On March 31, 1998 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made their franchise debut with a 1-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Later that day the Arizona Diamondbacks played their first game ever as well, a 9-2 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Rockies. The MLB’s two youngest franchises now have another thing in common. They are each managed by Fansided.com’s 2011 Managers of the Year: Kirk Gibson and Joe Maddon.
Kirk Gibson skippered the surprising Snakes to the top of the NL West after finishing the previous two seasons in last place. Arizona is filled with bright young talent and Gibby, as he is affectionately known, pushed all the right buttons especially in August and September, as the D-Backs pulled away for the then-World-Champion San Francisco Giants to finish 96-68 on the year.
No one, however, had a better late season push that the Tampa Bay Rays. Joe Maddon’s club (91-71) caught the drowning Red Sox for the AL Wild Card on the final weekend of the season, earning an unexpected playoff berth as Evan Longoria’s walk off liner sneaked over the left filed fence. This was supposed to be a transitional year in Tampa, but Maddon, a former Angels bench coach under Mike Scoscia blended the Rays established talent in Longoria, James Shields and David Price with spot-on acquisitions veteran professional hitter Johnny Damon, former Angel Casey Kotchman and closer Kyle Farnsworth. Throw in up-and-coming arms Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore and Maddon’s team of the future suddenly found their future is now.
Maddon’s Rays and Gibson’s Diamondbacks have since been eliminated from the playoffs but they can each take some solace in winning Fansided’s annual award. Gibson finish with 107 of the possible 206 NL points while Maddon earned 122 of a possible 297 in the AL.