In yesterday's Week in Quotes, amid some great quotes on the dung heap that is the Devil Rays, Lou Piniella is quoted as saying, "The reason for leaving Seattle was the family consideration, and certainly this job will take care of that. And honestly also, too, the challenge of doing basically what we did in Seattle 10 years ago. If my situation works out with Tampa Bay, we hope to do a likewise job. And I think things went pretty well in Seattle."
Well, things did go pretty well in Seattle over Piniella's tenure-a record of 840-711 for a winning percentage of .542. But a) is the Devil Rays situation similar and b) does that spell success for the D-Rays in the future? Let's answer the second question first: Who knows? Ask me again in ten years and I should be able to tell you. Until then, your guess is as good as mine.
But the first question, are the Devils Rays' situation in 2002 and the Mariners' situation in 1992 similar. Well, the D-Rays were 55-106, 48 games (!) behind the Yankees, last year while the M's were 64-98, 32 games behind Oakland, in 1992. That's 8.5 games better, but both teams were pretty poor. Let's look at personal. The D-Rays have some decent looking young players and former all-star Greg Vaughn who is well past his prime. The '92 M's had Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Bret Boone, Omar Vizquel, Tino Martinez, Kevin Mitchell, Erik Hanson, Jeff Nelson, Lance Parrish, and Harold Reynolds, all of whom were all-stars in their careers.
Indeed, the Mariners finished over .500 for the first time just the year before, something the Devil Rays have never come close to approaching. The Mariners record pre-Lou was 1084-1452, .427. The D-Rays non-Sweet years total to 318-490, .394. If you consider just the last five years before Piniella took the reigns in Seattle against the five years that Tampa Bay has existed, you get an ever bigger schism: M's 365-444, .451; D-Rays 318-490, .394.
So no, this is not the same as taking over a well-stocked Seattle team that had started to smell success but just had a momentary lapse. This is more like the situation Bobby Cox was in in 1982 when he took over the hapless Blue Jays in their sixth year (from ill-suited Roy Hartsfield). That team had a 270-482 (.359) record entering its sixth year. He got them over .500 in his second year. In his fourth they won the pennant with a 99-62 record. They lost the ALCS in 7 games to the Royals, who also won the World Series that year, and Cox soon went back to Atlanta. The Blue Jays won 4 more division championships and 2 World Championships before sinking below .500 in the strike year of 1994. Maybe that should be the model that the D-Rays try to emulate.