On this day in 1995, Major League Baseball owners voted 28-0 to admit two new teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays name initially drew some criticism due to its un-Christian connotation. The name was selected from a list of over 7,000 entries. Original Rays owner Vince Niamoli had preferred the team be named the Sting Rays, but in a sign of things to come for the low budget Rays, refused to pay a fee of $35,000 to acquire the trademark from a team in the Hawaiian Winter League. Both teams would begin play in 1998.
The inception of these two teams is one of my earliest real baseball memories, outside of attending games. I was too young to remember the entrance of the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies to the league in 1993, and the earliest World Series I can specifically remember is the Yankees’ 1998 dismantling of the Padres. For years, I was the proud owner of a bright purple Devil Rays t-shirt complete with a menacing looking Ray in full flight. If I am being honest, I would dust it off today and wear it with no shame.
The Rays and Diamondbacks were conceived in the height of the awesome Nineties color wheel, heavy on purple, teal and aquamarine. My inner child still remembers the excitement of tearing into a fresh pack of Topps and finding a Devil Ray or Diamondback peering back at me from the top of the stack. It did not matter that the player was a previously unheard of minor leaguer unfortunate to be left up for grabs in the expansion draft. The thought of having two entire new teams to collect was thrilling. I remain saddened to this very moment that both the Rays and Diamondbacks have abandoned their Technicolor uniforms in favor of more subdued hues.
Both the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays were pitiful in their inaugural seasons. The Devil Rays would stay pitiful until finally dropping the Devil from their name in 2008. They promptly went all the way to the World Series that year. Whether that is due to the bad juju of the team name being righted or the Joe Maddon-Andrew Friedman combination finally paying off is for you to decide. The Diamondbacks would reach relevancy much more rapidly than the Rays, winning 100 games in their second season, and becoming the fastest expansion team to win the World Series, capturing the crown in 2001, despite the best efforts of Byung-Hyun Kim.
I do not foresee any expansion on the horizon for Major League Baseball. There are definitely cities that could support a franchise. Portland, OR, is one of the best sports cities in the country, and has a population in line with Baltimore and Milwaukee. I could also see a team in the Raleigh-Durham or Charlotte area to bring another team to the South. Baseball would need to expand in pairs, and both of these are good options, as a team in Oregon would fall roughly halfway between San Francisco and Seattle. A team in North Carolina would split the difference between Atlanta and Washington.
That being said, if and when baseball does expand, I expect the league to try and push its footprint bank into Canada. The popularity of the game is growing in the Great North, and there are an increasing number of active Major Leaguers from Canada. It would be a natural return after the failure of the Montreal Expos. Before any of this becomes a reality, baseball needs to address the rapidly deteriorating stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa. Only then, can expansion be seriously considered.