Results tagged ‘ Branch Rickey ’

Rays Taken Down by Yanks


                      Yankees 4,           Rays 3

More than just Tax Day
Branch Rickey is a very special person to the city of St. Petersburg, Florida. It was his St. Louis Browns squad that first began the Spring Training ritual in this area more than 100 years ago. At that time the notion was that this small hamlet would be perfect for baseball. Funny how here we are more than 100 years after he might have said this same words celebrating our first American League Pennant this week with “Championship Week”, and also get to remember him and two of his crowning moments in baseball history.

Spring Training in the fair city might be special to Florida, but his second historical note changed the face of the sport. How much pressure he must have felt at the time he was considering this move. He would be the first owner to open his clubhouse doors to this minority, and he had to find the right ambassador to usher in this new era.  As his luck would have it, he found a educated, smart and tolerant individual named Jackie Robinson to be the first black player to step upon a major league field. Now he could have made the choice a bit more controversial by picking the slick tongued Satchel Paige, or the power hitting Josh Gibson, but each of those two came with a little baggage that might have derailed the notion.

Rickey did something most baseball businessmen might not have done at that time, he forced history’s hands a bit, and also made the sport open to all players after that incident. But what pressure those two men must have endured. Rickey was lucky enough to spend most of his time in his Press Box where writers where more apt to kiss your behind than talk behind it. But Robinson had to take the abuse and treatments in a full frontal attack. But his grace and his baseball ability soon made the voices and the catcalls die down and people began to see his skills and talent for the game.  So here I sit tonight and see one of his sister teams from New York play the Rays, with each member of both teams wearing that famous “42” on their backs today.

If there truly is a place called heaven, and if you can see down from it, I hope Jackie Robinson can take pride that in all the torments and the pain he had to endure in Brookyln, that today the game is better for his initial sacrifice and his courage to press on, even in the worst environments. I have not been alive long enough to truly hear all the stories and the great plays by Robinson, but his best play ever might have just been that first step out of the dugout to take his place in the Dodger’s infield. Thank you Jackie Robinson for being a special part of this game we all know and love so much.



Early Distress Calls


I can not still believe that I heard this kind of stuff out a fans mouth this early in the season. I mean we are only 8 games into the 2009 season and already I have heard the first word of doubt in the air at Tropicana Field. How can anyone be so far-sighted to even bring up the word “2001” and the word “losing” in the same breath in this short start to the season. Sure we might be 4-4 right now and tied with these same Yankees in the division, but think about it this way. We are tied with the team that is suppose to crush our dreams this season, and the ” media darlings”, the Boston Red Sox are in the cellar right now.

Come on people, do you really think that 8 games, or 1/10th of your Home Games can be a true determining factor to your negative thoughts right now. So what if the offense is slow to wind up and get going.  Sometimes this sort of thing happens during a year. Maybe we are lucky enough to have it happen now rather than in 2008, right before the All-Star break when we lost 7 in a row. To even bring up any negative thoughts right now is the sign of a true bandwagon fan, or just an uninformed fan at best. So what, we have now lost two game at home. Did you expect to win all 81 before the year? I know I did not.

But what is so frustrating is that people are throwing the season under the bus after 8 games, and they do not have valid reasons to do it. I mean if you had a valid reason, and can prove it, I might be willing to see your side of the argument. But to just throw the Bullpen, and the line-up under a general heading of ” going south” is a bit  premature right now. I mean, let’s throw a positive vibe out here right now. We started the year taking 2 out of 3 in Fenway Park, our toughest place to play. We only took1 of 3 from the usual April darlings, the Baltimore Orioles to come home to a 3-3 record. And now we have a 1-1 record against the Yankees, and a few uninformed Rays fans are crying we are not 8-0.

Patience people. Seriously here, there is not a team that is 8-0, much less 7-1. That is the great thing about baseball. A team that was a losing franchise before 2008 can rise from the ashes and take on the big boys and fight all the way to the World Series. Is that not the same thing that can happen again in 2009?  And if I remember, it did not bode well for the Rays after 8 games in 2008, we were 3-5. We also lost our Home Opener against the Seattle Mariners and went on to have one of the best home records in baseball. So put away the doom and gloom hats for a few months. My Gosh people, there is some great ball being played on this field and you are only looking at the score. Just remember, the Rays finished April with a 14-12 record on the way to a 97-
65 total. We have plenty of baseball to play before throwing in the towels people…..plenty.


