Things aren't looking great for the Dodgers as I write this. They're down 1-0 to the Braves, already having their occasional hitting slumps and bullpen issues exposed. Now, Clayton Kershaw's out until at least Game 4 due to recurring back issues.
I'm not that optimistic about the Dodgers chances this year mostly due to the fact that they played a 60-game schedule consisting strictly of mediocre-to-poor teams, with only the Astros and, I guess, the Padres the exceptions. I'm much more OK about this than I thought I'd be, probably because, like I mentioned, it's been a 60-game schedule and that's all. I don't need to be swatting down "yeah buts" all offseason if my team should win the title.
A team that seems to fit this postseason much better, while also seeming to have a better chance, is the Rays. They just look like they know what they're doing, at all times. I wouldn't mind seeing them win a title, at least then I'd have something to remember them by than what I usually remember them by and that is: an off-loading station for former star players.
I know that hasn't necessarily been the case for the Rays for years. But it's still what I think when I think of them. In fact, I put together a top 10 list of "he played for THAT team" Rays. Many of these you know, just because they've been repeated so often by fans who are fascinated by this stuff. But they're still fun to go through, so let's go through them.
Presenting the "You Can Call Them Rays"*
10. James Loney
Team I associate him with: the Dodgers
Tenure with Rays: 417 games, 2013-15.
Loney played with the Rays for quite a bit, much longer than his time with the Red Sox or Mets. But I associate him with the Dodgers completely due to my fandom and his postseason performances with them.
9. Asdrubal Cabrera
Teams I associate him with: Indians, Mets, Nationals
Tenure with Rays: 143 games, 2015.
Cabrera played one season with Tampa Bay. He played so long for the Indians that at one point it seemed like he'd stay with them for good.
Teams I associate him with: Mariners, Yankees
Tenure with the Rays: 138 games, 2004.
When I think of a "he played for that team" club for Martinez, I think first of when he whined about playing two years for the Cardinals. Yeah, they booed him. He also didn't hit.
7. Cliff Floyd
Teams I associate him with: Expos, Marlins, Mets
Tenure with Rays: 80 games, 2008.
No clue that Floyd played for the Rays before writing this post, even though I own the above card. But at least his Rays stay was longer than the 10 games he played for San Diego.
6. Fred McGriff
Teams I associate him with: Braves, Blue Jays, Padres, sometimes the Dodgers
Tenure with Rays: 577 games, 1998-2001.
McGriff played five years with the Rays, the same amount of time he was with the Braves or the Blue Jays. But McGriff also played with Tampa Bay during the black hole of my baseball collecting and following. His trade from the Padres to the Braves was epic and nothing he did for Tampa can touch that.
5. Johnny Damon
Teams I associate him with: Red Sox, Yankees, Royals
Tenure with the Rays: 150 games, 2011.
It's amazing how many former Yankees seemed to end up with Tampa Bay.
4. Jose Canseco
Teams I associate him with: A's, Rangers
Tenure with Rays: 174 games, 1999-2000.
Canseco is such a well-known celebrity, whose reach expanded beyond baseball circles, that everything that happened to him was magnified. So that time with the Rays is magnified, too. Topps has had a habit recently of placing legends players on unlikely teams in sets. Sometimes that's kind of cool, although I am so happy nobody seems to care about new Ron Cey cards, because there's no way I need to see him in a Cubs uniform again.
3. Wade Boggs
Teams I associate him with: Red Sox, Yankees
Tenure with Rays: 213 games, 1998-99.
Another player who has appeared dressed as a Ray with surprising frequency on recent Topps legends cards. Boggs' moments with the Red Sox are too numerous to count and he won a World Series title (and rode on a horse) with the Yankees. With the Rays, he has his 3,000th hit and not much else. But we sure do love novelty.
2. Manny Ramirez
Teams I associate him with: Red Sox, Dodgers, Indians
Tenure with Rays: 5 games, 2011.
Ramirez was a shell of his former self, a disgraced PED user, by the time he arrived with the Rays. It's surprising he has any Rays cards, but I think Topps was hell-bent on shoehorning in his Tampa stay.
1. Hideo Nomo
Teams I associate him with: Dodgers
Tenure with Rays: 19 games, 2005.
As you can tell, Nomo is wearing a Dodgers uniform on this card. He does appear in a Rays uniform in other 2005 sets (mostly later Donruss issues). But it doesn't look any less weird. Nomo's ERA was over 7 in his time with Tampa. This is also the only pitcher on this list. Because Tampa Bay always has had a history of cultivating better pitchers than hitters.
There are several other players with obscure Rays appearances for which I don't have cards or no cards exist. Some of them include Grady Sizemore, Dwight Gooden, Julio Franco, Jason Isringhausen, Hideki Matsui, Jerome Walton and Bobby Witt.
The Rays have more of an identity than they did when most of the above players appeared with them. A championship would solidify their reputation (although the Marlins have won two World Series titles and a lot of good it did them).
I'll be rooting for the Rays if the Dodgers end up exiting, but until then it will be a lot of angst about Dodgers relievers giving up home runs on 0-2 counts and Dave Roberts' pitching decisions and the all-or-nothing habits of hitters these days.
It may be a strange year, but these playoffs are bringing it all back.
(*If you recognize the post title reference, then you're as ancient as I am).