Les Rays? La Imbeciles?

If baseball bosses were given awards like players, there’s no chance that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would win a Gold Glove. Clearly Mr. Manfred seems uniquely able to keep dropping the ball every time he gets to it. This month two more examples arise as the players blow the dust off their gloves and bats for Spring training.

First there’s the ongoing Astros debacle. Now, I will say that to me his reaction seemed reasonable. He suspended the Astros manager and GM for a year, he fined the club as much as he could with the limitations of the Collective Bargaining agreement and he took away draft picks. Houston should feel rebuked; Boston should be nervous since they too are apparently under investigation for the same thing and have a direct link through (now fired) manager Alex Cora.

I’m OK with that, as long as there are warnings all around that if it happens again, the punishment is going to be ramped up for players as well as coaches. I am not most fans – or most MLB players – however. Outrage is pouring out of every corner of the baseball world and at a time when the game should be getting an annual dose of positive press – baseball returns after a long winter with games in Florida and Arizona, optimistic projections for even lacklustre teams, players having fun and interacting with fans in small stadiums and so on – it seems story after story revolves around the Astros and their cheating. Apologies have been slow in coming and half-hearted at best from most of the Astros, and perhaps the most believable have been from pitchers (who didn’t benefit directly) and their fired manager AJ Hinch.

As I said to reader Badfinger20 in a comment to the last post, I am not a professional consultant or counselor. But there are such people. The types that companies hire when things go sideways for them – products get tampered with; bosses call minorities the “N” word, engineers falsify pollution tests and so forth. I’m not one of those spin doctors, and neither apparently is Manfred. Maybe he should have used one because this little scandal, now months old, is not only not going away it actually appears to be meta-sizing and snowballing.

Then we have the ongoing problem that is the Tampa Bay Rays. A feisty and usually over-achieving team set in one of the league’s smaller markets, one inhabited it might seem by people who don’t care much for baseball. This is not Manfred’s mistake in itself. The team existed for a couple of decades before he took the job running the league and, when it was awarded a franchise, Tampa seemed like a viable spot for a team. After all, it had an older population (typically more of the generations who love baseball) and has been a major, popular center for Spring training. The Rays should have done fine.

They haven’t. Now, on field, they’ve had some success and post a competitive team more often than not, so they’re A-OK in that department. However, off field things haven’t been so kind to the Rays. They have a stadium that almost everybody despises, in St. Petersburg which is across the bay from most of the metro area’s populace. And attendance is continually abysmal, at or near the bottom of the league year after year. TV ratings aren’t wildly exciting either which clouds the answer to whether the stadium is the problem itself.

Over twenty years in, one might think the answer would be to relocate the club. There are a number of cities of sufficient size and probably enthusiasm that could host a Major League club – Charlotte and Las Vegas come to mind quickly. But MLB has been reluctant to let them move away, and Manfred seemed to double down on that. Tampa it is, sink or swim. Until now.

Once again a ridiculous scheme has come forward and is getting a nod of approval from Manfred. that would be to have the Rays split their season between Tampa and… wait for it… Montreal!

Yes, the big idea is that the team could stay and play half the time in central Florida and play the other half of the season up in Francophone Canada. One team, two cities, two countries! What could go wrong?! they want to implement the plan in 2028.

This is flat out one of the dumbest ideas to come out of MLB’s offices yet… and there’ve been some doozies of late.

First off, neither city even has a suitable stadium right now. The plan necessitates both cities building fine new outdoors parks. Tampa’s, as noted, is poorly located and domed, lacking charm while in Montreal, the Olympic Stadium last used for baseball is equally charmless and actually cost the Expos home games in the past due to parts of it crumbling and being a hazard to fans and players alike. Oh yes, if you haven’t been keeping track, Montreal had a MLB team in the past. The Expos were not unlike the Rays… a team which produced many great players and had some good seasons but lagged in attendance before they moved to Washington DC in 2005.

