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Those Tampa Bay Rays truly are innovators. Most franchises? Well, most franchises would be satisfied screwing over taxpayers in just one major city in order to finance a new ballpark, but the Rays, they’re aiming for two major cities.
The latest stadium “plan” out of the Rays’ ownership group boils down to this: asking Tampa (or St. Petersburg) to finance a smaller, $600 million stadium without a dome, for baseball use in the earlier part of the season. The rest of the season would be played in Montreal, which, by the way, would also have to build a new stadium for the Rays. The idea here is apparently that the Rays could play baseball in Tampa Bay when it’s relatively cooler, earlier in the year, and then the mixed-use stadium would be free for other events when it’s too hot for baseball and also unprotected from central Florida’s torrential downpours.
While Major League Baseball has approved the Rays’ exploration of this idea, the truth is that no one involved expects it to actually come to this. This is posturing in the hopes of making the Tampa Bay region blink, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to work.
There is nothing about this plan that makes sense at face value. The Rays would need permission from St. Petersburg’s city council to even begin to discuss this plan with Montreal, and if they didn’t know they weren’t getting said permission before they announced it, they know now. And even if St. Pete approved the venture, the Major League Baseball Players Association would also need to approve it, since playing in two cities means housing in two cities, and that would be an odd hardship even on veteran players with millions in the bank, since it would remove them from their family for even more of the season. Never mind the younger ones who are shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the minors, and now need to figure out a way to have places to live in three different cities at a given time.
This situation would basically eliminate the Rays from being players in free agency among anyone whose career is in a place where they can choose their destination, but since the Rays already have eliminated themselves from free agency for the most part, that’s not going to upset their player acquisition plans at all. This is the kind of proposal that can only exist in a league where player choice isn’t a factor in building a roster: between the draft, trades, and the exploitation of international countries and their baseball talent that allows MLB clubs to stock up on teenagers with little choice but to sign away their rights, the Rays will still have plenty of players to fill out a roster, whether it comes in a year where they’re trying or just trying to save money.
This is a long way of saying that the MLBPA — which already has a grievance out on the Rays for failing to spend revenue-sharing dollars — has zero reason to give their approval of this plan, either. Again, the Rays must know this, just like they know the math doesn’t check out on asking for two-thirds of the stadium financing they were originally seeking in order to offer half of the baseball they had been, while also asking for another ballpark in another city. The only conclusion you can draw from this is the one I already mentioned: that the Rays know it won’t work, and that they’re just hoping someone in Florida blinks so that Stuart Sternberg can spend someone else’s money on a new stadium.
Sternberg, by the way, has an estimated value of $800 million, and made his money on Wall Street. This makes it a wonderful time to once again point out that if investing in a new stadium was a wise decision, someone like Stu would be all over it. Since he made his money in investing, though, he knows full well that ballparks mostly make money for the teams that can avoid sinking their own money into them.
It’s also a wonderful time to point remind you about something MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in 2017, when he let slip the truth about MLB expansion. To put this in context, this was during a time period where Manfred talked about the desire for expansion, especially international expansion, for MLB. He had cities in mind, even, citing Mexico City, Charlotte, and, of course, a return to Montreal, but he said MLB couldn’t expand until a few things were resolved:
“I think for us to expand we need to be resolved in Tampa and Oakland in terms of their stadium situations. As much as I hope that both Oakland and Tampa will get stadiums, I think it would be difficult to convince the owners to go forward with an expansion until those situations are resolved.”
I reacted to this in the linked article above, but I’ll just pull out my relevant responses here to save you a click:
The key item there is the need to fix what’s wrong for the Rays and A’s before any new teams are added. And while it could be interpreted as Manfred saying that it wouldn’t be right for MLB to start a new venture (or ventures) while its current teams and owners have problems that need solving, we can narrow the focus here even further, especially since Manfred even said the word “stadiums” in the quote.
It’s not just about making sure that Tampa/St. Pete and Oakland get new stadiums. It’s about making sure MLB doesn’t eliminate any potential leverage it has with those cities while it attempts to extract tax dollars from them to build those new stadiums.
If the A’s aren’t going to be able to move to San Jose because of the Giants’ territorial claims, and they’re losing the fight to stay in Oakland in a brand new park, then they need a place to threaten to move to, like Charlotte. Charlotte will get all excited about adding an MLB team, Oakland will start to feel pressured to keep the A’s around, and either they do move out east or Oakland caves and helps pay for the A’s to stay in town.
Do you know how Tropicana Field, home of the Rays, was built? It was actually meant to be used to lure an MLB team to the area — they didn’t even have a specific team in mind when construction began in 1986. Eventually, the White Sox were the ones nearly lured from their home… until Chicago got itself a new stadium to keep the Pale Hose where they already were, and the former Florida Suncoast Dome stayed MLB-free until the Rays moved in at the end of the 90s.
And hey, look at that. It’s just about two years after Manfred made these statements, and, in an MLB-approved plan, the Rays are attempting to get Montreal involved in order to force a resolution from the city they’re currently under contract with. Sure, they’re being #innovative about it or whatever, but it’s all still just smokescreen bullshit to get Tampa/St. Pete to pay up or finally, officially, tell the Rays to get lost so that they can freely negotiate with another city they’d love to bilk hundreds of millions from.
You’re going to see approval for this plan from certain segments of the Rays fan base, but that’s only because they’re giving the plan as much thought as the team was hoping St. Petersburg’s city council would. It’s half-baked, it’s nonsensical, and the only reason it truly exists is so the Rays can try to get their hands on the hundreds of millions of dollars that they’ve so far failed to pry from St. Pete’s coffers.
MLB and the MLBPA are beginning those early economic discussions well before the next collective bargaining talks are supposed to kick off. A couple of months back, for Deadspin, I wrote about some of what the MLBPA should be focusing on in these discussions. I’ll have more on the subject soon, I’m sure.
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- Britni de la Cretaz wrote about how androgyny is now fashionable in the WNBA, as women’s basketball expands the idea of what women athletes are allowed to look like.
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