Since the inaugural Devil Rays season of 1998, the fans of Tampa Bay have seen a wide variety of talent on the diamond. From Wilson Alvarez to Gregg Zaun, the Rays have gone from cellar-dwellers to perennial playoff contenders and this list will chronicle the 10 best players who have ever worn the purple and black, green and white and now navy blue and powder blue uniforms. We’ll preface this list by saying that Joe Maddon, the scouts and current front office all deserve a spot in the top 10. However, this list is reserved for players. Another caveat is a player must have played at least parts of two seasons in a Rays’ uniform. For instance, Fernando Rodney had the greatest relief season ever but one season in Tampa Bay doesn’t warrant top-10 status (although he might be 11th) on this list. So without further prose here is the top 10 all-time Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Rays.
10. Dan Johnson (2008, 2010-11)
Although he only played in 81 games over three seasons in Tampa Bay and even though he never hit above .200, Dan Johnson has two of the greatest home runs in Rays’ history. On September 9, 2008 and down one run, Johnson blasted a Jonathan Papelbon pitch deep into the Boston night to tie the game in the ninth inning. The homer shocked Papelbon and the Boston faithful and the Rays would win the game 5-4. After leaving the Rays to play in Japan, Johnson returned to Tampa Bay in 2010, but it was in 2011 that Johnson hit his other magical home run. On that fateful last day of the season against the Yankees in 2011, Joe Maddon saved Dan Johnson until just the right moment to pinch-hit. In the bottom of the ninth and with two outs, Dan Johnson was called on once again for what would be the most important at-bat of his career and perhaps in Rays’ history. Johnson hooked a Corey Wade pitch just over the right field wall to tie the game and give the Rays a chance to win. The rest was history.
9. Wade Boggs (1998-99)
The Rays’ only retired number and Tampa High School phenom is a Hall-of-Famer, but largely as the Yankees’ and Red Sox third baseman in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A career .328 hitter, Boggs was a almost a certain candidate for Cooperstown, but his 3,000th hit in a Devil Rays uniform, which was a home run, sealed his ticket to the Hall.
8. Rocco Baldelli (2003-08, 2010)
The ‘Woonsocket Rocket’ was drafted sixth overall in the 2000 draft by the Devil Rays and in 2003, Baldelli burst onto the Major League scene hitting .289 with 11 home runs and 78 RBIs, not to mention 27 steals. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Angel Berroa and Hideki Matsui. Sadly, the fan favorite would play only one more full season in the big leagues as strange injuries and bad fortune struck the outfielder. His home run in the 2008 World Series against Philadelphia is one of the biggest hits in team history. Rocco and Carl Crawford were the first wave of young Devil Rays’ talent that was a preview of things to come.
7. Fred McGriff (1998-2001, 2004)
Along with Boggs, the Tampa native was brought in at the end of his fabulous career, mostly with the Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves. Unlike Boggs though, ‘The Crime Dog’ played five seasons in a Tampa Bay uniform and hit over .300 in three different seasons. It’s truly a shame McGriff is not a member of Cooperstown because his career .284 batting average, 493 home runs and 1550 RBIs are surely worthy of the Hall, especially considering the dirty era in which McGriff played clean. A staple in the Tampa community, McGriff is one of the best Tampa athletes of all-time even if he never had played a day as a Devil Ray.
6. Ben Zobrist (2006-Present)
One of the first moves that the current Rays’ regime made was the acquisition of Ben Zobrist from the Houston Astros. Zobrist embodies every aspect of Rays baseball; he is wildly versatile and has played every position in the field except pitcher and catcher. Zobrist is the perfect example of the Rays’ front office being able to turn someone else’s trash into treasure, and the brilliance of Joe Maddon. Maddon saw what no one else did in Zobrist and ‘Zorilla’ is one of the most consistent members of the Rays roster. A highly valued Sabermetric player, Zobrist has also become a fan favorite and was an All-Star in 2009.
5. B.J. Upton (2004-12)
Much like Baldelli, James Shields, Crawford and Evan Longoria, the Rays, staple in center field for over six seasons was drafted and developed by Tampa Bay. B.J. Upton even played shortstop and third base in the early part of his career. At the age of 22, Upton hit .300 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs and although he never duplicated the success of that season, he is a fabulous defensive center fielder and a constant threat on the base paths. The Rays will be forced to retool in center field with Upton’s departure to the Atlanta Braves and his glove and laser arm will sorely be missed.
4. James Shields (2006-12)
Another example of Rays’ scouting and development team, James Shields was picked in the 16th round of the 2000 amateur draft and has become the franchise’s all-time leader in wins. ‘Big Game James’ has won over 11 games in every season since 2007 for the Rays and was an All-Star in 2011. Time will tell on the recent trade of Shields to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Myers and others but as it stands today Shields would easily be the Rays’ best pitcher in franchise history, if not for the next name on the list.
3. David Price (2008-Present)
Chosen first overall in the 2007 amateur draft, Price wasn’t exactly a diamond in the rough, but he was developed by the Rays into a Cy Young award winner. In only five seasons Price has closed an American League championship clinching game, started the All-Star Game, become the franchise’s first 20-game winner and the first Cy Young award winner. Price has been an All-Star three times and his ERA of 2.56 led the American League in 2012. Aside from Justin Verlander, the southpaw from Tennessee is the best pitcher in the American League and pitches in the toughest division in baseball. The enigmatic Price has quickly become a fan favorite because of his playful antics in the dugout and his seriousness on the mound, and is easily the best pitcher the Rays have ever had.
2. Carl Crawford (2002-10)
Oh Carl, before Longo came around, Crawford was by far the greatest Rays player of all-time. To be honest, Carl was one of the best non-power hitters of the 2000’s. Tampa’s “Man of Steal” led the American League in stolen bases four times and in triples four times. He was an all-star four times and won the All-Star Game MVP in 2010 in St. Louis, his last year as a Ray. That 2010 season was one of the best by any Tampa Bay player in the team’s short history. Crawford hit .307 with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs and 47 stolen bases. Throw in 30 doubles with 13 triples and it’s almost not surprising the Red Sox threw so much cash at Crawford after that season, almost. Whispers of Carl’s departure from the Rays began in the 2009 season and by August of 2010, it was a foregone conclusion that ‘CC’ had played his last season in Tampa Bay. In the final game of 2010, a sold-out Tropicana Field crowd (which is rare) gave the left fielder a standing ovation because everyone knew the Rays wouldn’t even be able to consider re-signing Crawford.
The grass isn’t always greener, and no one knows that better than Carl Crawford. Some consider the seven-year $142-million dollar contract given to Crawford by the Boston Red Sox as the worst free-agent deal of all-time. Now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Crawford has a chance to revive his career in L.A. but arm injuries have severely diminished his value. Perhaps the Rays were lucky that Carl left for big money, but regardless of the rest of his career, he will long be remembered as the greatest Rays’ outfielder of all-time.
1. Evan Longoria (2008-Present)
This one is pretty obvious. The arrival of ‘Longo’ helped push the Rays out of their last-place past and into contender status year after year. Winning Rookie of the Year and leading the Rays to their first World Series appearance in franchise history would have been enough to crack the top 10, but two Gold Glove awards at third base and possibly the most memorable walk-off home run in recent baseball memory (set up by Dan Johnson) make Longoria the greatest Rays player of all-time. His 10-year contract extension this offseason signifies his affinity for the Bay area and proves to the fans that Longoria wants to be a Ray for life.
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