So far, no one’s been able to come up with funding to make a suitable stadium in Tampa. Taxpayers have turned down additional taxes to fund one and big business hasn’t signed on to build one to profit from either. About the same is true in Montreal. Now up there, it’s not entirely implausible to think someone might pony up for a stadium. Bell comes to mind, the main competitor to Rogers in Canada’s tele-communications market. Rogers owns the Toronto Blue Jays and their stadium; one might imagine Bell wanting a piece of that action down the 401 in the country’s “second city.” It’s more difficult to foresee that happening for a team which would only play half a season per year there.

There are a number of minor issues that come to mind – what would the uniforms say, would there be different ones for the Montreal games than the Floridian ones? There are more major issues.

While a high-profile, high salary free agent (think Gerritt Cole type) might play anywhere at all if the paycheque is right, the arrangement might be a significant deterrent to ordinary free agents when picking a team. If you’re a utility player looking to make $1 million a year, do you want to have to rent a condo in one city or two cities out of your cheque? If you’re from say, Mississippi and have small kids, it might be a family upheaval if you play in California or Illinois… do the wife and kids stay at home until the school year ends, move full-time etc. Multiply that by two. I’m guessing the Bi-national Rays wouldn’t be a popular destination of choice for players who had a choice.

Worse yet, the fans. Announcing this dodo plan now is just dense. It’s not going to rev up fans in Quebec. Eight years away seems a lifetime in sport and the whole thing hinges on a stadium appearing out of the blue. And it seems to suggest that they could see mid-summer games (when the climate is nice there and Florida is humid and prone to thunderstorms most days) but if they make the post-season, the games would be in warm-weather Tampa. Yay! We could watch on TV! Even if a few ball fans there get excited, are they likely to cross a national border and travel 1500 miles to patronize Tropicana Field and “their” new team? Hardly.

On the other hand, one can well imagine that the small, but reasonably loyal, Tampa Bay fans will take this like a sucker-punch to the gut. You get to keep your team, but only halfway. You now have friends in another country, mes ami!

Tampa’s done very well on field the past two seasons; last year winning 96 and finishing second in a tough division. Yet attendance was steady at 1.178 million,or about 14 300 a game. that put them 29th out of 30 teams, ahead of only their counterparts further south in the state, Miami. In 2018, yep… the same. 29th out of 30.

The Rays almost always seem to exceed expectations on field. Still, I can’t envision them matching last year’s 96 win tally with Hunter Renfroe as the cleanup hitter, their top pitcher being 36 years old and a catcher who hit .165 last year. but maybe they’ll surprise. What I am more sure of is that they will be hard-pressed to lure even 14 300 fans out per game with this plan floating over them.

Lead Glove” Manfred strikes again.

23 comments

  1. badfinger20

    As far as the Houston ordeal…I think the biggest trouble started with Jim Crane. “It didn’t Impact The Game” comment…then saying 60 seconds later that he didn’t say that. Also, he said he should not be held accountable. That didn’t fly too well. If it didn’t impact the game…why is he apologizing? Why did they do it? Plus all of their choices of words. Not “cheating” but “broke the rules.”You are right…the ex Astros on other teams seemed sincere…theirs didn’t.
    Even the Nationals GM got in on it. He was firing away at the Astros. This will eventually die down but it’s going to be a while.
    The players seemed to be pissed also because players would not be punished. The million-dollar question is would the Union have allowed it? My biggest problem is… complaints were submitted way before 2019…why didn’t MLB act? I also think they are afraid of what else they could find.

    The Rays…they should either move or stay…one or the other. That is a big ripoff to their fans. They either need to get a new stadium or move. Would fans come to a new stadium? They are a well-run baseball team…on the field. That is obvious because they keep losing their personnel.
    Would Montreal draw with a new stadium?

    • Dave

      some suggest Manfred was well aware of it all back when it was happening, or very shortly after the World Series in ’17 at least, but I don’t know if there’s any evidence to that. Wouldn’t surprise me that much though.
      Astros players- especially the “name” ones like Altuve and Bregman could go a long way to alleviate it now by saying they’d donate whatever bonus they got (I think it worked out to in around $1m per player) to charity and perhaps donate the WS rings for the same… and sound a bit more repentant.
      I am in the camp that thinks the Rays should move — I guess they’d draw SOME more with a better stadium on the Tampa side of the bay, but question is “how much?” Problem is, with what MLB expects in a new venue, it would be a huge gamble for anayone to take if it only resulted in 20 000 per game instead of 14 000. My guess is that for whatever reason it’s just not a very good market. Shame for the few diehards there. I imagine if they were in a city with bigger crowds and more revenue they’d be a force to contend with, as like you say, they have very good front office and seemingly, coaching.

