Why your favorite team can’t be more like the Rays

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

The mystique that the Tampa Bay Rays have in the eyes of the curious-minded sports aficionado can be summed up by three ordinal numbers:

Attendance, 2008 to present: 30th in MLB

Opening Day payroll, 2008 to present: 30th

Wins, 2008 to present: 5th

In a sport where there has long been a correlation between financial might and winning, this should not be possible. Sure, quite a few teams have proved they can win over a span of a single year or even a few years without upper-crust revenue numbers. Sustaining that balancing act is the truly hard part, and while even the Rays have had their ups and downs, over the long haul they have been one of baseball’s winningest teams despite their unchallenged status as baseball’s most financially strapped organization.

As teams reach the one-third mark of the 2021 season, the Rays are at it again. They own one of baseball’s best records and lead economic behemoths Boston and New York in the American League East. Once again, despite entering the season as the reigning AL champions, the Rays opened the campaign with a bottom-five payroll. However you define the Rays Way, the chief trait is that it keeps working.

Teams must have realized that they can learn valuable lessons from the Rays’ success, because they keep hiring Rays executives. The list of former Tampa Bay execs heading up baseball operations departments across baseball now includes James Click in Houston, Chaim Bloom in Boston and the progenitor of this era of Rays baseball, Dodgers VP Andrew Friedman.

Still, perhaps Tampa Bay’s biggest contribution to contemporary baseball is that it kneecaps any possible excuse that underachieving or underspending organizations might serve up to their fan bases. The lost art of crying poor has been rendered absurd. If the Rays can do it consistently, then anyone can do it. Right?

Indeed, anyone can, but few teams actually do. Some go toe to toe with the Rays in some areas, but few do so in every area. Beyond the limited spending, every organization can use a little more Rays Ways in their lives.

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