By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002
DEVIL IN THE WHITE JERSEY: Russ Johnson has made a lot of changes in his personal life, including a transformation to religious zealot, spreading what he considers the word of God at every opportunity.
Now Johnson wants to make another change. He thinks the team should formally change its name, exorcising the word Devil from all usage. (The team last year switched to jerseys that read only Rays but is officially known as the Devil Rays.) Johnson feels strongly enough that he's considering talking directly to managing general partner Vince Naimoli.
"It's a concern," Johnson said. "It definitely would help if we got rid of it. There's no use honoring that part of the spirit. There ain't nothing good about it. All it does is destroy the soul. (The devil) ain't into saving souls, he's into bringing them with him. I just don't think he needs to be put up on a pedestal by any means.
"They tried to take it out and just make it Tampa Bay Rays, but people still classify it as Devil Rays. It's something that has to be written about and told about to get rid of it and just dropped altogether. There ain't no doubt in my mind it'd help. It sure can't hurt. That's for sure."
BONUS BABIES: Youth has its privilege. It also has its price tag. After protracted negotiations, the Rays agreed last week to give B.J. Upton, the No. 2 pick in the draft, a $4.6-million bonus, third-largest ever. That was a year after giving No. 3 pick Dewon Brazelton $4.2-million, which was a year after giving No. 6 Rocco Baldelli $2.25-million, which was a year after giving No. 1 Josh Hamilton $3.96-million.
The hefty bonuses are the cost of doing business, but they illustrate how rapidly the market for amateur talent has escalated, which hasn't gone unnoticed by, of all constituencies, the current major-leaguers.
Outfielder Ben Grieve was happy enough to get $1.2-million for being the No. 2 pick in 1994 "and it didn't take me long to sign it." Paul Wilson, the No. 1 pick that year, practically jumped at the Mets' $1.55-million offer and was pitching within two weeks of the draft.
"It was a boatload of money then and it's still a boatload of money," Wilson said. "I know I could've gotten more than that, but I wanted to play. My thinking was that the sooner I signed, the sooner I'd get to the big leagues."
BEFORE YOU GO ANY FURTHER: As you can see below, the Rays are piling up a historic number of losses. On a related matter, their lack of victories also is noteworthy. They are the first AL team since the advent of the 162-game schedule in 1961 to go five straight full seasons without winning at least 70. Two NL teams have gone six, the 1962-67 Mets and 1969-74 Padres.
HOW LOW CAN THEY GO?
The Rays are on a pace to lose 109 games, which would rank them among the 19 worst teams of all-time. Here is a look at the company they might be keeping:
From Brian Schmitz's Orlando Sentinel column: "In the bay area sports scene, the Rays are the Smothers Brother nobody takes seriously, much less come out to watch perform. The Bucs represent hope, the Rays hopelessness. ... Connie Mack couldn't manage baseball's worst team to respectability."
ONLINE ITEM OF THE WEEK
A supposedly limited edition set featuring a large gold overlay Devil Rays ring and authentic Jose Canseco coin was being offered Saturday on eBay with an opening bid of $16.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"I just hit the last (channel) button."
-- HAL McRAE, Rays manager on how he reacts when smart-aleck TV types make fun of his team
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