Matthew Taylor: Feeling the plight of the low-budget little man

Think about big-budget baseball teams that have been a disappointment this season. Which teams come to mind, and how do you feel about them?

The Philadelphia Phillies stand out to me. The Phillies have baseball’s second-largest payroll at $175 million and are in last place in the NL East with a 47-58 record.

I’d also have the Miami Marlins in the conversation. They’re just ahead of the Phillies in the standings, and five slots below them in payroll. The Marlins own a 48-56 record despite spending $118 million in 2012.

And then there are the Red Sox, who have baseball’s third-largest payroll at $173 million and are playing .500 baseball in the AL East. The Red Sox may yet have some fight left in them. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue they’re getting an adequate return on their significant investment.

Perhaps you’re more benevolent than I, but empathy isn’t among the feelings I experience when I consider the respective plights this season of the Phillies, the Marlins and the Red Sox. Fourteen years of losing has hardened my baseball heart. I’m less “I know how you feel” and more “Screw you and the bandwagon you rode in on.”

With that bitterness in mind, it was humbling to review old game stories from contests between the Orioles and their opponent this weekend, the Rays, and realize that less than 15 years ago, my favorite team would be Exhibit A in the case of embittered baseball fans vs. overpaid, underachieving teams.

Nowhere is this more clear than the first few paragraphs of this news article following a 10-9 Tampa Bay victory over the Orioles on Aug. 10, 1999.

“The Baltimore Orioles need to look no further than their play against the second-year Tampa Bay Devil Rays to determine why they have been one of baseball’s most disappointing teams the last two seasons.

“Tony Graffanino capped a five-run second inning with a two-run double and Paul Sorrento drilled a two-run homer as the Devil Rays held on for a 10-9 victory, their sixth straight over the big-budget Orioles.

“Tampa Bay has won the last six meetings with Baltimore since losing on Opening Day. The Devil Rays’ 13-6 record against the Orioles - who have spent $150 million on players the last two years - is their best against any opponent.”

Take a moment to let the phrase “big-budget Orioles” sink in. It seems almost inconceivable now, but the Orioles were the last American League team to have a payroll larger than the New York Yankees. It happened in 1998, the Rays’ first season, when the O’s spent nearly $72 million to the Yankees’ $66 million. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, checked in at $27 million, but they still won the season series against the O’s in both ‘98 and ‘99. Despite finishing behind the O’s in the AL East standings for 10 of their first 14 years of existence, the Rays are 125-124 overall against the Orioles.

In recent years, the Rays have provided me with a cathartic alternative to the Yankees and Red Sox. They’ve played the role of David to two of the sport’s Goliaths. It’s easy to forget that before they were kings, the fledgling Rays hurled their stones at the big-budget Orioles.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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