Rays: Good For Baseball?

Ever since the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Chicago White Sox on Monday to advance to the American League Championship Series – which starts today – baseball pundits have debated whether or not the Rays’ run is good for the game.

"It’s good for baseball for a team like Tampa to win," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. "It’s too bad they had to beat us, but it’s good for the game."

A number of the ESPN experts disagree, notably Rick Reilly.

Reilly, who was poached from Sports Illustrated earlier this year, filled in for Tony Kornheiser on Pardon the Interruption this week and stated the Rays’ run is "bad for baseball," criticizing the upstart small-market team’s fan base, or lack thereof. Reilly added:

"This isn’t good for baseball. Because fans in Tampa watch baseball for something to do before college football. … I don’t particularly like to see Tampa in it. If God was a sports writer, he’d give us Red Sox-Dodgers (in the World Series)."

I tend to side with Reinsdorf for no other reason than that I remember what it’s like to be a fan of a hopeless small-budget team. There were definitely times during the late 1990s that I felt the Twins would never become good again. How could they? I figured a team needs revenue to be good, and the Twins need to be good to get revenue.

But the Rays provide hope for fans in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and for all other fans of struggling franchises that if the team is bad enough for a long time but drafts well, it can be turned around without spending a bunch of money. That’s pretty much how the Rays have done it. They’ve been dismal for a decade, but they made great draft choices with their top-10 overall draft picks each year and it’s paid off. Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Matt Garza (not a top-10 pick, but he was acquired from the Twins for former No. 1 overall pick Delmon Young), Evan Longoria and David Price all resulted from top-10 overall picks and are on the playoff roster.

They’ve also made shrewd additions, like signing former journeyman first baseman Carlos Pena (77 HRs since 2007) and acquiring staff ace Scott Kazmir (47-37, 3.61 ERA in 124 starts with Tampa) in a 2004 trade deadline deal from the New York Mets for Victor Zambrano. Nathan/Liriano to the Twins for Pierzynski is lopsided, but getting your staff ace for a middle-of-the-road pitcher with a career ERA of 4.64 is downright silly. At least A.J. Pierzynski is a good player. Each of the last two Octobers, you can safely say the Mets would have been a playoff time had they not made that deal.

The Rays are a beacon of hope for fans of struggling baseball teams. How can you not root for that?