The New York Yankees have been the premier franchise of Major League Baseball dating back to the early 1900s. They have won 26 World Championships, and their list of former players has some of the most recognizable names in MLB history. The Yankees have some rivalries that date back as old as they are themselves, but the Tampa Bay Rays are a different story. This rivalry is still in its infancy compared to some of the other battles across baseball, but this one is different as it has a true “David vs. Goliath” feel to it.
History of Yankees vs. Rays Rivalry
Following nearly three decades of unsuccessfully trying to gain an expansion franchise or getting a current team to relocate to Tampa Bay, an ownership group was approved on March 9, 1995. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays began play in the 1998 Major League Baseball season. Their first decade of play was largely forgettable, as they struggled to get out of the cellar. They finished in last place in the AL East in all but the 2004 season, when they finished second-to-last.
Following the 2007 season, Tampa Bay management changed the team’s name from “Devil Rays” to “Rays.” The 2008 season saw the Tampa Bay Rays post their first winning season, their first American League East championship, and their first pennant after they defeated the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The Rays then went on to lose to the Philadelphia Phillies in that year’s World Series. Since then, the Rays have played in the postseason in 2010, 2011, and 2013.
As fellow members of the AL East division, the Yankees and Rays play many times each season. There has always been a rivalry between the teams because the Yankees have their spring training base in Tampa and a minor league affiliate based out of Tampa. As Tampa is a popular relocation spot for Northeastern retirees, the fan base in Tampa is largely mixed, with the visiting Yankees fans often outnumbering the Rays fans at Tropicana Field.
The rivalry has often been one of Tampa Bay feeling their fan base is being infringed upon by the outsider Yankees, but it became more heated in spring training of 2008. In that spring training contest, there was a home plate collision between Tampa Bay outfielder Elliot Johnson and New York catcher Francisco Cervelli that led to the two exchanging words and teammates having to separate them.
This collision at home plate was followed the next day by a spikes-high slide by Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan into Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura, prompting Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes to charge in from his position in right field and knock Duncan to the ground. However, this was really the end of the bad blood between the teams as nothing more escalated and the regular season games went on without incident.
Any time that Tampa Bay challenges the Red Sox or the Yankees for the American League East crown, they become one of America’s favorite teams. The casual baseball fan loves the underdog story and will get behind the Rays as they battle the high-payroll, high-profile baseball blue bloods. That sentiment is really the core of the rivalry as people love to see the small-market, low-payroll team go out and beat the baseball empires that can lure the big names with their wallet. Yankees fans try to shrug off thoughts of this being a rivalry, as they would rather focus on their bigger, more powerful rivals, but to the Rays, this is the closest thing to a legit rivalry that they have in their young franchise history.
Head to Head Comparison of Yankees vs. Rays
The New York Yankees hold the all-time series advantage over the Rays by a mark of 218-152. The 58% win percentage by the Yankees is pretty much in line with their record against other rivals, so despite their decade of futility, the Rays have put up quite the fight against their AL East rival. At Yankee Stadium, the Yanks have really dominated the series, almost doubling up the Rays at a clip of 120-64, though they have a slimmer margin at Tropicana Field of 98-88.
The series has gotten more competitive as the Tampa Bay Rays have gotten older and more mature as a franchise. In the 1990s, the Rays lost 19 of their 24 games against the Yankees. In the 2000s, they were not much better and went just 64-114. However, the 2010s have been much more competitive as the Yankees are just 85-83 against Tampa Bay and the Rays have a realistic shot at closing out the decade with a winning record against the “Evil Empire.”
The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays have never met in the playoffs.
New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays Rivalry Outlook
It is hard to tell where this rivalry is going to go or if baseball is even going to survive in Tampa Bay. However, with the way the economics work for both of these franchises, you are going to see periods of sustained success for the Yankees, with quick jumps up the standings for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anytime the Rays have success, their players become highly valued and they simply cannot afford to pay the players who outperform their current salary.
Therefore, look for this rivalry to continue much the way it has been. The “evil” New York mega-villain Yankees will keep picking on the small-market Rays, and occasionally the Rays will fight back to enormous fanfare.