We all know that the results of spring training games are meaningless, and Thursday’s game between the Rays and the Yankees was no exception. The Rays only had one regular starter in the lineup (Carl Crawford) and the team more closely resembled the 2008 Durham Bulls than the real Tampa Bay Rays. And of course, they lost the game, 5-1. But there are some moments in spring training games, performances by certain players, that actually are meaningful and become sources of real optimism for fans.
I remember last spring when David Price pitched an inning against the Yankees and struck out the side, generating a huge amount of excitement and foreshadowing his late season and post-season success. And then on Thursday, another Rays pitching phenom, Wade Davis, took the mound and had an even more impressive performance. Davis made his first start of the spring, and pitched two perfect innings against the Yankees. While Price struck out Shelley Duncan, Jason Lane, and Wilson Betemit in his memorable outing, Davis faced the Yankees real lineup. He struck out Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Wade Davis is a name that might not be familiar to many baseball fans, but he’s been very well known to Rays fans ever since he was the team’s 3rd round pick in 2004. Davis has been overshadowed by David Price in the Rays organization, but he’d be the top pitching prospect for almost any other team in MLB. Although the Rays have a very, very good starting rotation with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and Price, I expect that Wade Davis will find a spot in the rotation sometime in 2009, either because of an injury or by forcing the team to trade someone to make room for him. At the very least, he could be a very valuable late inning reliever until a spot in the rotation opens up.
The story of Wade Davis really goes back to 2003. That year, the (Devil) Rays took a gamble with their third round pick, taking a highly touted pitcher from a Florida high school in the third round. They intended to offer a large enough bonus to entice him to sign instead of going to college. That pitcher was Andrew Miller, and the Rays were unable to sign him. He decided to go to college down the road from me in Chapel Hill, where he dominated for three years. He was then drafted by the Tigers with the #6 overall pick in 2006, traded to the Marlins in 2007, and he became a card blog phenomenon in 2008 when Mario from Wax Heaven began collecting his cards…
Anyway, the experience with Miller in 2003 did not deter the Rays from following the same strategy in the 2004 draft. Once again, they took a high school pitcher from Florida in the third round. This time it was Wade Davis, and this time they were successful in convincing him to sign with the team instead of attending the University of Florida. They did the same thing in the fifth round, grabbing Jake McGee from a Nevada high school. Davis and McGee immediately became two of their top pitching prospects. They pitched together in rookie league Princeton in 2004, and then they both started to dominate at short-season Single-A Hudson Valley in 2005. Davis led the league in strikeouts. They moved up to Single-A Southwest Michigan in 2006, and high Single-A Vero Beach in 2007. Davis threw no-hitters in each year, and he finished second in the organization in strikeouts both years, only behind McGee. Both of them were promoted to Double-A Montgomery in the second half of 2007.
They started 2008 together again in Montgomery, and both were among the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. McGee was rated slightly higher on most prospect lists since he’s a lefty and Davis is a righty. Unfortunately, McGee hurt his elbow in June, and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He won’t be back until late 2009 at the earliest. Davis continued to dominate in Double-A, earning the start in the Southern League All Star game, which I attended. I was able to get him to sign a baseball for me before the game:
Davis was promoted to Triple-A Durham immediately after the All Star game, and he was the Bulls’ best pitcher in the second half, with a 2.72 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 55 strikeouts in 53 innings. I was fortunate to be able to see him pitch a few times in Durham. Davis is now 23, he throws a fastball that tops out at 98 MPH, a killer curveball, an improving changeup, and he’s recently added a slider to his repertoire. He also seems to have a tough bulldog mentality on the mound, similar to Matt Garza. He’s going to be a #1 or #2 starting pitcher in the major leagues, and I can’t wait to see his career develop. But I won’t complain if I get to see him spend a little bit more time in Durham…
To date, Wade Davis’ only certified autograph is from 2004 Upper Deck SP Prospects, and it’s by far his most desirable card. You can see my copy of the card, #418/600, below. There should be quite a few more Davis autographs in Topps and Upper Deck products once he makes his major league debut. If he has the success in the major leagues that I believe that he will, his cards will have a major impact on the hobby.