Sonny Days

Andy Sonnanstine has been portrayed by me before as a Volvo.  He asked me a few days ago during batting practice what I meant by that. I explained to him that the Swedish car is considered the safest and most reliable car on the face of the earth. And that I in turn think he is one of those pitchers that you can predict good thing from, and expect the best from in every outing. He doesn’t have the external flair glowing from him that  James Shields,  Matt Garza and  Scott Kazmir eludes right now, but he can be the guy to get the win without the pomp and flash.


I told him come on Andy, you were the guy to get to 12 wins first on this staff early on in 2008 and no one knew your name. Sometimes that can actually help you as a pitcher. You can sneak up on teams and take that win without them remembering who did them in on the mound, and that is special.  I also explains I could have called him a pair of old comfortable shoes, but thought that analogy might be a bit hindering on him. But seriously, Sonnanstine had multiple chances to also rise to 14 wins in 2008, but hit a wall. Just because he did not post 14 wins doesn’t mean this guy should ever be discounted as a key to the Rays rise again in 2009.

Take tonight game for example, he fought long and hard against another “hot” pitcher tonight and held his own.  I put the other Andy ( Pettitte ) up there in the top lefties still playing in the game.  To stay toe-to-toe with him tonight on the mound is a testament to how far he has come as a pitcher in such a short time. Sure Sonny might have given up  2 runs on four hits, but it was not his hand that dealt the loss for the Rays today.  He has his usual reliable night on the mound. Not big numbers in strikeouts, but  he did face 20 batters and did not give up the long ball. But that is something you come to expect from Sonnanstine. Nice innings with no huge drama and a bit of excitement thrown in for good measures. Sometimes a great baseball game is just a boring Chess match and not the huge roller coaster that some pitchers throw at you for the Rays.  Sometimes the old comfortable shoes fit snug and welcoming, even on the baseball diamond.

Longoria Gone Until the Weekend

The Rays will be without Rookie of the Year winner Evan Longoria for at least the next two days as he needs to head to California to attend to a  personal family matter. All out thoughts and prayers go out to Longoria and his family at this time.
 The third baseman hopes to be back for Friday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox at 7:38 pm.  Willy Aybar is scheduled to take his spot in the outfield and be placed in the fifth slot if the lineup. Aybar began 2008 as the starter at third base before a hamstring injury brought Longoria up, and he never again left his spot until a wrist injury forced him to miss time near the end of 2008. 

Friday Night Games

I want to take this moment to remind everyone that Friday night game are going to start at 7:38 pm this season.  This gives Rays fans more time to get to the ballpark, plus can be a better starting time due to work and family events. This experiment by the Rays might be the best change in 2009 because it will give an extra 30 minutes for people traveling from outside the St Petersburg area ample time to get here before the first pitch. I know some people complained in 2008 that they were stuck in I-275 traffic, or even trying to get into the stadium’s parking lots before the old 7:05 start times. Hopefully this new start time will help eliminate a lot of that trouble, and also give other fans the opportunity to come out and see a Rays game.

Gold Glove for Pena

Before today’s game, Rawlings presented Carlos Pena with his 2008 Gold Glove for his outstanding play at first base for the American League. He is the first Rays first baseman to win the ward, but not the only one who could have won it. The Rays have been blessed with a great bunch of first baseman in the past, but in 2008, Pena was simply amazing on the bag for the Rays. He only had 2 errors the entire season, and one of those was a throwing error. At the presentation was his wife and darling young daughter.

I found it kind of cute that she did not seem to happy to be out there in the spotlight with mom and dad yesterday. She did not cry or pout, but you could see she either did not understand the moment, or that the camera flashes might  have frightened her a bit. But she was cute as a button and by mom’s side as dad picked up that awesome piece of hardware. embedded in the middle of the base was a picture of Pena in silver and black, with a gold plated first baseman’s mitt on the top. I always wonder if they get a new glove and dip it, or if the player donates an older mitt to be plated and set on top of the award.

Photo credits:      1) Chris O’Meara / AP
                             2) Chris O’Meara / AP
                            3) Chris O’Meara / AP

Tampa Bay’s Pursuit of Basball..A Short History Lesson




The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the  1988 after  the  proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the  area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand.  The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new  domed stadium.


The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.



Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field,  ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.



Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams.  Professional baseball  in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.



 However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.




In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.


Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.


In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.



In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”


However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.


However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead  to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.



Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named  former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and  Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.



 Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager.  So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.


Tampa Bay’s pursuit of  major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring  a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.