We take a look back at three of the most exciting months in Tampa Bay Rays’ history.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had just finished up its inaugural season in 1998 by finishing 51 games out of first place. Their 63 wins was the worst in the American League.
By December of 1998, Canseco had just finished a season with the Blue Jays in which he slashed .237/.318/.518 and led the league in strikeouts. However, he did manage to hit 46 homers, drive in 107 runs, and steal 29 bases.
The market wasn’t in a frenzy for the 34-year-old free agent. the decreasing batting average and OPS and his inability to stay healthy had many teams hesitant to committing money to an aging injury risk.
Between 1992-1998, Canseco averaged just 107 games played per season. Despite the track record of injuries, he had the accolades of being the first player in major league history to ever hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a single season. He was a six-time All-Star and had won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1986.
Canseco needed a place to play and the Devil Rays needed an attraction. They offered the Florida resident an incentive-laden deal and he accepted.
Jose Canseco didn’t disappoint. Injuries limited him to just 138 second-half plate appearances and sapped him of his power, although he did hit .287 with a .391 on-base percentage in the second part of 1999.
The first half was the real story. Canseco belted 31 home runs before the All-Star Break. He became the first player in major league history to hit 30+ homers in a season with four different teams.
He set the tone on Opening Day against the Orioles by homering off of Mike Mussina. By the end of April, he already had 10 long balls. He was now tied for the fifth-most homers in a season by a Devil Ray.
The onslaught continued as he added nine more in May, including a streak in which he homered in five consecutive games.
On June 2, Canseco, back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, took A’s starter Tom Candiotti deep to left-center for his 20th home run. After just two months and two days, he was now the franchise’s single-season home run king.
Canseco provided a jolt of star-power and electricity into the young franchise. Sure, the team looked like something you’d put together with old free agents on a video game. Former heroes such as Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, and Jose Canseco. It was in an interesting time for the budding franchise. All three legends performed very well for the second-year team.
Canseco finished the season with 34 home runs, which is still good for the fifth-most in franchise history. He would become the first hitter elected to an All-Star game as a representative of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He was unable to play due to the back injury that would severely restrict his performance for the rest of the season.
The Rays got what they paid for out of Cansecon while he was healthy. The injury risk proved to be a legitimate concern in 1999, but it was still a shot in the arm for the young franchise.