No, this post isn’t about this kind of card shark:
It’s about the book Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned A Child’s Hobby Into A High-Stakes, Billion Dollar Business by Pete Williams, which was published in 1995. I read about this book on the internet sometime last year (I can’t remember where) and then purchased a copy on eBay in the early summer, and eagerly read it whenever I had time throughout the summer. I’ve been planning to write a post about it for about six months, but I never got around to it before today. Recently, Marie from A Cardboard Problem offered to swap her copy of The Card for my copy of Card Sharks, and I decided that I would finally write my post before mailing the book to her.
I cannot recommend Card Sharks highly enough for any collector. It is definitely a must-read. The book did a great job of informing me about the history of the card collecting hobby, and it also taught me to be very cynical about the people who are running the card companies.
Although the book’s subtitle might lead you to believe that it is only about Upper Deck, the first four chapters cover the entire history of the hobby prior to Upper Deck’s formation. It was incredibly interesting to read about the advent of tobacco cards, which were started in Durham, North Carolina, very near where I now live. The book also covers the beginning of Topps, its competition with Bowman in the 1950s, and its eventual acquistion of Bowman. This led to Topps’ monopoly on the card industry, and its efforts to prevent Fleer from producing baseball cards. It was very eye-opening to learn about all that Fleer had to go through for more than 20 years in its battle with Topps over the right to produce cards. The book also details the explosion of the card industry after Fleer and Donruss finally started making baseball cards in 1981. At the same time, the hobby itself began to grow into what we are familiar with today.
It’s hard to imagine how different the hobby was in the 1970s, but the book describes how the major collectors of that time would place classified ads in newspapers and travel to towns all over the country to buy old cards from people who had no idea of their value. It’s amazing to think about how astonishing it was in 1980 when three 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle cards sold for $3,000 each at an auction in Philadelphia, an event that led to a dramatic increase in the value of older cards. The book also talks about the beginning of The National, and the beginning of the Beckett price guide, back when the Beckett name still had integrity and relevance within the hobby.
After the first four chapters, the next 18 are about the rise of the Upper Deck company. It all started at a card shop called The Upper Deck that was near the Angels stadium in Anaheim, California. The shop’s owner, Bill Hemrick, had been fooled into buying a large quantity of counterfeit 1984 Donruss Don Mattingly rookie cards. He met an executive from a graphics company, Paul Sumner, and the two of them started to plan a new card company that would use hologram technology to prevent counterfeiting. Along the way, they needed to recruit several investors, and one of them, Richard McWilliam, eventually wrested control of the company from them. McWilliam was calling the shots by the time the first 1989 Upper Deck cards rolled off the presses in 1989.
The book goes into great detail about the many challenges that Upper Deck faced in starting up, including getting licenses from MLB and the players association, and just how close they came on several occasions to seeing everything blow up in their face. It’s actually pretty miraculous that they were able to overcome all of their obstacles and produce a set as iconic as 1989 Upper Deck has become.
Of course, Upper Deck was a major success and completely revolutionized the hobby. As the company began to grow, we learn about the greediness of Richard McWilliam and his complete lack of ethics. It’s almost hard to keep up with the names of all of the Upper Deck executives who were hired and fired in the early years of the company. But there were two reprehensible acts that McWilliam spearheaded that really made me cynical about Upper Deck and the entire card industry. I’m not sure how well known these things are, but I have a feeling that many of today’s collectors do not know about them. If you plan to read Card Sharks, what I’m about to write about might be a spoiler, so you might want to stop reading. But whether you read it here or in the book, I promise that you’ll never look at Richard McWilliam’s facsimile signature on the back of your Upper Deck autograph and relic cards the same way…
The first reprehensible act was related to the Dale Murphy reverse negative error card from 1989 Upper Deck. The error was corrected during the printing of the cards, and Upper Deck announced that only about 20,000 of the error cards were printed. This was in the days of massive overproduction, and a print run of 20,000 was considered amazingly low. The card’s value soared on the secondary market, and by September 1989, its Beckett book value reached $100 (when Beckett’s book value was an actual reflection of the market value). Even though Upper Deck was making a ton of money from sales of its incredibly popular first baseball card set, McWilliam became angry that he was not benefitting from the high secondary market value of the Murphy card. In the summer of 1989, he ordered the Murphy error cards to be reprinted, and 13,500 of them were produced. McWilliam and other executives then secretly sold the reprinted cards to dealers. This increased the supply of the cards, and not surprisingly, the value quickly began to drop. Essentially, people who invested in the card after being told that there were only 20,000 copies were screwed, while McWilliam’s wallet was fattened.
