2000: Gerald Williams
The addition of Gerald Williams’ bat augmented a struggling Devil Rays offense when Tampa Bay signed the former Yankee and Braves center fielder in 2000. Williams had a great season in Tampa Bay, hitting .274 with 173 hits, 87 runs, and 89 RBIs. Not only did Williams lead the team in hits and doubles, 30, during 2000, but he also set career highs during the season that earned him a Team MVP vote. These records included homeruns, 21, RBIs, hits, and runs, just to name a few, during 2000. The spirited center fielder is remembered for his trademark footwear, sporting black and white Nike hi-top cleats during his entire career.
But D-Rays fans might also reminisce about the time Williams and seven other D-Rays were ejected in a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 30, 2000. Williams charged the mound, looking to punch Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez, after Martinez hit Williams on the left hand with his fourth pitch. Williams’ action spurred a bench-clearing brawl and was ejected with manager Larry Rothscild, four other D-Rays players and two coaches. Williams later served a three game suspension for the fight. Although his performance as a player made it easy for fans to love him, Williams’ tenacity against division rivals, Boston, only made it easier for the fans to take a liking to the center fielder.
2001: Tanyon Sturtze
While Rays fans have grown accustomed to having one of the best starting rotations in baseball the past few seasons, 2001 was a bleak season for the Devil Rays, as they suffered 100 losses. Even the D-Rays’ pitchers could not help the team escape defeat on tough nights when the offense failed to deliver. But as the Devil Rays’ ace in 2001, Tanyon Sturtze pitched a respectable season, with an 11-12 record and 4.42 ERA in 39 games.
Although there was not much to be excited about that year for the D-Rays and their fans, Sturtze delivered some magic on the night of October 1, 2001, in a stunning 10-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox. That night, Sturtze recorded his 10th win of the season, making him only the third D-Ray pitcher with double-digit wins. Rolando Arrojo preceded him in 1998, finishing with a 14-12 record, followed by Albie Lopez’s 11-13 record in 2000. Most D-Rays fans remember the pain of the early seasons, such as 2001, but Sturtze’s talents and record-setting season provided a glimmer of hope to the young franchise.
2002: Randy Winn
Randy Winn provided both solid offense and defense for the Devil Rays during his five-year tenure with the franchise. Although selected in the 1995 amateur draft by the Florida Marlins, the D-Rays drafted Winn in the 1997 expansion draft. 2002 was Winn’s final but best year with the D-Rays, hitting .298, with 181 hits, 87 runs, and 75 RBIs. He not only led the team in hits, runs and RBIs, but he also had the most doubles, 39, and triples, 9, giving him a WAR of 4.6. But while Winn’s bat bolstered a still struggling D-Rays offense, his defense in center field was also solid with a .993 fielding percentage.
It’s easy to see why Winn was awarded the Team MVP, considering he also represented the D-Rays in the 2002 All-Star Game, making him the fifth D-Ray to be on an All-Star roster. During 2002, Winn also recorded a career high 27 stolen bases. After a terrific season with the D-Rays, fans were upset when Winn was traded to the Seattle Mariners during the offseason in October as compensation for hiring manager Lou Piniella.
2003: Aubrey Huff
As one of the most beloved D-Rays players, Aubrey Huff’s 2003 season was one of the best seasons in his career. Huff hit .311 with 198 hits, 91 runs, and 107 RBIs, and recorded a career high 34 homeruns in 2003. One of his most memorable games during the season was against the Detroit Tigers, when Huff hit two two-run homers on May 3.
While finishing the season with the second most extra base hits in the AL with 84, also the club record for the Rays, and receiving 24 votes in the AL MVP race, it is obvious why Huff garnered the Team MVP award. Huff played in all 162 games in 2003, making him and Delmon Young the only Rays players to ever play in every game of a single season. Huff holds seven Rays records, with the most hits, 198, being at the top of the list. Drafted by the D-Rays in 1998, the franchise saw their homegrown talent become the power source of the D-Rays’ lineup and a fan favorite during the five consecutive seasons he spent in Tampa Bay.