Rob Manfred Getting His Stadium Hustle on in St. Pete

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AP — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wants Tampa Bay to work a little quicker on getting the Rays a new ballpark.

Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg has been working for nearly a decade to get a new stadium for the club…

The Rays were averaging 15,815 fans per game before Wednesday night’s contest against the Toronto Blue Jays. That is just over half the major league average of 30,470. Tropicana Field and its location have been almost universally blamed as the reason for the poor attendance. Paid attendance Wednesday was 8,264, the lowest for a Rays home game since 2006…

Manfred said Major League Baseball “doesn’t have a firm timetable” for what steps to take if the Rays fail to get an agreement to build a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, but added that “it is a topic of discussion in the industry, the lack of progress.”

I’ll give you a firm timetable, Mr. Commissioner. 2028. That’s because the Rays’ ironclad lease agreement with Tropicana Field runs through the 2027 season, and doesn’t even allow the Rays to explore other options.

With a lease agreement like that, it’s no surprise that the St. Petersburg City Council has basically given Stuart Sternberg and the Rays the Michael Corleone treatment.

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As I said in my review of Tropicana Field earlier this month, it’s hard to believe that Major League Baseball actually agreed to put a baseball team there 20 years ago. Was Bud Selig that desperate to add a second team in Florida? Other cities vying for an MLB team in the mid-1990s included Orlando, Buffalo, Vancouver, Washington, D.C. and Nashville.

Obviously D.C. got its team a few years later when the Expos left Montreal. An expansion team in D.C. prevents the Expos from moving to D.C., but it probably doesn’t keep them in Montreal either. Wherever else the Expos could have landed couldn’t have been worse than Tropicana Field.

And the NFL, NHL and NBA have all set up shop in Tennessee since 1998. With a little foresight, Major League Baseball also could have become a part of the burgeoning sports scene in Tennessee. Alas, not much foresight went into this decision. How much foresight was needed to see that the concrete multipurpose venue was going out of vogue? Still, MLB planted the Rays in one. For 30. Effing. Years.

My advice to the Rays and MLB is to grin and bear it. You made some awful, shortsighted decisions and now have to live with the consequences. You may play in dump, but you can still try and make the best of it. Nobody likes to hear owners worth $800 million complain.

I’d have more sympathy for the Rays and MLB if not for all the other taxpayer-funded stadium boondoggles. And even if construction on a new stadium could start tomorrow, it probably wouldn’t be ready before 2020. What’s a few extra years at that point? At least by 2027 the Trop will be 37 years old, making a new venue somewhat reasonable.

And take heart, Rays fans. Not too long ago the New England Patriots were locked in an ironclad lease to a dump of a stadium. That ended up working out for everybody.

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P.S. – Manfred chose to go on a fact-finding mission at Tropicana Field on a Wednesday night Rays/Jays game at the end of August? Bonus points for picking the best night in over a decade to complain about how awful that place is. Announced attendance 8,264.

Woof.

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