Notes: Record stadium subsidy, John Henry speaks, gambling threats

The Rays are close to getting an admitted horrible deal for St. Petersburg, John Henry reminded people why he doesn’t give interviews anymore, and players are being threatened by gambling addicts.

This article is free for anyone to read, but please consider becoming a Patreon subscriber to allow me to keep writing posts like this one. Sign up to receive articles like this one in your inbox here.

Usually the story told to cities and the public about stadium subsidies is that the new sports venue will be great for the local economy, it’ll pay for itself over time, etc. etc. So it’s kind of perversely funny that it’s already known that St. Petersburg’s nearly approved deal for a new Rays stadium will provide no revenue return to the city. City council member Richie Floyd, who is against the deal, has already said as much publicly: it didn’t even take some digging into the proposed deal from journalists to uncover that key piece of information.

What makes it even worse is that this is a $1.6 billion stadium subsidy, per Neil deMause’s calculations last month: the current record is Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, at $750 million, which means St. Pete is more than doubling that rate. Completely absurd, but just five of their eight city councilors are needed to approve the deal, anyway, and they’ve supposedly got the numbers for the July 11 final vote.

As deMause noted, this is a huge shift from when the Rays were attempting their “maybe we can play half of the season in Montreal, too?” plan from a few years back, the goal of which, as I wrote at the time, was to get one of the two cities to blink and give the Rays everything they wanted. And now St. Petersburgh is the one to cave, which they should be ashamed of, but considering the deal has already gotten this far I’m not convinced the councilors in favor are capable of feeling that particular feeling.

Red Sox principal owner John Henry had given just one (1) formal interview since he fired Dave Dombrowski and installed a new general manager specifically to trade Mookie Betts and cut the Red Sox’ costs, but he brought that count up to two earlier this month. And immediately got yelled at for it, which is fitting, and also explains why he’s decided to let his underlings handle all of that for the most part these days.

This one was with The Financial Times, and the key quote that has everyone mad is Henry saying that, “Because fans expect championships almost annually, they easily become frustrated and are not going to buy into what the odds actually are: one in 20 or one in 30.”

So here’s the thing that even fans with shorter memories can recall. The odds aren’t one in 30 or even one in 20 in a given year. The odds are one in however many teams are actively trying to win that season, and frankly, even saying half the league is actively trying at any time is probably rounding up. The Red Sox used to be a team that saw other clubs not using all of their resources in order to win, and so they used even more of theirs to give themselves an edge. The 2018 Red Sox were well over the luxury tax threshold, in part because the Moneyball-style plan of the moment that worked was to spend money instead of saving it. Given the lack of effort that continues to exist, exacerbated by the introduction of additional wild card teams in each league, going all-in all the time is still a justifiable plan that improves your odds well beyond the one in 30 or one in 20 that Henry spoke of.

The Red Sox aren’t going to be a team that does that, though. If the odds for them are one in 20, it’s because their own decisions brought them to those lackluster figures. If they had decided to remain a superpower in MLB, there odds would be more like, what, one in 10? The Sox won, while going hard over this stretch practically every year with the occasional steps back meant solely to give them a chance to reload for an immediate counterseason, four World Series from 2004 through 2018. Four! That’s a significant amount! From 2003 through 2018, they made the postseason 10 times. Since trading Betts, the Sox have made the postseason once, when they made it via wild card and lost the ALCS, which was also their lone finish out of the basement. Three of the four seasons since have involved fifth-place finishes, and they’re currently one game over .500 and in third place in 2024.

The odds of this Sox team aren’t great, sure. This Sox team doesn’t utilize the deep pockets of Henry and the rest of the owners, it prioritizes profits over success, it aims to cut costs even if it means trading a generational talent in a salary dump before the guy even sniffs 30. Betts is in his fifth season with the Dodgers, and is still all of 31 years old. Of course the odds are going to be bad when you self-own like they did here, and then learn nothing from it other than that a lot of people will still come to games and profits will remain high, even when the team is uninteresting or outright bad.

It’s bad enough that legal sports betting has brought things to the point that pros are being punished for betting on the sport that they’re playing — i.e. the one sport they’re not supposed to bet on. But now we’ve also got players receiving threats of violence and even death threats over their performances, because it messed with someone’s winnings. Bob Nightengale’s got the story over at USA Today:

“You hear it all, man,” Arizona Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald told USA TODAY Sports. “You blow a save, you don’t come through, you get it all. “(Expletive) you. You suck. You cost me all of this money.

“(Expletive) you. (Expletive) your family. I’m going to kill you and then kill your family.’

One MLB general manager told USA TODAY Sports that he received death threats delivered directly to his house, requiring police protection.

It feels like the Players Association needs to do more to protect their players, but here’s the thing: how do they do that? These gamblers are finding out where people live, they’re chasing them into their private messages on social media, they’re following them home, as Logan Allen detailed in the story. They’re threatening these players, demanding they cover their losses… it’s too much, and I don’t know what the solution is, other than a time machine, but this all feels like it’s building up to someone eventually carrying through on their threats.

Visit my Patreon to become a supporter and help me continue to write articles like this one.