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Last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred gave an update on the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay, for the A’s and Rays, respectively. He was appearing on SiriusXM Radio with host Chris Russo, who asked about what was going on in those two markets: at this point, the Rays have been making noise about needing a new stadium or leaving for seemingly longer than they have not, while the A’s release some annoyed statement every few months when things aren’t moving along as quickly or as in-their-favor-y as they’d like in their quest to have Oakland pay for all or most of a new park.
The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin transcribed the relevant quotes:
“I think (with) a properly located facility in (the) Tampa (Bay area), that Tampa’s a viable major-league market,” Manfred told SiriusXM radio. “I’ve got a lot of faith in (Rays principal owner) Stu Sternberg. I think they will find a place to get a ballpark built and I think baseball can thrive in Tampa.”
He was not optimistic about the A’s staying in Oakland.
“I think the mayor in Oakland has made a huge effort to try to get it done in Oakland. It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. …
“I think the A’s have proceeded prudently in terms of exploring the Las Vegas alternative, given the lack of pace in Oakland. I think they have to look for an alternative. I see Tampa differently.”
For whatever reason, Manfred’s words were taken at face value by some folks, and there’s not really a point in singling them out here or anything. The commissioner said something, it was treated as an update by many who should know better, rinse repeat. As Neil deMause pointed out over at Field of Schemes, Manfred’s job isn’t to tell people what he thinks is going to happen — it’s “to get for his bosses, the 30 team owners, what they want. So statements about the A’s and Rays have to be read as leverage moves as much as prognostications”.
As deMause noted, there’s no reason for the Rays to want to say that they’re definitely leaving or even leaning that way right now, not when their goofy plan to play in two cities at once went nowhere. Their lease still isn’t up until 2027, and it’s just not the time right now to go in hard on the region they’re in right now, or to solo court Montreal just yet. The only reason the Rays’ situation even gets mentioned at this early juncture is again, because of the weirdo dual-city scheme that I still maintain was just some kind of play to force one of the two cities to offer up a new stadium for fear of not having enough Rays. Obviously — and mercifully — that didn’t work out, so the whole will they or won’t they thing can go on the backburner, which is where Manfred basically kept it with the way he worded things. With no reason to stoke that particular fire right now, he didn’t.
And the A’s? They’re actively negotiating with Oakland and have been threatening to move for some time now — I’ve got stories going back to 2019, the first year of this newsletter, about the A’s stadium woes, and it was just 2021 when I wrote about how the A’s were keeping Manfred’s dreams of expansion in the realm of the conceptual. Manfred himself has said in the past that expansion can’t happen without the A’s and Rays being figured out, you know: that’s one situation in which you can actually believe what he was telling you, because it’s the truth of things for a number of reasons.
Manfred saying he thinks the A’s are Las Vegas-bound is meant to help the team: they’re making progress in negotiations with Oakland, but not as much progress as they want (i.e. the city has not simply given them everything they desire), so when the question of how things are going is broached, Manfred’s only response is to casually threaten a move, since the idea is to unsettle someone, anyone, in Oakland’s power structure enough to get them to give up just a little bit more than what has already been proposed.
It’s just important to remember all of this sort of stuff whenever Manfred gets on the mic. He’s simply doing his job, not giving you his actual feelings: those are not part of the equation when you’re MLB commissioner. Manfred doesn’t get away with nearly as much as his predecessor, Bud Selig, when it comes to this sort of thing — the fact no one questioned whether Selig actually liked baseball owes much to the fact that his aw shucks incompetence act was a believable one to so many — but you still get people in the media taking him at face value, which means they end up presenting their readers and listeners with takes built off of that. So, when he does a radio segment with Russo where he talks frankly about something true like the automatic runner in extra innings — the players like it and the teams like it, so it’s unlikely to go anywhere — it’s easy to then fall into the trap of believing he must also be shooting straight about other topics. Certain segments of baseball’s media landscape might not act like they know better, but you can!
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