Rays: Sexier than Dick Vitale?

Harry Raymond

Last week, the largest audience in the TBS network’s history watched the Tampa Bay Rays’ rookie David Price successfully convert his first career save in game seven against the Boston Red Sox. The seventh game of the ALCS also set the record for the highest rated baseball game ever watched on cable. Despite these positive signs, many fear that the World Series matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Rays could be the lowest rated Fall Classic ever. “This Series has the sexiness of Dick Vitale modeling underwear,” wrote Mike Freeman of CBS Sports. The question I’ve been hearing frequently around campus is, “Who wants to watch the freakin’ Rays?” The answer is “I do and so should you.” I am going to be glued to my television set this week because — unsexy as their markets may seem — we are witnessing the single greatest turnaround story in the history of sports.

Sure, Manny returning to Fenway would have made great theater and watching the Cubs try to end their champion drought against their cross-town rivals would have put smirks on the faces of FOX executives. But we might never see a story like the Rays’ again. This is not just another underdog story. This is a miracle.

Only a year ago, the Rays were the laughingstock of baseball. They finished with the worst record in the majors, which made it their tenth straight season with at least 90 losses (By the way, they have only existed for ten seasons). If they win this World Series, they will be the only team in sports history to go from “worst to first.” Not a single team in the four major professional sports (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA) has ever won the title after finishing with the worst record in the previous year. In fact, the 1991 Atlanta Braves and the 1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers are the only other teams even to make it to the title game after compiling the worst record the year before. Both lost in the finals and neither had as dreadful a history as the Rays. This is a franchise that was popping champagne when they won 70 games in the 2004 season, a campaign in which they finished 30.5 games behind the division leader. This is a team whose starting rotation has an average age of 24.6 years and a franchise that had never had a 14-game winner. This is a team ranked 29th in payroll, making them the lowest ranked team to reach the World Series since free agency began in 1974. This is a team for which bookmakers gave 75-1 preseason odds to win the AL championship. I can go on but you get the idea: This is not an underdog story; this is a miracle team. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark said “If you don’t care about this team’s fate, you don’t deserve to call yourself a sports fan.”

Don’t forget about the Phillies either. They are a great story that is only overshadowed by an unbelievable story. Philadelphia has become the parade-less city. With four major pro sports teams and the fourth largest TV market in the country, one would expect to see some championship trophies on the city’s mantle. But Philadelphia has not celebrated a championship in more than 25 years, not since the 1982-83 Sixers won the title. Compare this to Boston which has celebrated three Super Bowls, two World Series championships and an NBA championship in just the last six years. This is the Phillies 126th season but they are reaching the World Series for only the sixth time, having won it only once in 1980. Is Philadelphia’s story that much different than the fabled Cubs’ curse? Sure, Philadelphia has no Billy Goat, but it is the same tale of misfortune that could come to an end next week.

With four more victories, either one of these teams can rewrite their history. The Phillies can end a long championship drought and the Rays can put a cherry on top of an already miracle season. Whoever wins (my pick is the Rays in 7), one of the greatest stories in sports history is unfolding in front of our eyes. Make sure your eyes are not closed.