This apparently happened many times over the next few years when the secondary market value of a particular card was high. Needless to say, this was incredibly unethical. While the serial numbering of valuable cards would seem to prevent this sort of thing from happening today, it’s not hard to imagine Richard McWilliam concocting other types of schemes that we don’t even know about yet…
It got even worse with the sad story of Upper Deck French hockey cards. When Upper Deck first produced hockey cards for the 1990-91 season, they also made French language cards to sell in Canada. The French cards sold very poorly. When Upper Deck began planning its high-number series for hockey in the spring of 1991, they decided to produce only 620 cases of the French cards due to the low demand. However, when they leaked out that they only produced 620 cases, the demand for the cards shot through the roof. To give you an idea of how small of a supply 620 cases were, Upper Deck had produced 162,876 cases of baseball cards in 1990. The cases began selling for over $10,000 on the secondary market.
When Upper Deck saw that cases of the French hockey cards were selling for $10,000, McWilliam ordered a reprinting of the cards with 960 more cases being produced. Given the secondary market value, these new cases were worth $9.6 million. The cases were distributed to Upper Deck executives and board members, and many of them sold the cases, thus increasing the supply that was on the market, and bringing the value of the cards down dramatically. People who had bought the cases for $10,000, and even collectors who bought boxes, packs, or singles of the cards when their market value was significantly higher than the English cards, were royally screwed.
The only bad thing about Card Sharks is that it’s 14 years old. I’d love to read a follow up book, with inside information on everything that has happened in the hobby since 1995. That includes the introduction of relic cards, the increased prominence of autograph cards, the demise of the original Donruss-Leaf company, Pinnacle, Pacific, and Fleer, and even everything that went on behind the scenes when Upper Deck almost purchased Topps in 2007. It would also be very interesting to read about the decline of Beckett and hobby shops along with the rise of eBay and other web sites in the 21st century. And of course, there have probably been many other unethical schemes that are just as bad as what Upper Deck did with the Dale Murphy reverse negative card and the French hockey cards. Where is Pete Williams when we need him, or for that matter, where is any serious journalist covering the sports card hobby? Maybe the blogs really are the true industry watchdog today.
Hopefully I’ve helped to pique your interest in reading Card Sharks. It really was an outstanding book that was very well-written, and it provided a wealth of information about the history of the hobby and Upper Deck’s early years. I really believe that every collector should read it. Now it’s your turn, Marie…
I just found out that I’ll be able to watch the Rays on TV today for the first time this year! Their spring training game against the Yankees will be on the YES Network, so I can watch it on DirecTV. Wade Davis will be the starting pitcher for the Rays against Phil Hughes for the Yankees. Carl Crawford will be the only regular starter in today’s lineup, but I’ll get to see Gabe Kapler, Adam Kennedy, and Morgan Ensberg in Rays blue for the first time. Of that group, only Kapler is likely to make the team though. Anyway, it’s a meaningless spring training game, but it’s always exciting to watch my first baseball game of the new year. The game starts at 1:15 PM EST, and it just so happens that I’m working from home today, so I can watch it live…
The Rays lost to the Reds, 7-0, in yesterday’s spring training opener. That’s nothing to worry about though. The starters only had 1-2 at bats each before they were replaced by minor leaguers, and they had to face Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. On the mound for the Rays was Carlos Hernandez, a former major leaguer who had a pretty good season with the Astros in 2002, but then tore both his labrum and rotator cuff, which is usually a death sentence for a pitcher’s career. He started a comeback in Single-A for the Rays last year, and he pitched two scoreless innings to start yesterday’s game. It’s not likely that he can earn a major league spot with the Rays, but his comeback is interesting to watch. Five of the runs were given up by Randy Choate in one inning. He has no chance of making the team. The other two runs were given up by Mitch Talbot, who has been a staple of the Durham Bulls rotation for the last two years, in the ninth. Hernandez, Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Lance Cormier, and Neal Frontz didn’t give up any runs.
