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MLB

The Rays’ Montreal Gambit Is Dead

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg greets baseball fans as they arrive for the first game of the season on Opening Day before the start of a game between the Rays and the New York Yankees on April 2, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Stuart Sternberg’s boyhood dream of owning one sports franchise that operates in two places, one border and one language barrier apart, has been dashed by the narrow-minded boors who run MLB. How could Les Rayons de la Baie de Montréal not be the path to the new baseball renaissance?

In acknowledging that he and his employees have finally arrived the next wave of the pandemic he calls “stadium fatigue,” the Tampa Bay Rays owner all but said that MLB’s rejection of his long-standing plan to have the team’s anterior margin in Florida and the posterior one in Canada was both discouraging and shortsighted, and that sister-city franchises are the wave of the future. When asked if he felt “betrayed” by his fellow Scrooge McDucks, he said, “That’s a word.”

Sternberg has chased his dream through its various stages for several years now, and at each step everyone who doesn’t call him “boss” has mocked it as being three steps beyond preposterous. It’s never been tried, because nobody in their right mind would bother to try. He hasn’t actually told Tampa to pound sand the way his billionaire brethren and sistren would, but his devotion to the inconceivable is also profoundly daft in its logistics because he claims to need two ballparks to make it work, one in Montreal and one in Ybor City. Most teams can’t shame a city into one.

But he also said that plans like his are the wave of the future and that MLB didn’t want to be the first corporation to try it, preferring the kind of linear plan the NFL has perfected with the Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland-Las Vegas Raiders. They also prefer the kind of plan in which a franchise beats its home city into submission for a massive real estate project that tags a stadium onto the end of it, or blackjacks another city into doing the same. It’s more, well, traditional.

Sternberg’s plan, in terms of mileage, is the equivalent of the Padres splitting their seasons between San Diego and Honolulu, or the Nationals splitting their schedule with Deadwood, S.D. The concept of two half–fan bases equalling one big one is intriguing, but then there’s the fact that half the year you’re taking in dollars worth a dollar and the other half taking in dollars worth 80 cents, which means you actually need 1.2 fan bases to make it spend like one fan base.

MLB was right in a pragmatic way to tell Stu to take a hike. On the other hand, we wouldn’t put it past the other 29 to steal the idea later and move the A’s to Fiji and Sydney, or the Marlins to Branson, Mo., for the culture and George Town in the Cayman Islands to store the loot. This is an idea whose time has not come, at least not while the principal job is to prevent baseball from being played, but nobody thought deep-dive analytics would catch on and that’s been what, 40 years? Sternberg’s on to something here, but the problem is he’ll be selling the team before that time comes. His replacement will most likely just yank the team from Florida and put it in Nashville, even though nobody there has ever really asked for one.

In the meantime Sternberg can rest easily at night knowing his 29 partners are good with him dangling in Neverland for a few more years, trying to teach his employees how to sell empty seats in lots of a hundred while promoting players that the locals have either never heard of or will see in another uniform in two years. The Rays have been a trendsetter in the new baseball, all the way down to excelling in secret while extolling the virtues of paying nobody. You’d think the other 29 would toss him a bone for showing them the future. Not the two-city future, but the best wins-to-dollars-spent ratio, which will be the first tiebreaker in playoff seeding when MLB expands its postseason to everyone, no matter how bad they might be.