As the Rays manager, Joe Maddon knows more than anyone how much it took to get to the World Series.
As a since-childhood and self-described "sick" Cardinals fan, he has a pretty good idea what it took for them to reach the Super Bowl.
Maddon first considered the accomplishments "equally" unlikely but, upon further review, says the Cardinals took the path least expected: "It's even more improbable that they did."
His reasoning is that even though both teams had lost for a long time, there was at least some chatter that the Rays were headed toward better days.
"To some extent the Cardinals are mentioned that way," Maddon said, "but for them to get to the Super Bowl, I don't think that was really on anyone's radar screen.
Maddon — in yet another of his MLB firsts, a major-league manager holding a conference call to talk about the Super Bowl — said his all-time favorite among several idolized Cardinals was Charley Johnson, he's impressed with the current team's balance and he'd "love" the chance to meet Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, whom he has been leaving good-luck phone messages for.
One question he couldn't answer: Who was the better athlete, Cards WR Larry Fitzgerald or Rays CF B.J. Upton? "Wow," Maddon replied. "I'd like to have one on each side. Fitzgerald in rightfield for this year, and to put B.J. with him and (Anquan) Boldin as wide receivers."
ARBITRATION ISSUES: C Dioner Navarro would seem to have a good case for the $2.5 million he seeks as opposed to the $2.1 million the Rays offered: K.C.'s John Buck, with much less impressive stats, got $2.2 million last year in his first arbitration season; L.A.'s Russell Martin, with somewhat comparable stats in '08, just settled for $3.9 million. … Still not sure how (or why) the Rays ended up going to a hearing with Willy Aybar over $150,000, the smallest gap among the 46 major-leaguers who exchanged figures.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Between playing in the Bob Hope golf event in California and heading back for Super Bowl week activities, 3B Evan Longoria is to be in New York today to pick up his AL rookie of the year award at the BBWAA dinner. But first he's doing a signing at an ice cream/sports memorabilia shop for the head-shaking price of $90 per autograph. … Upton on Tuesday hosts his first Celebrity Golf Classic at Hunter's Green in Tampa, benefiting the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Participants include brother Justin, teammates Scott Kazmir and James Shields and ex-Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk. E-mail LaGoding@hotmail.com for info. … If the Rays really don't want Kazmir to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, they may be able to stop him. The Angels are reportedly vetoing RHP John Lackey's participation because (like Kazmir) he missed the first six weeks last season with an arm injury. … President Matt Silverman said the Rays went from 300 spring training season-ticket holders in St. Petersburg to 3,000 in Port Charlotte. … ESPN's Keith Law has the Rays second (behind Texas) in his organizational farm system rankings, and LHP David Price No. 2 (behind Orioles C Matt Wieters) in his top 100 prospects. The Rays have five in his top 50, with SS Tim Beckham 11th, OF Desmond Jennings 25th, RHP Wade Davis 33rd and RHP Jeremy Hellickson 47th. … The Fightins blog on the Phillies found SpeedTV video of new Ray Pat Burrell bidding on a custom 1967 Plymouth Barracuda at the Barrett-Jackson auto auction but bailing at $190,000; it sold for $200,000. … Navarro has been working out with a personal trainer for the past month. … New reliever Lance Cormier will wear No. 31. … Could Nick Markakis' six-year, $61 million deal with Baltimore be a benchmark for long-term talks with Upton?