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A Well-Timed Tampontreal Gambit Leaves Everyone Pissed

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 22: Kevin Kiermaier #39 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 7-1 to clinch a playoff berth at Tropicana Field on September 22, 2021 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Canada’s baseball hopes took two blows in the last couple of days, which bodes poorly for our dream of a four-way wild card tie in the American League. Author’s note: Comrade Petchesky, as a degenerate Yankee fan, does not share this dream, which is why his final destination is hell. You don’t need to know that, but he needs to read it from time to time. [Ed. note: Thanks Ray.]

Anyway, Canada. The more recent setback came Thursday night, when the demonstrably delightful Blue Jays lost to Satan’s Stepchildren and are now a game behind the Red Sox and Mariners for the final wild card place and three games behind Pinstriped Mephistopheles. If there is to be a postseason without Vladito and Teoscar and Semien and Bichette, baseball is dead. And by the way, this is not a rare burst of fandom for me, but a very temporary condition fueled entirely by my antipathy to the Sox or Yankees.

The other Canadian loss of the week was Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg’s decision to rescind his order to hang a Tampa Bay/Montreal sign inside Tropicana Field as one more clumsy reminder of his misguided kick-me-sign desire for the Rays to split seasons in the very near future with Montreal. You know, where the Expos used to be, and whose white elephantine boneyard, Stade Olympique, has been used by the Jays for annual exhibition series starting in 2014 before being COVIDed into stasis.

The sign was to be part of the team’s ongoing campaign to use Montreal as what they call a “sister city,” splitting their regular-season schedule between a stadium they hate and a stadium other people hated decades before they even existed. The Rays have never drawn particularly well (as in almost not at all), in large part because the stadium is so poorly located that it could move to pontoons in the Gulf of Mexico and be more easily accessed. But there is also a suspicion that Tampa–St. Petersburg might just not be all that into baseball, at least not at the level where Sternberg et. al. can turn the place into a cash manatee. The Rays have the fourth-best record in baseball since 2008, when they went to the World Series, while drawing fewer counted customers than anyone else, which means that the problem lies elsewhere.

Hence: The Tampontreal Gambit, a plan extremely daft as it doesn’t provide two cities with 41 swell baseball games as much as it reminds two cities of the 41 dates when it doesn’t have baseball like all the other kids do. Sternberg’s preferred solution is a traditional one—a new park at a site of his choosing, with all the tax breaks and civic contributions and free ancillary real estate he can carry off. As that hasn’t happened, he has prepared an alternate solution—splitting the baby in half and letting the cities argue about who gets the head and chest. It’s a ploy for leverage that runs the gamut from brazen to galling, and the decision to hang a sign in the right-field foul area so that fans in the stands and television viewers could see it is exactly the kind of shoes-on-the-wrong-feet maneuver that smart people who have had elective plastic surgery to replace their ears with tinfoil would contrive.

As expected, the idea went over like a chemical plant near a preschool, and Sternberg had to go on Tampa radio to eat his bin of coal. “I’m really here to speak directly to our fans today, and to apologize, quite frankly,” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times, who should’ve given its writer hazard pay to transcribe it. “I’ve always said that baseball is meant to be fun and engaging and exciting. Brings a community together. I made a big mistake, a real mistake, in trying to promote our sister-city plan with a sign right now in our home ballpark. I absolutely should have known better. And really, I’m sorry for that. I’m here to tell … the fans that the sign is not going to go up.”

But wait, there’s more sniveling.

“I knew that a sign would bring us attention, and we do want the attention,” he was quoted as saying. “I just didn’t completely process that now isn’t the moment for it. Postseason is a special time. October baseball is a special time for a team and its fans, and nothing should take the attention away from the games. It’s a time for the whole community to come together and rally as one. By suggesting we have a sign that I knew could be controversial, I put much of that at risk. Plain and simple, it was a bad decision. And that’s why we aren’t going to go through with it.”

Well, that makes it all better. Stu just miscalculated on the timing a bit. Then again, if that ever made sense to him, he should be sleeping in the park rather than in a billionaire’s mansion. What he was doing was one more traditional ploy—seeing what he could get away with, apologizing where necessary while not actually taking blame for the greater insult, tactically retreating, and then in all likelihood repeating the offense by slapping signs all over town in the offseason extolling the equal if not superior values of La Belle Province.

And frankly, that one item in the manifesto is probably true. Montreal is a cooler place to hang than St. Pete. But to say that to someone who lives in St. Pete, especially while you’re asking for that poor sap to give you money, is so obviously ham-handed that no aspiring idiot would ever attempt it. For further proof of this, see the Oakland Athletics’ home attendance this season.

Stuart Sternberg is no idiot. He knew what he was doing, he knew what might happen, and he knew how to react. If anything, he only gets points for (a) sending a club vice president to extol the plan instead of doing it himself, and (b) walking it back quickly. Frankly, next to this, Kevin Cash pulling Blake Snell in Game 6 was the most enlightened idea of the post-expansion era.

But that does nothing to soothe Canada’s hurt feelings. It’s hard enough that Robbie Ray couldn’t get out of the sixth without giving up four homers last night, but to be yanked from Tampa’s ad campaign at the last minute must sting even more. Canada is a sovereign state, and not to be jollied along so cynically and used so contemptibly for some Floridian’s business whims. Until of course they take him up on his standing offer and become exactly the thing they accused Washington of being in 2005. Let the crown of thorns be unbroken.

And way to go, Stu. You ran the plays as scripted, and the punt on this possession will end up being a short field goal on the next. Look like a moron for a day, let it blow over because Tom Brady covers all sins, and then get back to those signs like you’re decorating the gym for prom night. Just have the decency not to do it again, otherwise we might start to question your lack of sincerity and view it instead as a complete and total lack of sincerity.