I can’t wait for today’s game to start – baseball season is now up on us!
It’s been a while since I’ve given any “shout outs” to other blogs. There have been a lot of new card blogs lately, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out. But I was inspired to do some shouting out when Jawdy, who is my favorite YouTube box breaker, a frequent trading partner, and a friend, finally started his own blog. It’s a dual effort with another YouTube breaker, JoshSamBob. I’m not as familiar with JoshSamBob’s YouTube videos, but I’ll be checking them out. Anyway, the blog is Cardaholics Anonymous, and it’s definitely worth checking out! There have been some great posts already from both Jawdy and JoshSamBob, and I have a feeling that it won’t be long before this blog will be one that I read daily!
There are some other relatively new blogs that I also want to mention here. Again, I don’t want anyone to feel left out; if you don’t see your blog here, it’s probably because I don’t consider it new, or I haven’t had enough time to check it out. If you have a new blog and I don’t have a link to it yet on the sidebar, let me know if you’d like to do a link exchange. Here are the other blogs that I’d like to give a “shout out” to:
- Blue Diamond Cards – This blog is from a Dodgers fan who lives in Brooklyn, who I traded with a few months back. So far, he’s provided some interesting commentary on topics like Razor, sticker autographs, and historic memorabilia that is cut up for cards.
- Mike Pelfrey Collectibles – This is a new blog from one of the most frequent commenters on my blog and other card blogs. I’d guess that Anthony is the most dedicated Mike Pelfrey collector in the world. If Pelfrey had more cards, I am sure that his Pelfrey collection would outnumber my Longoria collection. The blog also features commentary on many other baseball card topics.
- Sac Bunt Baseball Card Blog – This blog has quickly emerged as one of the most interesting reads in the card blogosphere. It’s written by two guys in Virginia: Chris, who is an Orioles fan, and John, who is a Twins fan. This is another blog that could become a daily read for me in the near future.
- Ryan’s Memorabilia Blog – Another blog from an Orioles fan. It is great to see another blog from a fan of one of the non-evil A.L. East teams. Hopefully we’ll see some Blue Jays card blogs soon too. Anyway, one of the cool things about this blog is that Ryan’s wife has been getting interested in collecting and writing some posts. It’s always interesting to read a woman’s perspective on cards.
- Jesse’s Cards – Jesse has some interesting posts, and he told me that hasn’t gotten many readers so far. He was very generous in a recent trade with me (more on that later) so I hope that this shout out helps his blog to gain some visibility!
Finally, I want to acknowledge a couple of established blogs that I’ve been reading for a long time, but now I’m finding myself checking back several times a day due to their high quality:
- Bad Wax – Two words: Craigslist Idiots. This new feature is one of the most entertaining things that I’ve ever read on any blog. Whenever I see a new Craigslist Idiot post, I immediately drop everything that I’m doing and read it immediately. The hilarity makes me laugh out loud almost every time.
- A Cardboard Problem – Even though they’re Yankees fans, Marie and Sooz are both excellent writers and provide the rare female perspective on the card collecting hobby. They usually post multiple times per day and it’s always interesting. I’ve also made trades with both of them, and I’m participating in their fantasy baseball league.
