And the Rays Cry Poor

The Rays are in trouble! Somebody send a lifeline! So goes the story now presented by Rays majority partner Stuart Sternberg, stating the Rays situation might just be “untenable.”

Is it true? Some of his comments are awfully worrying if you’re a fan of baseball in central Florida.

After the Rays unceremonious exit from the 2011 playoffs, Sternberg expressed great concern over the finances of a team that just cannot sell tickets, or something. Observe some key quotes, lovingly culled from the scrum by Gary Shelton of the St. Pete Times.

• “If I had $80 million to put out there, we’d be moving along in life,” Sternberg said. “We just don’t have $12 million to put into a hitter.”

• “When I came here, I was confident we could put a winning team on the field, and that would do it. We won, and we won, and we won and we won … and it didn’t do it. Whatever it is, there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse now. Except on the field, and at some point, that changes.”

• “As the owner, I could have affected things today. Today, and a couple of games where a thumper would thump. I could decide to mortgage the future and trade all the young guys, but the truth is that we would only get $9.82 extra at the gate. So what’s the sense?”

• “These guys deserved better. They deserved better. We need some horses.”

Cue ominous music. While the attendance situation is certainly a rough one, this whole thing rings a little hollow when you filter it through the prism of a pitched stadium battle with the city of St. Petersburg. How much of this is just sabre rattling? Hard to say…until Sternberg goes for the jugular with the money quote.

“It won’t be my decision, or solely my decision. But eventually, major-league baseball is going to vaporize this team. It could go on nine, 10, 12 more years. But between now and then, it’s going to vaporize this team. Maybe a check gets written locally, maybe someone writes me a check (to buy the team). But it’s going to get vaporized.”

KABOOM! VAPORIZED! That is a pretty pointed word choice for a very rich man. A smart, rich man, mind you.

This issue is a thorny one indeed. Not fully equipped to get into the nitty gritty business dealings of men far, far smarter than myself, permit me a healthy dose of scepticism. Are the Rays really so bereft of revenue streams that the ticket gate is a make or break situation? I have my doubts.

When considering the given ownership situation of any professional sports team, one must remember what Malcolm Gladwell wrote recently, equating owning a sports franchise with owning a great artistic masterpiece. Sure, it’s an investment but it is also a toy. The joy/pride/hubris associated with owning something as rare and storied as one of only 30 professional baseball teams offsets the traditional business losses.

For Sternberg and friends to wake up this morning and say, “this isn’t fun anymore. Being the big swinging dicks that made baseball work in Central Florida just isn’t worth the pain” isn’t accurate. They’re playing at either bigger payday or a parachute, me thinks. Nice of them to use the guise of the Evil Suits Within The Commissioner’s office as the bogeymen that might one day take the team away from the good people of Tampa/St. Pete.