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By Murray Chass

June 16, 2019

Is there a more anonymous team in the majors? Is there a more unlikely team to be leading its division? Why can’t other teams do what this team has done?

This team is the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Yankees and the Red Sox should be embarrassed playing in the same division with them.

The Rays entered Saturday’s schedule leading the Yankees in the American League East by half a game. The Rays were 6 games ahead of the Red Sox, last year’s World Series champions.

These following figures are mind boggling. According to the Associated Press’ Ron Blum, who in my opinion is the most reliable calculator of Major League Baseball payrolls, the Red Sox began the season with the largest payroll, $221.6 and the Yankees were third at $207.2 million. Where were the Rays? They had a $60.6 million payroll, the only one below $71 million and $30 million below No. 26 Oakland.

If I listed the Rays’ starting lineup but didn’t label it as such, I wonder how many people could identify the team. Without making a game of it, this is the starting lineup:

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By Murray Chass

June 9, 2019

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado dominated the baseball talk this past winter. As the class of the free-agent class, they clearly were the primary topics of conversation. Spring training began, and they were still hot topics, maybe even hotter, because they remained unsigned.

Finally, on Feb. 21, Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, reached agreement with the San Diego Padres on a 10-year $300 million contract.

It came as no surprise that Harper would sign after Machado.

Harper’s agent is Scott Boras, and there was no way Boras was going to let Harper sign first and risk having Machado get a more lucrative contract. There were two reasons …

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By Murray Chass

June 2, 2019

On May 8, Gerry Fraley tweeted this celebratory message: “Started at the Dallas Morning News on this day 30 years ago. Will still match our sports section against any in the country.” Seventeen days later Fraley was dead, no longer able to withstand the ravages of colon cancer.

It is another blow to the business I have enjoyed for nearly 60 years. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe died Feb. 21; Marty Noble, who had retired, died March 24. Now Fraley May 25. Cafardo was 62, Noble 70, Fraley 64.

Cafardo’s and Noble’s deaths were sudden, unexpected.

Cafardo, the Globe’s very good baseball columnist, collapsed and died outside the Red Sox spring training clubhouse in Fort Myers, Fla., reportedly having suffered an embolism.

Noble, the best reporter who ever covered the Mets …

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