When I was a lad growing up in Akron, there was an old joke about the hapless, perennial cellar-dwelling Cleveland Indians of the 1960s — and beyond. A guy calls the ticket office and inquires what time the game is supposed to start that night.
And he is asked: "What time can you get here?"
We may be getting to that point with our own Tampa Bay Rays. who appear either to have traded away, or released some of the franchise’s bigger stars of late —Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson.
Apparently, the team is jettisoning all this high-priced and successful talent because it is trying to save money. And this also gives you the same financial incentive by not having to worry about buying tickets to watch a rebuilding effort, which is another way of saying, "We don’t intend to win, much less be a competitive team on the field for the foreseeable future."
But hey, Wilson Alvarez bobble-head night ought to be pretty exciting.
Now, I’ll leave the finely tuned baseball-related analysis of the Rays moves to my more knowledgeable Tampa Bay Times sports colleagues and experts like Marc Topkin, Tom Jones and Martin Fennelly.
I’m just a long beleaguered customer. And a taxpayer, too.
We all know the Rays recently announced they would like to move to a new stadium tucked away in a rather dubious corner of Ybor City. Estimates for the costs of shiny new ball park seem to run the gamut of anywhere between $500 million to perhaps as much as $800 million. And it is expected that the Rays will somehow persuade the powers-that-be in our fair hamlet to stiff the public to pick up the lion’s share of the construction expense.
And for what? To build a ridiculously priced stadium so that scores of fans can sit around watching baseball’s answer to the hapless Washington Generals, who posted an approximate 1-16,000 won/lost record against the Harlem Globetrotters over a 60-year period?
What does it say to the public that while the Rays want a new, mostly publicly funded lavish baseball park, the team seems unwilling or unable to field a competitive team worthy of all the bells and whistles it expects taxpayers to pay for?
And for this season at least, while the Rays will continue to "play" in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, what incentive is there for anyone, besides the most ardent, die-hard fan, to buy a ticket to watch what the franchise is tacitly acknowledging is a sub-standard product on the field?
This is a bit like asking the public to pay for a glorious, luxury car dealership that sells Yugos.
For decades long-suffering Cleveland Indians fans had to endure a sports team that essentially operated as a minor league franchise for the New York Yankees. As soon as a player started demonstrating some skills that might result in (oh dear!) winning, "Poof!" Off they went in a trade to the Bronx in return for some aging, broken down old Dobbin of an athlete.
It’s just a minor observation, but do you get the feeling we’re being played for chumps?
Almost from Day One when he bought the Rays, owner Stuart Sternberg has spent a better part of his time bemoaning how poor he is, how he can’t afford to compete with the bigger Major League Baseball markets, how woeful Tropicana Field is, and how someone keeps moving his cheese.
But Sternberg, who is supposed to be some sort of financial genius, certainly had to be aware of the market’s shortcomings and yet he bought the team anyway. What does that say about his own fiscal acumen?
And now Sternberg and his brain trust somehow have alighted on the notion that by trading away or otherwise getting rid of some high-priced talent, the public will still be gullible enough to continue to show up and even underwrite his new digs.
What should we call this? The Boys of Shudder?