So check out all of the blogs that I’ve mentioned here, and all of the others in the card blogosphere. It’s amazing that there are so many talented writers sharing their thoughts on cards. It’s just more proof that here in the 21st century, Beckett is completely irrelevant!
I announced the formation of the Fielder’s Choice Blogger Fantasy Baseball League a few weeks ago. There was a lot of interest in the league, but the league membership is now finalized. Here are the competitors:
- Carolina Xfractors – Dave from Fielder’s Choice
- Urban Achievers – Mike from Achiever Card Blog
- Morneau’s Mashers – Dusty from Need Mo Morneau
- Hawkville Hackers – Charlie from Hawk to the Hall
- SacBunt Blog – John from Sac Bunt
Upper Deck Division:
- Cub Vic – Victor from Cub FANatico
- SCU Ridiculosity – Gellman from Sports Cards Uncensored
- Team tastelikedirt – Jim from Tastelikedirt
- New York Pelfreys – Anthony from Mike Pelfrey Collectibles
- Punkrockville Painters – Travis from Punk Rock Paint
Our live draft is tentatively scheduled for 8:30 PM EDT on Sunday, March 29. It should be a great, competitive league. Anyone can check out the league page on ESPN.com, and the team rosters after the draft. I also have the link under “Extras” on the sidebar. So what’s your prediction on who will be the league champion? I’ll be posting head-to-head scores, updated standings, and some trades and other roster moves on the blog throughout the season. I can’t wait for the season to start!
Check out this amazing oil painting of Evan Longoria, entitled “Unleashed” from artist Justyn Farano:
It was on display at Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s Baseball Dinner at Tropicana Field last night. The painting was personally autographed by Longoria with “08 ROY”. This would look absolutely amazing in my living room, but my wife would never go for it. The artist’s web page has more details about the painting, but it says “Call for Pricing”. I think it’s safe to assume that it’s well out of my price range.
The same artist also has done paintings of many other athletes, including several members of the Boston Red Sox, and you can check them out here. I think that they all look great. These paintings definitely blows Topps sketch cards out of the water, don’t they?
And speaking of sketch cards – the “sketches” on most of the cards that I’ve seen look horrible. I’ve seen better artistic quality in some high school art classes…
When I ordered the Joe DiMaggio set from Dave & Adam’s Card World, I spent enough money to earn two free packs of 2007 Upper Deck Elements with my order. I wasn’t expecting much from these packs, so I was very surprised when I actually pulled two very nice hits from them. Check it out:
Not a bad haul from two free packs! There are 15 packs in a hobby box of 2007 Elements, and three hits in each box. So there’s only a one-in-five chance of pulling a hit from an individual pack. Each box has one relic card, one autograph, and one autographed relic card – so I pulled the two best hits from the box that these packs came from.
I’m not the only one who’s had good luck with free packs of Elements from Dave & Adam’s. Bailey from The Nennth Inning got some hits in his free packs too. Elements is a pretty decent product. It features cards made on three different types of card stock. The “PETG” cards are particularly nice; the card material is similar to hard plastic. With all of the pointless products on Upper Deck’s 2009 release calendar, reviving the Elements brand wouldn’t be a bad idea. Even better, they could release a set of all PETG cards. 2007 Elements is also a pretty good deal. You can buy hobby boxes from Dave & Adam’s for $40.95 – or you can try your luck with the free packs like I did…
It’s great stuff like this (and my free hobby box of SP Rookie Edition) that makes Dave & Adam’s my online card shop of choice. I also picked up a few other boxes from them, and I’ll be posting my box break videos later this week. I’ll give you some hints: one box was from 2004, one was from 2007, and one was from 2008 – and all were very good deals. Unfortunately, Dave & Adam’s sold out of their pre-orders for 2009 Topps Heritage, so I had to order my two Heritage hobby boxes from Captain Collect on eBay. Those should be arriving any day now, and I am psyched!
