Did the "Devil" Make Them Lose?JULY 19, 2008
- Heavenly Sign?
- (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
- View the Slideshow
More From John Moe
Last year, Tampa Bay won 61 games and lost 101. Worst record in baseball. This year, they're on pace to win about 95 games, they have been atop the standings most of the year and have done all this with the second lowest payroll in the majors.
How is this possible? You know what? Don't answer that. It's not possible. But it's happening anyway. Jonah Keri is a baseball writer for ESPN.com. He claims to know why. "So the biggest reason for the Rays' turnaround this season as compared to last is that they've had the biggest year over year improvement in defense of any team in the last 50 years."
In fact, Keri has lots of explanations.
"That defense has in turn improved the results of the starting rotation and the bullpen just because if pitchers are throwing the ball and guys behind them are catching them, it's gonna look better for the pitchers. And that has a cascading effect where all of a sudden starters can go deeper into games."
But like most baseball experts, Keri's omitting a key off season roster move. Last fall, the team changed their name from the Devil Rays to the Rays.
There were marketing reasons for the change; a new name and logo means more merchandise sales and more money. But there had been complaints about the word "devil" dating back to when the team was founded ten years ago. People didn't like rooting for Beelzebub. So the team cut him. They got rid of Lucifer, Smoky Jim, Satan. And now, they're winning. But are they winning because they exorcised the Devil? Not according to Peter Gilmore. He's an expert. He's the High Priest of the Church of Satan. He says, "The Devil Rays are doing better because they now have to overcome the wimpiness of their new logo. They've got to try to be macho and show people that they're not a bunch of weaklings."
The Devil Rays aren't the only team to embrace El Diablo, of course. The Duke University Blue Devils, Arizona State Sun Devils, the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League. All have won championships. Peter Gilmore's church doesn't worship Satan, doesn't believe in Satan or God, actually. They describe themselves as gourmands of human indulgence, loyal to human experience. Like sports.
"Essentially any kind of sport that has competition is part of the struggle for existence and Satanism is very Darwinian. Wherever you've got victors and losers, that's something that we find as part of our world view," says Gilmore.
So is the head of the Church of Satan a baseball fan? "No, the only sport I follow once in a while is professional wrestling and that's because a number of our members are part of that profession."
So Peter Gilmore says Satan was a crutch. He's gone, players are stepping up. That's what the Satanists say. Do the Lutherans agree? "Possibly. Now that they don't have that other assistance, so to speak", says Wayne Bacus of Queen Anne Lutheran Church in Seattle. Like Peter Gilmore from the Church of Satan, he credits Tampa Bay's success to compensating for no longer having Black Donald around. Still, according to Bacus, "You can't trade on the Devil's name for all those years and then decide not to use it anymore. The Devil's gonna get his due. If the former Devil Rays, the Tampa Bay Rays now, continue to do well I just sense that there's going to be this huge fall, this big letdown, and you're going to hear that devil laughing."
Well, cue the cackle. Satan's vengeance may already be upon the Rays, who lost seven straight going into the All-Star break. That's right, Tampa. You've made enemies with Old Gooseberry. Prepare for the smiting.
Says Bacus, "When you start getting down into those final weeks of the season and you're in a pennant race it's a really dangerous time because that's when people want to make those Faustian bargains with the devil. 'If you just let us win this time'. And I think the Devil Rays are going to be without that having changed their name."
But what happens if the team vanquishes Lucifer and doesn't collapse? All kidding aside, I wanted to ask Jonah Keri of ESPN a legitimate baseball question: If the Rays win the World Series, will they owe their souls to the lord of the hoary netherworld?
Keri conjured up the specter of the Chicago Cubs who haven't won the World Series in precisely 100 years. They're supposedly victim of a curse involving a goat. "Of course we know that Satan can often be described as having goat hooves and all that stuff. You're getting the 100 year curse versus the curse of Satan versus the goat with the imagery. I don't even know what to make of that it's possible we may all be swallowed up into the void."