The Tampa Bay Rays are entering their 11th season and the first 10 haven’t been too good. Those 10 seasons included 9 last past finishes, only one season of 70+ wins, and of course, ZERO playoff appearances. The Rays are considered the most inept franchise in baseball, but how bad have they really been?

Expansion franchises are not supposed to win right away. It takes time. However, in the modern era of free agency, the Rays contemporary expansion brethren have enjoyed periods of success. Since 1993, the Rays are one of four expansion teams. The Colorado Rockies were a wild card team in just their third season and appeared in the World Series last season. The Florida Marlins have already won as many titles (2) as the Red Sox in the last 89 years. The Diamondbacks have four playoff appearances and one title.

So where does the failure of the Tampa Bay franchise rank in the history of baseball. Let’s compare the Rays to the other franchises in Major League Baseball.

First let’s look at all modern era expansion franchises and compare how long it took to reach .500…

UNTIL .500
Seattle Mariners 1977 15
Houston Astros 1962 11
Washington Nationals 1969 11
Tampa Bay Rays 1998 11*
Milwaukee Brewers 1969 10
San Diego Padres 1969 10
Texas Rangers 1961 9
New York Mets 1962 8
Toronto Blue Jays 1977 7
Florida Marlins 1993 5
Kansas City Royals 1969 3
Colorado Rockies 1993 3
Los Angeles Angels 1961 2
Arizona D-Backs 1998 2
*The Rays have never been .500

The Rays have now matched Houston and Montreal/Washington. However, they have a ways to go before catching Seattle. Still, not so good that the team is tied with the second longest streak.

Now let’s look at all modern era expansion franchises and compare how long it took to reach the playoffs…

Texas Rangers 1961 36
Seattle Mariners 1977 19
Houston Astros 1962 19
Los Angeles Angels 1961 19
San Diego Padres 1969 16
Washington Nationals 1969 13
Milwaukee Brewers 1969 13
Tampa Bay Rays 1998 11*
Toronto Blue Jays 1977 9
New York Mets 1962 8
Kansas City Royals 1969 8
Florida Marlins 1993 5
Colorado Rockies 1993 3
Arizona D-Backs 1998 2
*The Rays have never been in the playoffs

This is a bit of a skewed list. With six divisions and wild cards, it is easier to reach the playoffs in this era. Still…
36 years? Those poor Rangers fans. And Seattle’s streak of 19 was fairly recent. The Rays are not likely to move too far up this list.

Now let’s look at the franchises that have the longest current streaks of losing seasons…

SINCE .500
Pittsburgh Pirates 1882 16
Baltimore Orioles 1901 11
Tampa Bay Rays 1998 10*
Cincinnati Reds 1882 8
Washington Nationals 1969 5
Kansas City Royals 1969 5
*The Rays have never been .500

The Rays don’t even have the worst streak in their own division and the Rays have a much better shot at ending this drought in 2008 than the Orioles.

Now let’s look at the franchises that have the longest current streaks of failing to reach the playoffs…

Washington Nationals 1969 27
Milwaukee Brewers 1969 26
Kansas City Royals 1969 23
Pittsburgh Pirates 1882 16
Toronto Blue Jays 1977 15
Cincinnati Reds 1882 13
Baltimore Orioles 1901 11
Tampa Bay Rays 1998 10*
*The Rays have never been in the playoffs

Again, the Rays are not even the worst in their own division. The Orioles should be ashamed of themselves. They are a big market/high payroll team. Toronto is also a team with a big payroll that haven’t sniffed the playoffs in a long time.

The Rays have been bad, but we are willing to bet it won’t take 15 years to reach .500 or 36 years before they reach the playoffs. And there are currently other inept franchises that have been bad longer than the Rays.

Why again is the Rays franchise the poster-child for inept franchises?



  1. Robert Rittner says:

    Some of the reasons are found on page 11x of today's Times, headlined "Decade of decadence".
    In their 10 seasons, the Rays have the worst winning % of any of the 14 expansion teams.

    They are the first team to top 90 losses in each of their 10 seasons.

    They have finished last in 9 of 10 seasons and next to last in the other

    They have never won more than 70 games, which they managed once.

    They finished lst or next or last in attendance 6 times and among the bottom four twice more. The only time they topped 1.6 million was in their inaugural year.

    They have had more than one all-star (none voted on) only once when the initial choice (Canseco) was hurt and could not attend.

    There are other points, but those stand out as particularly damning. And as you know, I bristle when anyone tries to mock the Rays. But there is certainly an argument that they are the least successful expansion team in history and one of the worst franchises ever to this point. I am confident that is all in the past, and the current version will become a beacon and model for other franchises over the next few years.

  2. Devil Ray Guevara says:

    all good points. but if the point of baseball is to "win" there are other franchises that have failed at that goal at worse rates than the Rays.

    If you think finishing 4th in 9 of the first 10 seasons instead of last would somehow be "better", then you are mistaken. Losing is losing.

  3. Robert Rittner says:

    Well, I feel uncomfortable feeding into any perception that the Rays are a bad franchise, but given that we only have a 10 year history, no matter how confident we are about the next 10 years, we can only measure ourselves compared to other teams with just 10 years experience. And on that score, having the worst 10 year winning % of any expansion team is a pretty damning fact.

    While I agree that finishing 4th instead of 5th in 9 of those years is small consolation, it certainly does not provide ammunition to support the notion that the Rays' past 10 years are better than the Orioles'. When we roar past them and the Jays this year, we can then shed the title of worst franchise, but not until then I fear.

    I do want to backtrack to this extent. My argument for the past two years has always been that the record itself should not be the yardstick for measuring the Rays' success, at least not yet. Rather the organization should be judged on the preparatory work it is doing to become contenders, and on that score, it has been very successful.

    I stand by that view, and in that sense I agree absolutely that franchises like Baltimore, SF, Pittsburgh and quite a few others have been far worse than the Rays over the past 2 years. (Prior to that, I think the Rays had the ignominious title of worst franchise hands down.) In fact, I would argue that for the past two years the Rays are among the very best franchises in baseball.

  4. Devil Ray Guevara says:

    first I should point out that The Prof wrote this post and asked me to post it.

    as for RR's points. Nothing you are saying is incorrect, and whole-heartedly agree that the Rays are from from being the worst team of the past two years and while the franchise was woefully bad the first 8 years, i think what Prof is showing is that this is not an unusual thing in baseball in the first decade of an expansion franchise. I dont think the point is that they have not been bad. only that being bad should almost be expected.


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