“Rise of the Rays: A Devil of a Story” is an epic telling of the twisting, wacky, emotional events that finally brought Major League Baseball to Tampa Bay.
WEDU Original Documentary
In the 1980’s, Tampa businessman Frank Morsani emerged as a man who not only wanted to keep a major league baseball team in Tampa all summer, he had the means and savvy to make it happen.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg it was an assistant city manager, Rick Dodge, who took the lead as the two groups tried to find a team, any major league team, to relocate to the Bay Area.
What followed were years of lies, double-crosses, questionable civic decisions, public proclamations and behind the scenes negotiations, a white elephant stadium, time-bending political shenanigans, hope, contracts, and always in the end, disappointment.
The Twins, the White Sox, the Giants, the A’s, the Mariners… it seemed like half of major league baseball was imminently moving to Tampa Bay, but each April Fool's Day, each left town again, returning home to a shiny new stadium and a sweetheart tax deal.
Until… baseball finally agreed to grant a new franchise to play in the St. Petersburg Dome, now more than 10 years old.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays debuted on March 31, 1998 and became the first major league franchise to stick around past April 1st.
Success on the field was as difficult to achieve as landing the franchise itself.
Then, almost 40 years after the effort to land a big-league team began and 100 years after pro baseball first came to Tampa Bay, the newly named Tampa Bay Rays changed baseball for good.
A new owner, a brilliant executive team, and a quirky, maverick manager built a franchise that went to two world series, disrupted how the game is played and how players are evaluated, and became pro baseball’s most inventive and influential franchise.
Still, for all the hope and joy the current Rays bring to local fans, disappointment always lingers. Will there be a new stadium?
Will the Rays now be the team that threatens to move to every new market that wants a team? How long can one of the poorest financial franchises in pro sports remain ahead of every wealthy competitor?