As time goes by, I continue to fall further behind in making trades. I’m posting this to let people know that I haven’t forgotten about them and to motivate myself to get these trade packages shipped within the next couple of days…
I owe packages to the following people:
- Topher from Crackin Wax
- Greg from Night Owl Cards
- Dan from Saints of the Cheap Seats
- Paul from Phungo
- Charlie from Hawk to the Hall
- Chuck from Chuck’s Used Cards
- Tony and Isaac from Ike’s Cards
- Marie from A Cardboard Problem
- Jim from Garvey Cey Russell Lopes
- Jesse from Jesse’s Cards
- Chris from Sac Bunt
If you don’t see your name on this list and you’re still waiting for something from me, please let me know.
I’ll also be documenting the cards (and other items) that I’ve received from the following people in upcoming posts:
- Tony and Isaac from Ike’s Cards
- Bailey from The Nennth Inning
- Jim from Garvey Cey Russell Lopes
- Dan from Saints of the Cheap Seats
- Jawdy from Cardaholics Anonymous
- Marie from A Cardboard Problem
- Jesse from Jesse’s Cards
- Chris from Sac Bunt
- Brian from 30-year old Cardboard
- Eric from The Pettitte Pursuit
So if you’ve been waiting, rest assured that I’ll be sending your cards or posting about the cards that you sent as soon as I can.
Here it is. This is what I referred to yesterday as “quite possibly the most awesome product that I’ve ever opened”. I was intrigued after reading a couple of posts on Wax Heaven (here and here) about the Joe DiMaggio “cut signature” card from 2008 Playoff Prime Cuts, where Donruss-Playoff cut up certified autograph cards of DiMaggio that were produced by Pinnacle in 1993. I’ve always thought that it would be awesome to own a Joe DiMaggio autograph. After all, he is one of the greatest players of all-time, and his 56-game hitting streak is one of baseball’s most unbreakable records. For many decades he held the title of the “greatest living Yankee” until his death in 1999.
Then, last week, I was checking out Dave & Adam’s Card World when I came across one of their weekly specials – an unopened box of 1993 Pinnacle Joe DiMaggio cards including one certified autograph for only $150 (and free shipping). I was amazed by the price, considering that cut signature cards of DiMaggio from recent products sell for much more than that. In fact, the Prime Cuts card that features the cut up card from this very set, is selling on eBay for $200 and more. Isn’t it better to own an original on-card autograph, a card that DiMaggio personally touched and signed in 1993? This was an easy question for me to answer, and I jumped at the chance to buy a box.
Even though I knew exactly what I would pull from my box, it was still a lot of fun to open. It’s a very good feeling to know that you’re definitely going to pull an amazing card. I captured the box break on video, complete with the song “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” playing in the background. Here it is:
Here is my new prized possession:
And here’s the back of the card:
Here’s my certificate of authenticity from Pinnacle:
There are five different autographed cards that were produced, and there are 1800 copies of each one, for a total of 9000 autographed cards. The number on the back shows that I have #0376 of the first card (number 1 of 5). I chose this card because it’s my favorite of the five photos. You can see what the others look like here. I absolutely love the design of the card and the clear, crisp autograph. The only bad thing is that the card is oversized (4 1/8 inches tall) so it won’t fit in a standard top loader or magnetic case. I’m still trying to figure out how to store it, but for now I have it in the original holder that you can see in the video.
I know that the economy is in horrible shape and that not everyone can afford to add a card like this to their collection. However, I still believe that this was an incredible value. For $150, I obtained a certified on-card autograph from one of the very best players of all time, who passed away almost 10 years ago. There are only 9000 of these, and with Donruss and possibly other card companies buying them, cutting them up, and inserting them into new cards, the supply is going to dry up. When you consider that some collectors are spending $100 on jumbo boxes of 2009 Topps, I think that buying something like this is a much better way to spend money. Also, I’d much rather buy something where I’m guaranteed to pull something great than to take my chances by opening a regular hobby box. I’m planning to keep this card in my collection, probably forever, and pass it down to my children some day. As the years continue to go by, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the value of this card will be climbing.
