Rob Manfred hates baseball.
I’ve written this a couple of times, mostly facetiously, but now I honestly believe it. If this wasn’t the case, and Rob Manfred thinks his wacky ideas to save baseball are smart, he should be removed from his post on the basis of incompetence.
Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball, yesterday, gave permission for the Tampa Bay Rays to explore becoming a “two-city team.” With that, they’d split their regular season games between Tampa-St. Pete and Montreal. Yes, the one in Canada.
This is a monumentally stupid idea, in more ways than one.
Let’s start with the obvious. The Rays want to move, at least in part, because they are having tons of trouble selling out an outdated, worn down Tropicana Field. Naturally, what’s better than one apathetic fan base? Two apathetic fan bases! Back in the early 2000s, when Montreal had their own team all to themselves, they had trouble selling out.
What could possibly make the league or the team think that the same fanbase would embrace a team which is only half theirs even more? Maybe they’ll go through the customary honeymoon phase for a year or two, but it’s not going to work well. Maybe if they sell out half the seats in Montreal and half in Tampa, they can say they sold out? Because they sure aren’t going to do that in either city.
For what it is worth, I do think there is a path to professional baseball succeeding in Montreal. That would involve, first and foremost, a team fully embracing Quebec culture, complete with all the poutine and Youppi! you can have. You’d need to be the Expos. And most importantly, you’d need to win. A lot.
The Tampa Bay Rays invading Montreal for three months over the summer doesn’t do that, the same way there were no true Expos fans in Puerto Rico when the MLB tried pulling a similar stunt 15 years ago. When the New Orleans Hornets were forced to relocate to Oklahoma City for a year in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Oklahoma City didn’t suddenly become diehard Hornets fans. There’s no reason to expect Montreal is any different.
Rays owner Stu Sternberg, who has always prevented his team from being as good as possible by not spending money, now expects both the city of Montreal and the city of St. Petersburg to build him a stadium, while he pays for neither. He will also only play 40 games in either one. I’m sorry, Stu, but neither government is going to jump at the opportunity to do that.
If you want to ruin your franchise, you are going to do it at your own dime, the same dime you claim not to have when guys like Bryce Harper hit the free agency market.
To be fair to the Rays, I do understand their obsessive reaction to the Trop and their desire to leave as soon as possible. It’s not fit to be a major league stadium in 2019, and definitely not in 2027 like the City of St. Pete is making clear to the Rays they’ll be playing there until. If they feel relocation is their only way out, then do it. Don’t half do it.
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There are plenty of logistical issues surrounding a multi-national team too, but I don’t think those came into consideration before this awful idea was announced. Will foreign players have to get residency in both Canada and the United States? What government will collect income taxes? What happens if one government doesn’t allow a player to work in their country, but the other does? Where do you play potential playoff games or rainouts that have to be rescheduled?
Do the players have to have houses in both countries? Do their kids have to enroll in two different schools or get two wholly different sets of friends in both cities? Do the players, some of which have to learn English, now have to learn French as well? These are all questions that need to be asked, and I’m not sure were.
I’m sure that the Tampa Bay/Montreal ExRays, with them lowballing every free agent because of Stu Sternberg’s desire to remain irrelevant, are going to be a fantastic destination for free agents. I mean, how can you pass up making less money and having double the living expenses!?!?!?!
Case in point, this was never going to work. If the Rays want to move to Montreal, then move to Montreal. If you want to threaten relocation to get a new stadium, threaten relocation to get a new stadium. Don’t pull this stunt. And Major League Baseball, don’t let one of your franchises embarrass themselves to this extent.
“Sharing with the team with Montreal is not an option… Ultimately such a decision is up to me. And I have no intention of bringing this idea to our city council to consider.” – St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman
Luckily, this isn’t going to actually happen. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman said in a press conference yesterday that this is “not an option.” The Rays cannot pursue playing anywhere outside of St. Pete until 2028 without approval from the city, which Kriseman seems completely against giving.
Chances are, whether or not they have to wait until 2028, the Rays are relocating. I can’t envision that threatening to leave brings more fans to the ballpark, or that the city will be ready to spend taxpayer money on a new ballpark for an owner who seems to already be ready to leave.
The New York Islanders tried something similar to this last season, and it was a resounding disaster. Both stadiums the Islanders played in, the Barclays Center and the Nassau Coliseum, were in New York City. They didn’t lose fans or fan connection trying this. The Rays will.
It’s downright embarrassing that Major League Baseball allowed this to be even considered. It was idiotic when the White Sox did it back in the 1960s, splitting time between Chicago and Milwaukee. It was idiotic when the Expos tried it with Puerto Rico about a decade and a half ago. And it is still idiotic now.
If this ever does happen, or even comes close, it’s going to be on the owners to shoot it down. For the Rays’ sake, and for the league’s sake, this can’t happen. And luckily, it looks like it won’t.