to the Florida Marlins and allowed four hits and two runs in less than two innings of work.
Excitement was high when the Tampa Bay area was awarded a baseball franchise by Major League Baseball and Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli was hailed as a hero. Now attendance lags (8,800 announced attendance at a recent home game) and fans want to ride Naimoli out of town on a rail because he won't spend any money on the team.
Forbes magazine listed the Rays as having the second highest operating income ($27.2 million) in the majors with $20 million coming from luxury taxes from high-spending teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, but Naimoli apparently puts the money in his pocket! This was the same complaint Tampa fans had with the late Buccaneer owner Hugh Culverhouse, run the franchise like a business with bottom line being the only objective.
With all that being said, 8,800 fans is pretty pathetic, especially after bay-area fans lobbied long and hard for a Major League team. The Rays aren't a very good team and they don't figure to be good in the immediate future.
Either you're a baseball fan or your not! The Rays play hard and they have some great young future stars in Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu, Julio Lugo and Scott Kazmir. Players in the minors like Delmon Young, B.J. Upton, Wade Townsend and Jeff Neimann will soon be up in the big-league club as well.
Most die-hard Rays fans (all 8,800 of them) will dance a jig if and when Naimoli steps down, but nobody knows whether or not new minority owner Stu Sternberg will operate any differently.
The Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Lightning are proof positive that bay-area fans will support a winner. The question is, will this team be here or in Las Vegas when that finally happens?
Key Royale golf news
Joyce Reith fired a four-under-par 28 to win first place in the Key Royale Golf Club Class A division competition on Tuesday, June 21. Nancy Grimme finished three shots back with a 31, while Tootie Wagner came in third place with an even par round of 32.
Nancy Grimme had a good day in specialty events with a chip-in for birdie on hole No. 7, while also finishing the round with 14 putts, one fewer than Tootie Wagner and Joyce Reith, who finished the day with 15 putts. Wagner also added a chip-in on hole No. 1, while Diane Miller chipped in on No. 5.
Weeky horseshoe winners
Ron Pepka of Bradenton and Anna Maria's Bill Starrett won the June 25 horseshoe competition at the Anna Maria City Hall pits, while second place went to Tom Rhodes of Cortez and Barb Pavelka of Holmes Beach, who prevailed in a three-team playoff.
Pepka teamed up with Herb Ditzel of Anna Maria to win the June 22 games.
The weekly contests get under way every Wednesday and Saturday at 9 a.m. at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive. There are no membership fees and everyone is welcome.
Join Her-icane golf challenge
The Manatee High School Her-icanes girls' soccer team is hosting a fundraising golf tournament at the Bradenton Country Club at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27. For only $100 per golfer, you can test your golf skills at Bradenton's most challenging layout in a four-person scramble.
All players who register before the Aug. 1 deadline will receive a goody bag, cart and greens fees, a post-tourney banquet and guaranteed fun throughout the day. Also on tap are a straightest-drive contest, two closest-to-the-pin contests, a putting contest and raffles for tons of prizes. The field is limited to the first 100 golfers, so don't delay.
The Her-icanes are also looking for sponsors for the tournament. For $800, your business can purchase the Hat Trick package, which consists of a foursome including the banquet, a tee or green sign on the course and a banner which will be displayed at all Manatee Her-icane home soccer games. A golden goal sponsorship package includes a foursome and a tee or green sign on the course for $500, or you can simply purchase a tee or green sign for the tournament for $175.
To sign up call me, Her-icane Coach Cassidy, at 807-1105.
Another chance to sign up
The Anna Maria Island Community Center will accept applications for Police Athletic League Dolphin football until July 1. The Center will more than likely field a team in the younger division, even though a couple of players might be a year older.
PAL has four age/weight divisions starting with flag football for players age 6-7 as of September 1. Flag football carries no weight restrictions. Mighty Mites must be ages 8-10 and under 125 pounds, while junior varsity is for players age 11-12 under 145 pounds. The oldest division is varsity for players age 13-14 and under 165 pounds.
For more information, call the Center's Andy Jonatzke at 778-1908.
Session 2 basketball camp
The Anna Maria Island Community Center's summer basketball camp is now accepting applications for Session 2. Players age 9-13 are encouraged to participate with a cost of $35 for members and $50 for nonmembers.
Players will receive a camp jersey and trophies will be awarded for various categories of shooting, defense, sportsmanship and most improved. Session 2 runs noon-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, July 18-29, except for the first day, which starts at 11 a.m. Registration deadline is July 8.
For more information, contact Jonatzke at 778-1908.