Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria creates another hurdle for Rays stadium

All things considered, we can assume Jeffrey Loria would vote against a new baseball stadium in Tampa Bay. • He might as well. On Tuesday, he did as much damage to the Rays' future as he did to that of his team. • On the dumbest day a baseball owner has ever had, on the day Loria wrecked his Marlins and betrayed his fans, the fallout was statewide. How radioactive can one awful owner be? • In other words, the Rays' quest for a new stadium just got a little harder.

And the arguments of who builds such a stadium, and where, and how, just got a little louder.

This is the reward a community gets when it builds a palace for a rich man? It buys in, and then it watches the owner sell out? It looks on as the man in charge strip mines his roster? It watches as its stars board a plane bound for Canada?

Really?

Most days, of course, this would be an excellent time to laugh and play "Guess that IQ'' when it comes to Loria. In recent years, the Marlins have become such an irrelevant franchise that no one around here seems to remember it has won the World Series twice. Yeah, yeah. And mood rings used to be popular, too.

This time the Marlins' failures matter here, too. This time the backlash against Loria The Insufferable will be so great that it might affect a vote in Tampa Bay.

Let's face it. It was never going to be easy for the Rays to get a new stadium. Around here, even discussing a new stadium is the quickest way for a writer to get called a dirty name.

To get a new stadium, the team will have to survive a border war between St. Petersburg and Tampa. It will have to overcome the general disinterest that comes when someone wants to talk about a new stadium. Someone will have to come up with creative financing. And, yes, there is a lease and the possibility of lawyers.

Now there is the legacy of Loria's lunacy.

Good luck with that one.

This is the disservice Loria has done his fellow owners, especially those in need of new stadiums, by sending three of his biggest stars to the Blue Jays for a bunch of prospects in a 12-player deal after one season in a new publicly funded stadium. No owner has looked like a bigger con man than Loria has the past few days. And if his motives are suspect, isn't everyone's?

Over the years a lot of good fans have suffered through a lot of bad owners. A lot of places have seen teams trade away contracts without thinking about the talent connected to them.

But has an owner ever been as rotten as Loria, a guy who has his stadium? Its paint took longer to dry than the careers of some of his players lasted in it. Put it this way: Tampa Bay has seen some doozies when it comes to ownership, but none of them has been this shameful.

To be fair, Loria says all this happened because his team finished in last place. Still, does a last-place team get better by trading its talent? Put it this way: If you are a Marlins fan, how much do you trust the owner today? The answer: Not at all.

In the years to come, as the Rays' stadium debates get louder and more profane, you will hear all about Loria's betrayal. You will be reminded that Loria, too, talked about how his team needed the new revenue streams of a new stadium to compete. You will then be reminded that he couldn't wait to trade his biggest contracts so soon afterward. You will hear a new stadium comes with the implied promise of better days ahead.

You can argue Loria has never been the owner the Rays' Stu Sternberg has been, and that's true. You can point out that most teams do spend more money after getting a new stadium. You can mention that if Tampa Bay doesn't build a stadium, some other town probably will.

Still, Loria has opened a fresh box of concern. Just like that, opponents of the stadium have more ammunition. Just like that, the Rays have one more obstacle to overcome. Just like that, towns will look for some sort of guarantee against the Loria treatment.

I've said it before. You have every right to oppose a new stadium if you wish. Just understand this: Baseball is at stake. If you think a team is a community asset worth keeping, the eventual cost is going to be a new park. You can argue either way you wish, but understand that that is the central debate.

So what's the next step?

Right now the rest of us seem to be watching Sternberg and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster in a stare-down contest over the Trop lease. I understand Foster's position. His constituents built the Trop, and he shouldn't be in any hurry to let the team leave.

Here's what I wonder, how­ever. Does St. Petersburg want the Rays? Forget the lease, and forget Sternberg. If St. Petersburg isn't willing to build a stadium, if a survey says the voters are steadfast against a new stadium, then why not let the team look around in Tampa?

Tampa has heard about Loria, too. And it has to be concerned, too. It has to ask about safeguards against a fire sale such as the Marlins. It will try to protect itself against betrayal, too.

Meantime, you haven't heard anything yet. The rhetoric has just begun. And if the Rays can't get a new stadium, don't despair. Maybe Loria will trade them his.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

     
   
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