HomeTeamsRaysRays and Diamondbacks Always Bonded Together

Rays and Diamondbacks Always Bonded Together

In 1998 Major League Baseball expanded to its current format of a 30-team league. The addition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks evened the American (AL)and National League (NL) to 15 teams. This was the sixth MLB expansion. Prior to 1998, there were an uneven number of teams since 1977. The 1977 expansion saw the birth of the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. At this point, the AL had 14 teams as the NL remained at 12. Sixteen years later the NL expanded to include the Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins, bringing the league to 28 teams, 14 in each league until 1998.

It has been 27 years since the Rays and Diamondbacks joined the league. It is a tale of two franchises when comparing the team. There are multiple statistical parallels as well as differences.

The Diamondbacks franchise had a much better start than the Devil Rays. From 1998 to 2007, the Diamondbacks secured more wins each season than their expansion counterparts except in the 2004 season. The Rays posted a 70-win season in 2004, whereas the Diamondbacks had a horrid season posting only 51 wins. Also, during that period, the 1999 Diamondback team won 100 games.

Attendance numbers were dominated by the Diamondbacks in the first decade. The Devil Rays inaugurated season attendance is still the teams record with 2.5 million. The Diamondbacks easily top that with attendance of 3.6 million in 1998. In the first 10 years, Diamondbacks attendance did not drop below 2 million. Excluding the 2.5 million in 1998 for the Devil Rays, their attendance peaked at 1.5 million.

Fans in Arizona also had the luxury of seeing their Diamondbacks in the playoffs. The almost instant success of the team saw four playoff runs to include a championship. The Devil Rays did not post a winning season in their first decade.

Things began to turn around for the renamed Rays in 2008. For the next six years, the Rays posted winning seasons and reached the playoffs four times to include their first world series appearance. At the same time, the Diamondbacks were playing 500-baseball except for 2011. In 2011, the Diamondbacks finished first in their division with 94 wins. Only three more wins than the 2011 Rays.

In the next six seasons, both teams were mediocre and each reached the playoffs once. However, in a head-to-head comparison, the Rays had a better season in four of the six years. In 2015 the Rays won one more game than the Diamondbacks (80 to 79 wins). The reverse occurred in the following year as the Diamondbacks won one more game than the Rays (69 to 68 wins).

Then, in 2020, Covid ruined everything. The Rays had their second world series appearance. They won 60 games in the shorten season. Diamondbacks had 25 wins.

Post-Covid baseball saw a surging Rays team. The Rays posted 100, 86, and 99 wins in the next three seasons. The Diamondbacks posted 52-, 74-, and 84-win seasons in 2021-2023 with a world series appearance.

It might not seem like it but, overall, these teams had the same level of success. Prior to the start of the current season, the Rays have won 2031 games. The Diamondbacks won 1998 games. A difference of 33 wins. On average, the Rays have a record of 79-83 (.487) and the Diamondbacks have a record of 77-85 (.475).

The biggest difference between the teams is attendance numbers. The Diamondbacks recorded higher attendance in all 26 seasons. According to Baseball Reference, the Rays had 33.5 million in attendance compared to 56.7 million in Arizona. The Rays averaged 1.3 million per season (21K per game), peaked at 2.5 million (1998) and saw a low of 1 million (2002 & 2003) *. Diamondback average 2.2 million per season (36K per game), peaked at 3.6 million (1998) and saw a low of 2 million (2005, 2006, 2010, 2014-2016) *. Seating capacity of home ballparks a close. Tropicana Field holds 42,735 and Chase Field holds 48,519; a difference of 5700. Their home ballparks elevated the similarities and differences to a new level. They both play under a dome but one is retractable and the other one is not.

These two franchises are forever intertwined in baseball history. After 26 seasons, they have the same level of success.

Could the same be said about other expansion classes? Why does one draw more attendance than the other one?

* Excluding post-Covid recovery numbers


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