At first Tampa is courted by fickle suitors who sweet talk the Tampa Bay baseball group with false promises of moving existing franchises into the region, only to be thwarted by local politicians (like the former Illinois Governor "Big Jim" Thompson) or team owners who are really posturing to get a better deal at home. When a deal to relocate the San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay is nixed by major league owners at the 11th hour in 1992, it looks hopeless. Finally three years later, the region is awarded an expansion team under unconscionable conditions: an inflated expansion fee, penalization in the first few years of the baseball draft and slim pickings in the expansion pool.
The team gets off to a rocky start. The managing partner of the owners' group, Vince Naimoli, is a penny-pincher who lacks any sense of the big picture and who manages to alienate the community while killing morale within the organization. Keri tells the many horror stories of how Naimoli offends local advertisers by threatening to sue small merchants who try to promote the team, how he invites a high school band to play the national anthem at a game and then insists that the band members first buy tickets to the game, and how his "no outside food" policy is so strictly enforced that a wheelchair bound woman is berated for trying to bring food into a game to stave off a potential diabetic coma. The petty Naimoli even goes so far as to surreptitiously surveil his ushers and dress down those who don't enforce the policy.
Keri portrays General manager Chuck Lamar as a prime example of the Peter Principle, as Lamar signs aging veterans while trading away future prospects, hoping to nab a few more wins. A Rays scout who begs the team to sign a late round draft choice named Albert Pujols is ignored as the on field comedy of errors continues.
Keri describes how the turning point comes with a change of ownership. New owner Stuart Sternberg replaces the climate of community alienation with one of a more fan-friendly park. He immediately fires Chuck LaMar along with most of the front office and replaces them with corporate whiz kids. Matthew Silverman is named the team president, and Andrew Friedman is given the role of Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations. Sternberg decides not to have a General Manager, calling the position "outdated." The new management in turn hires Joe Madden, probably the smartest manager in baseball. Keri describes how Madden is not afraid to go against conventional wisdom, for example walking a power hitter with the bases loaded, sacrificing a run in order to get an easier out. The book describes how the Rays adopt a more forward thinking approach to player selection, finding many diamonds in the rough. Declining players are traded while they still have value, and new players are acquired using the Wall Street strategy of "arbitrage" (risk-free profit at little or no cost). Keri details how the Rays parlay the new strategy into a berth in the 2008 World Series, despite having to battle in a division containing the embarrassingly cash-rich New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The love of the Rays that the reader acquires through this tale is tarnished somewhat towards the end as we find Sternberg using the same tactics used by the owners who gave false hope to those trying to acquire a franchise in Tampa Bay, as he pleads poverty in an attempt to squeeze local taxpayers to get a new stadium, threatening to move the team if he doesn't get his way.
This book is brilliantly written, with a lot of information at levels not available to even the most diligent fan. Whether you're a baseball fan, someone interested in how the sausage is made in business or just someone looking for an interesting story, this book finds the strike zone at every level.