Friday, October 24, 2008

Price is Right for Rays

History has shown that for a sports organization perhaps the most essential element in building longterm success is continuity at the top of the organization. It is one of the principal reasons that sports talk radio programming can never be allowed to run a team. If call-in fans and trouble-starting hosts had their way, coaches and executives all across America would get canned on a nearly annual basis. Just look at what is happening right now here in Philly with the Eagles and coach Andy Reid. All he has done is oversee the longest, most consistent winning tenure in the history of the franchise. But he has made the fatal mistake of not yet winning the ultimate Super Bowl title, the fans constantly talk about time passing him by, and they call for his head. The same was done around here with the Phillies organization for years, with the fans calling for the head of GM Ed Wade. Finally, almost mercifully by that point, the fans got their wish. What they lost was the man who brought Jimmy Rollins (2007 NL MVP), Ryan Howard (2006 NL MVP), Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Carlos Ruiz, and Cole Hamels among others into the organization with his drafts. The fact, despite what know-it-all Philly fans and talk hosts might stir up, is that ownership needs to make the decision to hire a good person to head their club, and then get out of and stay out of the way barring some completely outrageous circumstances. These Phillies were largely home-grown by Wade. Their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays, were built in the same way by their original GM Chuck LaMar. The Rays GM had the misfortune of taking on the job of an expansion team GM for an ownership that ultimately decided to build through the draft, a painstaking process that can take years. LaMar did his job well, adding Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, James Shields and others via the draft, and he also traded for Scott Kazmir. Another of his big draftees, Delmon Young, was eventually traded by the new GM Gerry Hunsicker to get Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. That's right, LaMar, like Wade in Philly, was also gone before the fruits of his labor could be realized. New ownership wanted a new face at the top, and so Chuck LaMar watched as another man completed his building project. In the end, the Phils and Rays have gotten to the World Series without Wade and LaMar, but there is no denying their fingerprints all over these two clubs. Teams win by having organizational patience, and by building solidly from the ground up, in player development and the Draft. Last summer, Hunsicker's first draft pick was electric lefty pitcher David Price, who again showed the value of the building process in last night's Game #2 of the World Series. An elite young talent (is that redundant on these Rays?), Price will be a longterm frontline starting pitcher in Tampa Bay (how many of those does one team need anyway?) beginning as soon as next season. He reached the big leagues in this, his first full professional season, by dominating at three minor league levels. In these playoffs he has proven a key cog out of the bullpen, and there he was last night, out on the mound at the end with the game on the line. The 23-year old who was on the mound for Vanderbilt University just last summer ate up the final 2 1/3 innings for the Rays, and closed out the game by striking out Chase Utley and coaxing Ryan Howard into a feeble groundout to 2nd base, both as the tying run. Tampa Bay won 4-2, evening this World Series at a game apiece, and David Price's pitching heroics played a key role. For the Rays, this Price was right in the draft and in last night's game. But no one should forget as this Series moves along that Ed Wade and Chuck LaMar also played key roles in getting these teams here.

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