The Tampa Bay Way
By Bob Branco
September 3, 2021
Three years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays implemented a new style of baseball which caused much controversy throughout baseball fandom. This concept is known as Bull Pen Day. On numerous occasions, the Rays would use an opening pitcher instead of a starting pitcher. The opener would only pitch one or two innings, followed by a stream of other relief pitchers. Despite this very controversial method of using pitchers, the Rays were winning.
After the 2019 season, the Boston Red Sox hired Chaim Bloom, former assistant general manager with the Tampa Bay Rays, to be the director of baseball operations. As soon as we heard this news, we were reminded of the Tampa Bay philosophy, and how we should be concerned about the future of the Red Sox. You may ask, what exactly is the Tampa Bay philosophy, also known as the Tampa Bay Way? For one thing, Tampa Bay is managed by Kevin Cash, one of the most analytical managers in the entire sport. He takes pitchers out too early, uses openers, and changes line-ups like I change underwear. The Tampa Bay front office has the reputation of operating cheap, meaning they hardly spend money. This year, 16 Tampa Bay pitchers were placed on the injured list. Furthermore, many fans do not want to go to Tampa Bay’s home games.
Now, allow me to present the other side, which may lead to a healthy debate about the Tampa Bay way. If you knew nothing about the performance of the Rays this season, and I told you that 16 pitchers were injured, that fans do not want to go to their games, that the front office does not want to spend money, and that their manager likes to use relief pitchers as starters, you would likely assume that the Rays are one of the worst teams in baseball. If you assume that, I wouldn’t blame you. I just presented a very gloomy picture of a major league baseball team. However, despite all the gloom and doom, the Rays currently have a record of 84 wins and 50 losses. They are the best team in the American League. They can hit, run, pitch, and play good defense. They obviously have an excellent scouting staff, because they were able to replace 16 injured pitchers with 16 other pitchers. That is completely unheard of.
So, what about the Tampa Bay Way? Should we, as Red Sox fans, be upset about it? Is it just a coincidence that the Tampa Bay philosophy works wonders for the Rays, even though we don’t want it to be used on the Red Sox? On the other hand, is the philosophy terrible, and that the Rays are just lucky?
As a baseball fan, I don’t like the concept of Bull Pen Day, nor do I like the concept of a general manager being extremely stingy about spending for his team. However, do I have the right to question Tampa Bay’s performance right now, despite their philosophy? What if the Red Sox had the most wins in baseball while doing it the Tampa Bay way? Would Red Sox fans care about that, or would they simply be happy that their team is winning? As fans, much of our philosophy has to do with what our teams have done for us lately. If the Red Sox won 10 games in a row, or 25 out of their last 30, I’d like to see how many fans would complain if the Red Sox did it the Tampa Bay Way. With that in mind, I wonder if those of us who don’t care for the Tampa Bay Way would like to have proof that it works for the Red Sox before we stop talking about it. I’m sure they don’t talk about it in Tampa, that is, those very few fans that support that team.
One of my friends keeps telling me that it doesn’t matter how good the Rays are during the season, because they never won the World Series. In my opinion, it matters. No matter how the Rays do in the playoffs, they are still the best team in baseball right now, and have been one of the best teams for the past 3 years. Only two teams make it to the World Series, which means that one has to win, and the other has to lose. It doesn’t mean that either team is not good. In the case of the Rays, it’s about how they arrived at such a winning percentage right now, and not about how they might do in the play-offs.
Personally, I would not run a baseball team the Tampa Bay way, which means that the Rays, though they have talented players, are extremely fortunate.