ST. PETERSBURG — Before they ended up in Oakland and after they left Philadelphia, the Athletics once called Kansas City home.
It was a relatively brief stay, covering 13 seasons and producing 13 losing records under eight managers. If history remembers them at all, it is usually to point out that those Kansas City teams were often referred to derisively as part of the Yankees farm system.
Arnold Johnson, the man who bought the Athletics from Connie Mack and moved them to Kansas City in 1955, previously had business interests in Yankee Stadium. That relationship with the folks in pinstripes seemingly led to a series of lopsided trades benefitting New York.
Roger Maris was traded from Kansas City. So was Ralph Terry. And Clete Boyer. The 1961 world champion Yankees had 10 former Kansas City players at various points during the regular season. The Athletics, meanwhile, lost 100 games that year.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about those Kansas City A’s lately.
Mostly because Tampa Bay’s (former) vice president of baseball operations was hired as the new general manager in Houston on Monday. And then Tampa Bay’s (former) senior vice president traded Mookie Betts and (former Ray) David Price to Tampa Bay’s other (former) vice president. That (former) vice president in Los Angeles also traded Joc Pederson to Tampa Bay’s (former) manager in Anaheim and Kenda Maeda to Tampa Bay’s (former) bench coach, who is now managing in Minnesota.
There have been other franchises that have lost a goodly number of talented players (Oakland in the 1970s, Montreal in the ‘90s, Florida just about every other year) but I’m not sure one franchise has ever seen a combination of players, coaches and executives depart year after year the way Tampa Bay has.
Like I said, it made me think of Kansas City in the 1950s.
Except it’s completely different.
The A’s franchise went from 1932 to 1970 (in three different cities) without a whiff of the postseason. The Kansas City years were simply the rock-bottom part of that journey.
The Rays, on the other hand, keep winning.
In the last dozen years, Tampa Bay is fifth in the majors in victories. Fifth! And that’s not a small sample size. Players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Geovany Soto and Denard Span had entire careers during that period.
The four teams with a better winning percentage during those 12 seasons (Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Red Sox) are all wealthy, history-laden baseball havens. The Rays have fewer fans, less revenues and barely a generation’s worth of memories. And yet they’ve had more playoff appearances than teams spending twice as much money on players.
So, no, it’s not a surprise that other franchises keep looking toward Tampa Bay when it comes time to replenish their rosters, staffs or front offices.
What’s amazing is that the Rays keep contending.
In some ways, they are the envy of other teams, and yet people in Boston are crying about a trade that smacks of Tampa Bay philosophies. By the same token, the past few days must have generated a strange mix of pride and frustration for Rays executives.
All of their avant-garde thinking has been justified by the industry, and yet it’s also come back to bite them in the britches. Losing one exec to Boston in November was bad enough, but losing another to Houston in February is particularly unsettling.
Owner Stu Sternberg’s prepared statement on James Click’s departure to the Astros hinted at the frustration of developing front office talent for a decade or more and then losing people to richer relations without any compensation.
Three of the five largest payrolls in the game are now being controlled by former Rays executives. Meanwhile, the current Tampa Bay front office is working with a bottom-five payroll.
So is this a lament, or is it praise?
It’s a little bit of both.
Feel free to sound as frustrated as Sternberg when it comes to swallowing baseball’s skewed economic realities, but don’t ever lose sight that 29 other teams seem to think of Tampa Bay as the Ivy League of baseball minds.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.