St. Pete mayor shouldn't be playing hardball with the Rays
Cary McMullenI'm sitting in a comfortable chair with a libation watching Prince Fielder catch a pop-up and then the delirious celebration. It's going to be a chilly World Series in Detroit.
Published: October 25, 2012
Published: October 25, 2012
When the Tigers come to Lakeland for spring training, the announcer always makes a point of telling the short-sleeved crowd the temperature back in Detroit – 46 degrees, 52, something like that.
As a baseball fan, I know it's good for the game that the Tigers won the pennant – historic franchise that's seen hard times lately and all that. It's no doubt a morale-booster for the folks in an area that needs bucking up, and it likely will be good for Lakeland's economy to have the American League champs — maybe even the World Series champs — in town in March.
But I'm a bit grumpy right now because none of the teams to which I'm loyal, chiefly the Tampa Bay Rays, are still in the playoffs. The Rays' front office has no one to blame but themselves, stubbornly sitting on an overflowing basket of pitching that they could have used as trade bait to get what they so desperately need, a reliable hitter. But that's a baseball decision. They face an even more troubling business situation.
My wife and I make it over to St. Petersburg about once a season to see a game, and therein lies part of the reason the Rays are a struggling franchise, the wizardry of Manager Joe Maddon notwithstanding. To restate the obvious, they need a more central location.
It doesn't take a marketing genius to figure out that with a better and more easily accessible stadium than Tropicana Field, the Rays would draw more fans, be in a stronger financial situation and better able to compete for free-agent players. Better play would draw even more fans. It would be a virtuous cycle.
But the Rays are tied by contract to the Trop until 2027, and so far St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has — pardon the pun — played hardball with the Rays and their centrally located suitors, Hillsborough County. He has threatened to sue if the Rays so much as talk to anyone outside the city of St. Pete about the possibility of playing some day in a stadium somewhere on the other side of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
In the latest incident, according to the Tampa Bay Times, St. Pete City Attorney John Wolfe sent a letter to Hillsborough County's attorneys on Oct. 18 pointedly stating that the city would regard "any discussions with the Rays about stadium locations, regardless of how couched, as tortious interference" with its contract with the club. Talk about a jealous partner. Foster reminds me of the kind of guy who shoots his wife for saying hello to the mailman.
The Rays have made it clear, and the attendance numbers back them up, that all their fine efforts on the field are not going to be enough to save baseball in the Tampa Bay area if they continue to be bound to the Trop. This is the inconvenient truth Foster is studiously ignoring. If things get bad enough, it's possible that Major League Baseball would use its considerable muscle to pry the Rays out of Foster's death grip and pack them off to another city.
All this makes me wonder if Foster is being a tough politician, using the Rays' contract with Tropicana as a bargaining chip to get something in return, or if he just has a death wish. The former I could understand and even respect. The latter would make him out to be the kid who would smash his favorite toy with a hammer rather than share it.
If Foster has any aspirations to higher office, he'll want to be the politician, not the selfish kid.
Meanwhile, I'm hoping the Giants win it all.
Cary McMullen is a journalist and editor who lives in Lakeland. He can be reached at email@example.com.