That the Rays found themselves amid baseball's latest controversy — being on the right side of the first replay reversal of the new second-base slide rules on Tuesday — was random and somewhat serendipitous.
But it really wasn't surprising, and perhaps was fitting, when you consider the Rays' role in the short history of instant replay.
When Major League Baseball first started dabbling with replay — to be used only on home run calls — toward the end of the 2008 season, where do you think it was first officially used?
At the Trop, in the Sept. 3 Rays-Yankees game.
Alex Rodriguez, who tends to find his way into the headlines as well, hit a ball high over the leftfield foul pole and off the D-ring catwalk in the ninth inning. The umpires ruled it fair, but Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn't convinced and asked them to talk about it.
When they huddled, crew chief Charlie Reliford decided it was as good a time as any to make history. "We all believed it was a home run, but since the technology is in place, we made the decision to use the technology and go look at the replays," Reliford said at the time. And after a quick trip to the monitor behind the third-base dugout, they were proved correct.
A couple of weeks later, also — guess where? — at the Trop, the Rays were involved in the first call being reversed by replay.
In that Sept. 19 game, Rays slugger Carlos Peña drove a ball toward the rightfield seats, but when a fan reached out to catch it, first base umpire Mike DiMuro called interference and stopped Peña at second. Maddon again begged to differ, and the crew headed to the dugout to look at replays. Some four minutes later, they emerged with crew chief Gerry Davis signaling home run.
Maddon applauded the use of technology, especially at the quirky Trop.
"It's there for that purpose," Maddon said. "I would think that the potential of playing playoff games in this ballpark may have generated the expediency of getting this into the mainstream. And it worked tonight. Obviously, we're very pleased about it."
And in other oddities ...
The Trop has also been the scene of some other odd, if not historic, umpiring-related moments as well, including:
April 4, 1998: It took only until the fifth game in Devil Rays franchise history to find out the Trop architects were wrong about the catwalks not being an issue — as White Sox 1B Frank Thomas hit a towering blast off the B-ring in leftfield — and that the ground rules about such balls being in play based on whether they land fair or foul were wrong. Even though Thomas' ball ricocheted foul, umpire Jim McKean, after huddling with his crew, awarded a home run based on how hard and far Thomas hit it, leading to a Rays protest. A few weeks later — after two other balls that looked to be homers hit catwalks and were ruled doubles because they landed fair — the rules were changed. (And would be again several more times over the years.)
June 1, 2000: The Rays thought they had beat the Orioles 4-3 when SS Felix Martinez scooped a grounder and threw to 1B Fred McGriff for the final out, shook hands and headed to the clubhouse. But the O's protested long enough to convince the umpires McGriff was off the base, and the Rays — some of whom had started to undress — had to return to the field, get another 27th out and celebrated again.
July 18, 2003: First pitch of the game with Texas was delayed 19 minutes while team and MLB officials sorted out, in a series of phone calls, whether LF Carl Crawford was eligible to play. Crawford had been suspended three games for his role in a June fight, and home-plate umpire Wally Bell got a voice mail shortly before game time with word that Crawford had dropped his appeal. But Crawford and the Devil Rays assumed it would start the next day, and they eventually prevailed. "I thought I had seen about everything," Rays manager Lou Piniella said, but I saw something else."
Aug. 6, 2004: The Rays beat the Mariners in one of the oddest endings you would ever see. (At least until last Tuesday!). Carl Crawford was on third in the 10th inning of a 1-1 tie when Tino Martinez flied to shallow left, and Crawford bluffed a dash home. But umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Mariners SS Jose Lopez blocked Crawford's view of Raul Ibanez making the catch and awarded Crawford home as the winning run in what essentially was a walkoff obstruction call.
May 17, 2009: Rays manager Joe Maddon submitted a lineup card with Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria — who was supposed to DH — both playing third. The Indians waited until Zobrist played the field in the top of the first to point it out, and the umpires, after huddling for more than 10 minutes, ruled that since Zobrist was in the game, Longoria couldn't be. That made the Rays the first AL team to start a game without a DH since Sept. 23, 1976. RHP Andy Sonnanstine ended up batting in the No. 3 spot and had an RBI double his third at-bat, and Longoria later entered the game in the Trop's first double switch.
Money for nothing?
Players/staff released by Rays with a significant financial commitment:
Greg Vaughn$9.25M March 2003
Pat Burrell$9M+ May 2010
James Loney$8M+ April 2016
Grant Balfour$7M+ April 2015
Vinny Castilla$7.25M+ May 2001
Heath Bell$5.5M* May 2014
Jose Molina$2.75M Nov. 2014
Kevin Stocker$2.4M+ May 2000
Lou Piniella$2.2M Oct. 2005
Gerald Williams$1.9M June 2001
+ prorated based on point in season * Rays' share of $9M salary
Source: Times research
Got a minute? C Hank Conger
Best meal you can make? Herb chicken with balsamic bacon brussels sprouts.
Band you'd like to be on stage with? I'd rather be spinning with (DJ) Calvin Harris.
Movie you quote the most from? Dodgeball.
First car? An '86 Porsche 928, but I got a speeding ticket and my dad took it away for like 10 months.
Celebrity crush? (Actress/model) Gal Gadot. And you can put (golfer) Michelle Wie on there too, just in case she sees it.
• Criticism over how Chris Archer has pitched in his first two starts, and snarky commentary over him being considered the face of baseball, are fair. But there should be no questioning his work ethic or commitment, which has not withered.
• Whether the Rays made the right decision in releasing James Loney to have Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce share first base remains to be seen, but there were a number of people in the organization, and throughout baseball, surprised they at least had the conviction to stick with their plan and eat his $8 million salary.
Not only did the Rays invest in a restaurant-style kitchen and hire a chef to serve healthier/fresher food to their players, they created a "relaxation" room at the Trop with recliners and dimmed lighting. … ESPN analyst Curt Schilling drew (more) social media criticism, accused of being racist with his opening day comments on Chris Archer’s hair, circling it on-screen and saying, "Everything but this right here (is) big league." … Still not sure why MLB had the Rays open with the Blue Jays, another dome team, (and paired up two SoCal teams with the Dodgers at Padres) while forcing other teams into not-surprisingly bad weather such as in Cleveland and in New York. … Interesting ex-Rays fallout from the Padres signing James Loney; his arrival might push Wil Myers from first base back to the outfield, then Melvin (B.J.) Upton to the bench. … ESPN analyst Jim Bowden gave the Rays pitching staff an overall B+ (A rotation, C+ bullpen) and its position players a B- (offense C-, defense B).
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays