While we recognize that the Devil Rays are being run by an incompetent who won't spend money for players, let's not bellyache too much about the performance of the team.
The Devil Rays were better, on the record, than seven other teams in all of baseball, the near equal of three others. Hey, not that bad.
This former ball writer (a million years ago) is not going to go into an expert disquisition of what the Devil Rays need; e.g, pitching, veteran hitter etc., whatever it may be.
But I am going to take up the cudgels of defense for the men in uniform -- i.e, Manager Lou Piniella, his coaches and the guys in the trenches who fight for their jobs and victories eight months of the year.
Don't kid yourself. It is tough being a big league ball player. Everyone wants your job. It takes an effort to not be looking over your shoulder.
Travel is not necessarily fun and glamorous. One Baltimore Oriole told me years ago (he jumped from Class D ball to the big leagues in one move) how he hated the traveling.
I thought, at the time, "how can you complain when you are in heaven?" But I was young then (and contracts were not measured in the millions of dollars).
Oh, yes, you can call the roll -- Crawford, Baldelli, Upton, Huff and all the others -- and they struggled to 70 victories in the American League East Division, a compartment of ball dominated by two of the three best teams in baseball.
In 2003 this team won more games than ever. This past year, they hit a high of 70 wins. There was a 12-game win streak in June. Bad teams don't reel off a dozen victories in a row.
These big league teams were worse than the Devil Rays (on the record)-- Diamondbacks (51-111), Royals (58-104), Mariners (63-99), Expos (67-95), Brewers (67-94), Blue Jays (67-94), Rockies (68-94).
Then you come to the Devil Rays, 70-91. One game short of the total season; if they had played and won that remaining game they might have wound up at 71-91 like the Mets.
The Tigers and Pirates were only a shade better, at 72-90 and 72-89, respectively.
What distinguishes big league baseball from big league football -- other than the obvious -- is that the AL and NL are lopsided. The NFL is usually tight and very unpredictable.
The Diamondbacks finished 42 games behind the Dodgers, for crying out loud. Had they been in the same division with the Cardinals (best team in baseball) they would have finished 54 games behind.
Yes, lopsided. Had the Red Sox been in any other division in the AL they would have won going away, six ahead of both the Twins and Angels, teams with identical 92-70 records. The Bosox (what a filthy rag-tag bunch, huh?) were better than NL divisional champs the Braves and Dodgers.
As it happens, I am a Red Sox fan and a Cubs fan. "Wait'll next year," a mantra that originated in Brooklyn with the Dodgers, has meaning for me. The Red Sox and Cubs exemplify it.
Now baseball has been put away until spring freshens it anew. Perhaps in the next three months someone will wake up at the Tropicana offices and get something done for Lou and the boys. One hopes.
But don't bellyache about '04. They weren't that bad.
I say a tip of the ole Borsolino to Lou and his troops.
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