      • badfinger20

        You are right…the big named guys need to speak up also…admitting they cheated would be a good thing also instead of saying sorry…we want to move on… You can’t teach sincerity but most of them lack it. Verlander sounded sincere but he is a pitcher.

        That is the problem they won’t volunteer anything because that would admit that they might not have earned that WS.

        I with you. The team has failed and I would not take that gamble. Too many other places out there that would draw more. I really think Montreal would if given a new stadium.
        Las Vegas is prime for a team.

      • Dave

        Montreal is hard to judge. They really soured after ’94, when they had the best record in NL before “the strike”, and they suffered through 2 bad stadiums over the years. Plus, you can only trade away or let walk away so many LArry Walkers, Gary Carters, Randy Johnsons and so on in a decade or so without the diehards getting a little jaded. It’s possible it could work there again with a new owner who had a competitve mindset and a good , Milwaukee-style stadium (like rogers Centre with retractable roof, but nicer ambience), but I’m not entirely sure. Montreal’s the most European of canadian cities, and perhaps the most hockey-oriented of the big ones. I think VAncouver might actually be better for a second Canadian club… but like you say, Las Vegas would be a good fit, so too Charlotte and maybe Portland before MTL or VCR. Any of the above, I daresay, might do better than Tampa-St.Pete.

      • badfinger20

        Being American I never knew…I always thought it was because of two reasons. The old statdium that was crumbling and the cold…they didn’t get a roof on it til the late 80s I believe.
        Baseball is not made for the cold for the fans or players.

        You would think Florida would be idea but it’s just not.

      • Dave

        Florida should be ideal – pretty good climate, a lot of retirees (and we hear how baseball is an “old person’s” sport), growing population and enthusiastic about spring training. But hasn’t worked that way. Besides rather bad management of Marlins and poor stadium for Rays theories include that there’s too much else to do there and that spring training is a mirage… many of the people at those games are tourists from the home towns (Boston, Toronto, New York etc) seeing their fave team and enjoying the warmth at the same time, and that the retirees are a problem. They stay loyal to their childhood team, ergo a fan who retired to St. Pete from northern Ohio for the sunshine isn’t going to be a Rays fan because he’ll always be an Indians fan no matter where he might be.

      • badfinger20

        The age group was where I was getting at…you would think it would be a good response.
        Yea most baseball fans will not switch teams. No matter where I live…the Dodgers will be it. If Nashville got a team…it would be Dodgers first and then Nashville…I get that.

      • Dave

        Yep, that is true… and maybe kids growing up in those households will follow suit, if they even like baseball. And, through the years, quite often there’s not been much to be excited about if you’re watching the Rays or Marlins (two Marlins WS excepted). I’m always a Toronto fan…LOL, just today got a Jays sweatshirt in the mail!

      • badfinger20

        That is great getting a sweatshirt. I got another jacket this last Christmas.
        I get the same questions when I wear it. Are you from Los Angeles? I go through the whole thing about liking them honestly from my dad…
        You have to get the question at times. You though DID live there.

      • Dave

        YEah, I don’t wear Jays gear that much around here because they are wildly unpopular by and large. It;s Texas Rangers territory, after all, although the last 3 years, stores have been carrying more Astros gear… don’t know if that will continue this year! My sweetie works in a large office and there’s one guy, about our age, in there who inexplicably is a Toronto fan even though he’s from these psrts… it’s always great chatting with him when I run into him . Funny story though, the very first time I came to Texas, about 8 years back, I took the Greyhound, and was wearing a Jays cap. I had to wait a few minutes for a ride, so I walked out of the bus station to see what’s around, and soon a guy who looks like a rapper/gangsta type , walking with a scantily clad gal, yells over at me “Hey! Is that a Toronto baseball cap?” I say, “yeah” while nervously judging how fast I could run back into the station and crowd. He grins and comes over and in short asks me if I’ve heard of a player – I have, at the time a Jays relief pitcher – and he says that guy is his cousin! We chat about baseball and Canada, the local has lots of questions about Canadian healthcare and the legality of marijuana up there. It was quite a wild welcome to The Lone Star State.

