5 Tampa Bay Devil Rays In the land of the aged, this team has become another home for senior citizens

March 29, 1999

When Quinton McCracken was a baby, he once picked up a rattle
and banged it against his head repeatedly until he fell
unconscious. When he came to, he looked an uncle in the eyes and
gurgled, "Coo. Coo." That's the Tampa Bay outfielder's story and
the reason, he says, that almost everyone who knows him calls
him Coo Coo.

We, however, have a different theory regarding that moniker,
based on this statement: "This team can compete for a playoff
spot," declared Coo Coo (with a straight face) in early March.
"I really think so."

Last season McCracken--who strained his right knee in pre-spring
training conditioning but who should be ready by Opening
Day--was an unfortunate participant in the worst lineup in
baseball. The Devil Rays ranked last in the majors in runs
scored and second to last in home runs. Once-dangerous hitters
like Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff and Paul Sorrento all produced
well below their career norms. Starting shortstop Kevin Stocker
hit .208, starting catcher John Flaherty hit .207, and a very
old and boring expansion team lost 99 games. During the winter
the Tampa Bay front office, in an effort to keep the budget
around $30 million, signed 34-year-old slugger Jose Canseco and
absolutely nobody else (unless utility infielder and Rule V pick
David Lamb counts as a somebody). If you believe the Devil Rays
even have a shot at escaping the American League East cellar in
1999, you're nuts. Psycho. Insane. One-hundred percent
certifiably Coo Coo.

Better days, however, are surely ahead for Tampa Bay--if only
because it might be humanly impossible for the team to be as
odious as it was last season. No way pitcher Tony Saunders, the
club's first pick in the 1997 expansion draft, loses 15 games
again. No way Wilson Alvarez, a two-time 15-game winner, loses
14. No way Boggs, a career .329 hitter, bats .280, nor fellow
veterans McGriff and Sorrento, both former 30-home-run guys, hit
fewer than 20 round-trippers for a second straight year. "Last
season was a very unique situation for our veterans," says Devil
Rays general manager Chuck LaMar. "They were on an expansion
team, and they put extreme pressure on themselves to succeed. No
one here thinks that will happen again."

The free-agent signing of Canseco, who's coming off his most
productive campaign since 1991, will at least make Tampa Bay a
more entertaining team to watch. In puny Tropicana Field he
could go deep 50 times. However, the aging free swinger will not
solve the problems of a team that struck out nearly seven times
a game in '98 (third worst in the league) and has become too
dependent upon players born when Florida still belonged to
Spain. Four key offensive players (Boggs, McGriff, Canseco and
Sorrento) are at least 33. Aside from the 28-year-old McCracken
(179 hits, 76 runs scored and 18 assists), Tampa Bay's only
young impact players are Saunders, shortstop Miguel Cairo and
third baseman Bobby Smith (55 RBIs in 370 at bats), all of whom
are 24.

As their personnel decisions indicate, the Devil Rays are in no
hurry to embark on a youth movement. Despite hitting 11 homers
and driving in 34 runs in only 182 second-half at bats,
27-year-old Bubba Trammell will take a seat on the bench to make
room for Canseco in the lineup. Even the very talented Smith
will occasionally sit so that Boggs can get the 78 hits he needs
to reach the 3,000 mark. "Wade's getting his 3,000th hit in a
Devil Rays uniform is very important to us," says LaMar. "There
are ways we can play Bobby regularly and allow Wade to make
history."

Unlike McCracken, Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild knows
better than to make irrational playoff predictions. However, he
does believe that his pitching, which was fourth in the league
in ERA in 1998, is good enough to keep the Devil Rays
competitive most nights. The top three starters are especially
solid. Cuban defector Rolando Arrojo was 14-12 and made the
All-Star team as a 30-year-old rookie last season; Saunders lost
15 games only because he received the league's lowest run
support; and the hard-throwing Alvarez is healthy again after
battling shoulder problems for much of '98.

The rest of the pitching staff boasts some decent arms. Jason
Johnson has had an impressive spring, Albie Lopez has developed
into a capable setup man, and Esteban Yan has a 96-mph fastball
and a really cool name. The closer is Roberto Hernandez, who
last year evoked few memories of his White Sox days, back when
his pitches weren't hit quite so often. Last season he blew nine
save opportunities. If Hernandez returns to form--and at age 34,
that's a huge if--Rothschild's staff will be even more of a force.

