By Keith Antigiovanni
The Texas Rangers and Tampa Rays are everything that is right with baseball and everything that is potentially right with baseball if the sport can get on the same economic page as the other professional sports in the 21st century.
Texas has now had three straight winning seasons, two AL West titles and are defending AL champions after making the World Series in 2010. What is surprising about the Rangers' success is that the previous owner, Tom Hicks, filed for bankruptcy just a couple of years ago but how quickly Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan rode in to Arlington to rescue the club and has given them the fiscal responsibility, leadership and baseball knowledge this team needed for so many years.
Texas fans will recall when Hicks signed former Mariner Alex Rodriguez to a ridiculous salary of over 200 million dollars in 2001. The experiment failed as the club could not afford to sign quality pitchers to help bolster its' roster and became a laughingstock for making such a move.
It was especially disappointing since Rangers' ownership under former President George W. Bush worked so hard to bring credibility to the franchise in the early 1990's by building a strong farm system and getting enough support to get the Ballpark at Arlington built in 1995. The result was Texas' best decade in franchise history (1990's): 7 winning seasons and 4 AL West titles and overall winning record of 807-747.
Nolan Ryan's efforts are an attempt to continue the work of the Bush ownership before Hicks overspending.
The Tampa Bay Rays on the other hand have had a less than stellar history. They began as an expansion franchise in 1998 but had to compete with the Yankees' A club in the same market. According to baseball rules when a minor league market becomes a major league market the affialted minor league team is forced to move to another market.
It happened in Kansas City and Baltimore in the mid 1950's, it happened in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1958, it happened in Houston in 1962, in Atlanta in 1966, in San Diego, Montreal and Seattle in 1969, in Denver and Miami in 1993, in Phoenix in 1998 but not in Tampa. For some reason baseball rules didnt apply to the Yankees farm team as MLB looked the other way.
Because of this and the 10 straight sub .500 years the Rays had a very slow start. 2008 was their breakout year when they won the AL East, the ALDS and ACLS over Boston. They followed up AL title with a winning season in 2009 and another AL East title in 2010 before the Wild Card title this year.
Dallas-Fort Worth and Tampa have great "minor league" traditions which the typical baseball fan is not aware of and the "national" (east coast) media has no knowledge of.
Dallas and Fort Worth fielded winning teams between 1902 until 1958 when both moved out of the Texas League. The Fort Worth teams were a "dynasty" between 1919-1925 by winning 7 straight regular season titles and 5 of the first 6 Dixie Series which pitted the Texas League champions against the Southern Association champions. Dallas and Fort Worth dominated the Texas League between 1902 to 1958 by winning combined 25 regular season titles and 11 Dixie Series between 1920 and 1959.
Tampa's teams competed in the Florida State League between 1919 and the 1980's. Tampa won regular season titles in 1920, 1925, 1929, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1976 and made 9 finals appearances (1920, 1925, 1929, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1976, 1982, 1984) and 3 league titles (1929, 1957, 1961).
Tampa played at Al Lopez Field in 1955 until 1988. Al Lopez was a Hall of Fame catcher in the Majors, Major League manager and Tampa native. The field put Tampa professional sports on the map as Tampa Stadium was built right next to it in 1967. Prior to Al Lopez Field Tampa teams played at Plant Field and Phillips Field.
After the Tampa Tarpons moved in 1988 the area was without a professional club until the Tampa Yankees moved there in 1994. The result is alot of Yankees fans in the Rays home market.