      • badfinger20

        You just never know! I have people coming up to me and asking me about LA of course and also former citizens of Los Angeles talking to me about Cey, Garvey etc…
        It’s also fun meeting Giant fans…we have a laugh saying how much we root against each other.
        There are quite a bit NY, LA, STL, but mostly Atlanta hats here. Nashville is growing and getting people from all over here becasue the cost of living is much better.

      • Dave

        yeah, likewise here… the climate helps and lack of state tax (though there is an 8% sales tax) but mostly people seem to flock here – except austin which is crazy – for the low prices. People in Waco complain about the “Fixer Upper effect” driving up house prices but there still aren’t many cities elsewhere in the country where a real nice 4 bedroom house can be found under $250k.

      • badfinger20

        It beats anytihng in California with it’s 100 year mortgages. I couldn’t believe that.
        We have no state tax either…but a 9.75 sales tax.

  2. badfinger20

    Off Topic again… I can’t believe it but since the Angels trade fell through and they had to rework the deal with the Twins…looks like the Dodgers are going over the Tax threshold… not by much but they are…I think it is to shut people up about them being so careful…so I was wrong completely and I give them credit.
    Now that I did this…watch them trade Joc Pederson and Stripling and get under it.

    Puig is still out there and he will probably be cheap.

    • Dave

      yeah, MLB website mentioned that a couple of days ago- the one thing missing from spring training. If i was Atkins in toronto, I’d be talking to him seriously and I can’t believe some team hasn’t scooped him up – I mean he’s not been Barry Bonds on the field but thankfully he hasn’t been barry Bonds to the fans or media being a jerk. Unless he is being unreasonable and demanding a 5 year deal or $20M a year, which I doubt, I don’t know why someone hasn’t gotten him. I mean, there’s gotta be 20 teams who could benefit from a .275 hitter, 25 homer, decent defensive OF . Plus, as I think you’ve said, his teammates seem to usually like him.

      • badfinger20

        They are scared of the perception…the one he had at first.
        The teammates from the last 3 teams he had…they like him. At first, he was a pain but since 2016 or so …he was fine in the clubhouse with no problems. A decent player also.

      • Dave

        I saw last night The Rob strikes again – he’s proposing pitchers have to step off before trying to pick off a runner, in order to increase steals and cut back on double plays. I don’t see it as a HUGE difference but I do see it as just another effort of Manfred to make the game unrecognizable to us long-time fans. *sigh*

      • badfinger20

        Geez….NO NO NO… Rob just leave it alone! The game has survived for years without his interference…why now?
        I think he floats this crap out there to see people’s reaction. The playoff scheme and the extra innings guy start at second base…were the worse.

      • Dave

        exactly! And the plan to eliminate 42 minor league teams, and thereby reduce the pool of future players AND alienate at least 42 cities from the game entirely

      • badfinger20

        It goes back to the main problem. The guy doesn’t rule baseball for the good of the game….he does it on the good of the owners. If a players guy was there…it would be the opposite.
        I do wish it was governed by a different party.

      • Dave

        Me too. But are the owners that dense? Does wiping out a portion of your fanbase & tv ratings (in places like Binghampton, Erie, Mobile and on and on) make sense to them? They can’ t be saving a whole lot on bottom line when those players make under $20k a year. I think the gate at 2000 fans a night would essentially pay the freight for that.

      • badfinger20

        I have to wonder if they are like some business owners now. They don’t look at the long run but just at short term gains.
        They need to be protecting the game and keeping all the fans they can get.

      • Dave

        very much so. I worked in retail for some years and one rule we were always taught, in several different companies was that it is much easier to keep an existing customer than to win a new one (hence “the customer is always right” or variations thereof.) Manfred & Co should take note.

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