But not enough of a force for the Devil Rays to win more than 70
games in baseball's toughest division. You'd have to be Coo Coo
to think otherwise.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: RVP With his devilish array of pitches and release points, Arrojo anchors a staff that surprised in '98 as one of the league's stingiest. COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 63-99 (fifth in AL East)

BATTING AVERAGE .261 (13)
RUNS SCORED 620 (14)
HOME RUNS 111 (14)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .261 (4)
ERA 4.35 (4)
FIELDING PCT. .985 (2)

Nowhere to Go but Up

Of the 12 major league expansion franchises that debuted before
last season (listed below), all but three improved their
won-lost record in their second year of existence. The largest
improvement was by the 1970 Expos, who finished their second
season 21 games better and 130 percentage points higher than
their debut season. Such an improvement by either the
Diamondbacks (65-97 last year) or the Devil Rays (63-99) would
lift them above the .500 mark.

1st Year 2nd Year
Expansion Team W-L Pct. W-L Pct. Diff.

1969 Montreal Expos 52-110 .321 73-89 .451 +.130
1961 Los Angeles Angels 70-91 .435 86-76 .531 +.096
1969 San Diego Padres 52-110 .321 63-99 .389 +.068
1962 New York Mets 40-120 .250 51-111 .315 +.065
1993 Florida Marlins 64-98 .395 51-64 .443 +.048
1993 Colorado Rockies 67-95 .414 53-64 .453 +.039

1st Year 2nd Year
Expansion Team W-L Pct. W-L Pct. Diff.

1977 Toronto Blue Jays 54-107 .335 59-102 .366 +.031
1962 Houston Colt .45s 64-96 .400 66-96 .407 +.007
1969 Seattle Pilots 64-98 .395 65-97 .401 +.006
1961 Washington Senators 61-100 .379 60-101 .373 -.006
1969 Kansas City Royals 69-93 .426 65-97 .401 -.025
1977 Seattle Mariners 64-98 .395 56-104 .350 -.045

Next Up...

Former Braves farmhand Bobby Smith believes he's a future
All-Star. So does his manager. Even so, the 24-year-old Smith
says he has no complaints about being asked to sit from time to
time as fellow third baseman Wade Boggs pursues his 3,000th hit.
"Wade and I are cool," says Smith. "Last year he helped me a
lot. I want to see him get 3,000." Maybe he does, but the bottom
line is that Smith deserves to play every day. In just 370 at
bats last season he had 11 home runs and 55 RBIs, but he also
broke the 100-strikeout mark for the fifth straight year. "He
has an unlimited future," says Tampa Bay skipper Larry
Rothschild. But, alas, with a limited number of at bats for now.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Larry Rothschild (second season with Tampa Bay)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Randy Winn S-R 136 .278 1 17 26
LF Quinton McCracken S-R 112 .292 7 59 19
1B Fred McGriff L 130 .284 19 81 7
DH Jose Canseco[1] R 84 .237 46 107 29
RF Paul Sorrento L-R 182 .225 17 57 2
3B Bobby Smith R 152 .276 11 55 5
C John Flaherty R 252 .207 3 24 0
SS Kevin Stocker S-R 259 .208 6 25 5
2B Miguel Cairo R 212 .268 5 46 19

BENCH

3B Wade Boggs L-R 187 .280 7 52 3
OF Dave Martinez L 199 .256 3 20 8
OF Bubba Trammell R 270 .286 12 35 0
C Joe Oliver[1] R 306 .225 6 32 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Rolando Arrojo 50 14 12 6.3 1.29 3.56
LH Wilson Alvarez 96 6 14 5.7 1.39 4.73
LH Tony Saunders 108 6 15 6.2 1.57 4.12
LH Terrell Wade* 233 2 3 4.4 1.81 5.36
RH Julio Santana 193 5 6 6.1 1.46 4.39

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Roberto Hernandez 67 2 6 26 1.35 4.04
RH Esteban Yan 141 5 4 1 1.34 3.86
RH Albie Lopez 167 7 4 1 1.32 2.60
RH Jim Mecir 254 7 2 0 1.20 3.11
LH Scott Aldred 296 0 0 0 1.44 3.73
LH Jason Johnson 247 2 5 0 1.68 5.70

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS:
Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning
pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154) *1997
stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)