Just when you thought you had heard it all comes another crazy idea from a so called smart businessmen Stuart Sternberg the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sternberg floated the idea this week and has the approval of MLB to explore the possibility of playing the first half of the baseball home schedule in Tampa and the second half in Montreal.
With a record low attendance of 5,786 on May 28th against Toronto and another low crowd of 6,166 the very next evening, Sternberg has fired the first shot and is laying the ground work for a move out of the Tampa Bay.
There are a lot of hurdles that have to be overcome to keep the Rays and MLB in Tampa Bay. Sternberg has said all along he wants to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay, but it is getting harder and harder to believe that as the days go by.
The plan would be for the Rays to play in Tampa during the months of April, May and part of June, with the months of July through September being played in Montreal.
There has been no discussions of where the playoff games would be played.
At a press conference in New York, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said “ The purpose of the split season would be to preserve baseball in Tampa, but improve the economics of the club over all by playing some of their games in Montreal.”
He added later: “There was no commitment or discussion or grant on the issue of a permanent relocation. It was simply the split-season possibility.”
Lets address the Montreal plan. The Mayor of St. Petersburg Rick Krismen has said there is no way he will approve of any deal to allow the Rays to split the home season with Montreal essentially killing this plan.
How about some of the other logistics. Players will have to have two residences. What about schooling for the players kids? Taxes? Merchandising? All these issues and a lot more have to be addressed.
Would the players union approve of such a split schedule?
Montreal had a MLB team once upon a time and could not support it then, so why give them another team? In 2003 and 2004 the last two years the Expos played in Montreal, they split the home portion of the schedule with San Juan Puerto Rico playing 22 games in Hiram Bithorn stadium in San Juan and 59 games in Montreal at Olympic Stadium.
In the 35 year history of the Expos, Montreal drew over two million fans four times with a high of 2.3 million in 1982 and 1983.
The Expos averaged a low of 7,300 in 2001. The last two years in Montreal, the Rays averaged 12,662 in 2003 and 9,356 in 2004 before moving to Washington.
The other issue that nobody seems to be talking about is the Rays are locked into the lease at Tropicana Field through 2027. Unless the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg reach a buyout agreement, the Rays can’t go any where until the 2028 season.
Another big hurdle is the owner of the Rays Stuart Sternberg who has an estimated net worth of 800 million dollars does not want to put out what is considered to be a fair amount of his own money to build a new stadium in the Tampa area.
But Sternberg continues to say he wants to keep the Rays in Tampa long term. “My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come. I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration.”
This splitting the home schedule with Montreal seems to be just another threat by Sternberg to get the attention of the leaders in Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa to get moving on a plan for a new stadium.
Someone has to start moving on this and moving quickly if the Rays are going to be in the Tampa Bay region long term.
The stadium site has to be in Tampa, not St. Petersburg.
Nothing ever seems to get done and get accomplished until the clock is ready to strike midnight.
The clock is ticking, the hands are moving closer to the bewitching hour of midnight, and when that clock strikes midnight, it will be the third strike and there will be no more baseball in Tampa Bay.