ESPN's Steve Berthiaume, a host of Baseball Tonight and occasional blogger, believes the time has come to move the Rays out of the Tampa Bay area.
Writing on espn.com, Berthiaume says:
"The Tampa Bay Rays must be moved. The Rays' barely tenable existence in St. Petersburg, Fla., is getting worse and it's becoming, to borrow a word from star pitcher David Price in describing a critical but sparsely attended game late last season, "embarrassing." This is not about assigning blame. The Rays have some passionate and supportive fans. There are simply not enough of them. The franchise has done the best it can with a suffocating stadium lease. The past three seasons have been the most successful in Rays' history, but those seasons have produced no attendance momentum. In fact, Rays attendance figures and local television ratings this season are in decline. Baseball needs to lower its rope and let the Rays climb out of their sinkhole."
Berthiaume questions whether building a new stadium in Tampa would solve the problem, and writes: "The Tropicana Field lease coupled with a new ballpark's high price tag and the lack of another viable, major league-ready market to which the Rays could move, have all created a painful stall that can't last much longer."
Citing the Rays' lowest-in-the-AL attendance figures and praising the efforts of the Stuart Sternberg ownership group, Berthiaume concludes:
"Again: This is not about assigning blame. Nobody is a bad person for not attending a baseball game. Even with 30 new ballparks one major league team would still have to be last in attendance, and even with a new stadium on the Tampa side, there is nothing to suggest that team wouldn't be the Rays. The Tampa Bay area is a great place. It just hasn't been a great place for Major League Baseball to do business."
There is an accompanying piece on espn.com, by Howard Bryant, that traces the Rays' stadium mess to MLB's 1992 decision to block the move of the Giants and says, "to baseball, Oakland and Tampa Bay — not the financially challenged New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers — are the game's two most troubled franchises.''
Also, it's been pointed out by a number of sharp-eyed readers on several blogs, such as raysindex.com, that the photos with Berthiaume's original piece (one of which was been removed) were from a 2004 game that had its game time changed on short notice, and the other from a 2008 workout day that was not open to fans.