#Shortstops: Rays ring the bell

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Isabelle Minasian

More cowbell!

The Tampa Bay Rays had dropped the “Devil” from their names at the end of the 2007 season, but facing Tampa the following year proved to be a monstrous experience for opposing teams.

An expansion team that made its major league debut on Opening Day 1998, the Rays’ first decade of existence was not what Floridians had dreamt of in their years spent campaigning for a Tampa Bay Area team. They finished in last place in the American League East all but one season, 2004, when they finished fourth in the five-team division. Prior to the 2008 season, the franchise had never won more than 70 games in any season.

The Rays started 2008 as the youngest team in the American League, with the second-lowest payroll in baseball. GM Andrew Friedman had progressively been rebuilding the organization since taking over in 2006, and the club featured homegrown youngsters like James Shields, Melvin Upton Jr., Evan Longoria and David Price.

These rising stars captivated the city, and Tropicana Field’s 22,370 average fans in attendance was the highest since their inaugural season. Their last-to-first ascension in the AL East was a surprise, but not unexpected for those within the organization.

“It was so much fun,” said Jason Bartlett, the team’s starting shortstop. “We were just rolling with it that year. Things got better and better.”

“We had such a swagger about our team,” Shields recalled.

The Rays closed out the regular season with a 97-65 record atop the AL East standings. In the ALDS they dispatched of the Chicago White Sox swiftly, taking the series 3-1, then squared off with the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. The ALCS went down to the wire, culminating in a Game 7 for the ages.

“That was the craziest, loudest game I’ve ever been in,” Scott Kazmir told the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays fans’ cowbell usage gained national attention during the 2008 ALCS, the raucous cacophony reverberating throughout Tropicana Field and over broadcasts across the country, but it was not new to the team. The phenomenon began in 2006, when the Rays played a legendary “Saturday Night Live” skit on the Jumbotron. The sketch features Christopher Walken as music producer “The Bruce Dickinson,” intoning that the song the band is recording “needs more cowbell.”

Fans began bringing their own cowbells to games, and the Rays soon produced their own team-branded bells and a set of cowbell rules, explaining when fans should ring their bells. Those moments include when a Rays player reaches base or scores a run, when the opposing batter has two strikes, or when “More Cowbell” flashes across the Jumbotron. The cowbell in the Museum’s collection was given away as a souvenir and obtained by the donor on April 26, 2008.

Interestingly, this Rays noisemaker isn’t the only cowbell in the Museum archives. In fact, the other bell has a connection to the Rays’ 2020 World Series opponents: The Dodgers.

Hilda Chester was a fervent Brooklyn Dodgers fan and a fixture at Ebbets Field from the 1920s until 1957, when the Dodgers moved west. Chester suffered a heart attack in 1941 and Dodgers players later gifted her a cowbell to help compensate for her diminished ability to yell. That first cowbell is preserved in the archives, but Museum visitors can see Hilda “in action” on the third floor landing, where a statue depicts her cheering with her signature cowbell.

Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series