Here’s an image from eBay of one of the Prime Cuts cards:
Can anyone explain to me why someone would want this “card” when they could buy the actual Pinnacle card for less money?
If you’re interested, the weekly special from Dave & Adam’s is over with, but you can still pick up a box from them for $164.95 or the single autograph card for $159.95. There are also some sellers on eBay that are offering it for a little more.
Finally, here are some of my favorite cards from the 30-card base set:
This is card #9 and features a great photo of DiMaggio’s iconic swing.
This is card #11 – DiMaggio in his rookie season of 1936 with a 17-year old Bob Feller.
And this is card #17 – the Iron Horse and the Yankee Clipper together. It must have been great for fans to watch them play on the same team between 1936 – 1939. I learned something that I didn’t know on the back of the card. Gehrig passed away during the middle of DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941.
You can see what all of the base cards look like in the video.
So like I said, this was quite possibly the most awesome product that I’ve ever opened, and my best “pull” of all time, even though I knew what was in the box. In my opinion, it just doesn’t get any better than this…
So by now, most baseball fans know about 9=8, which was the Rays motivational slogan during their improbable run to the World Series in 2008. It meant that if nine players played hard for nine innings every night, the Rays would be one of the eight MLB playoff teams. It seemed far-fetched when Joe Maddon introduced it during spring training, but it turned out to be prophetic. The team wore t-shirts that said 9=8 all season as a reminder of their goal. When they clinched a playoff spot, the Rays started selling 9=8 t-shirts to the fans, including me. So how do they follow the amazing success of 9=8? Joe Maddon’s unveiling of the new slogan was eagerly anticipated during spring training this week. It’s pretty simple and it’s awesome:
09 > 08
Simply put, 2009 will be even greater than 2008 for the Rays. The goal is to win at least 100 games. If the key players can stay healthy and the new additions contribute like they are expected to, it’s quite possible that the Rays will make 09 > 08 a reality. I can’t wait to see it.
One consequence of the Rays new winning ways is a huge increase in fan support. There was record attendance at last weekend’s annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. Justin from Tampa Bay Sports Wasteland has a great post about his experience at the Fan Fest. They also had a parade on Thursday in Charlotte County, Florida, their new spring training home:
A year ago it would’ve been hard to imagine fans turning out for a parade even in St. Petersburg. It’s great to see Rays fever spreading all over Florida. Hopefully this is a precursor for a much bigger parade at the end of October!
Finally, the Rays continue to add free agents to their spring training roster. You probably know about the major offseason acquisitions like Pat Burrell, Matt Joyce, Joe Nelson, and Brian Shouse, but the Rays have also recently added these players as non-roster invitees:
- Morgan Ensberg – the former All Star has fallen way down since his amazing 2005 season for the Astros, but he should be a great contributor to the Durham Bulls this year, and a decent fill-in for the Rays if there are injuries. Despite his struggles, he’s still good at taking walks and getting on base. And who knows, maybe he can resurrect his career the way that guys like Carlos Pena, Ty Wigginton, and Eric Hinske have done for the Rays in recent years.
- Adam Kennedy – he’s always been a great defensive second baseman who is decent offensively. It’s surprising that the Cardinals recently released him after a pretty good 2008 season. He’s really in camp because Akinori Iwamura will be playing for the Japanese WBC team and the Rays needed an extra second baseman for their spring training games. But he’s supposedly a good teammate and influence in the clubhouse, and if there’s an injury, he wouldn’t be a bad backup infielder.
- Jason Isringhausen – he’s the most intriguing of all of these players. He’s been one of the most consistently effective closers of the past decade, but he had a really bad year for St. Louis in 2008. He had surgery in September for a torn flexor tendon, so that might have been why he pitched so poorly. If he can bounce back, he should be a very useful reliever for the Rays, possibly even the closer. It’s a low risk, and potentially very high reward signing.
The Rays first spring training game is on Wednesday, and I’m sure that I’ll have many more things to say about the Rays once the games start to be played…