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Hey, Bud Selig, instead of insulting Tampa Bay Rays fans, let's talk

Published Jul. 12, 2012

Here's an idea:

Let's annoy Bud Selig.

Sure, it's petty. Maybe unproductive. Certainly childish.

On the other hand … he started it!

In case you missed it, the commissioner of Major League Baseball pretty much called us slackers before the All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday.

He said Tampa Bay's lagging attendance is "inexcusable'' after the team's five-year run of success. The Rays are 29th among 30 teams in attendance.

The commissioner referenced an old line from his father that nothing is ever good or bad, except by comparison. And so, by extension, Tampa Bay's attendance is very, very bad.

"Nobody can defend that,'' Selig said.

Okay, so this is the part where we poke Selig in the eye.

The payroll disparity in Major League Baseball is inexcusable. The San Diego Padres have a payroll of $55 million, and the New York Yankees are at $197 million.

That kind of gap does not exist in other major professional sports. It doesn't happen in football, basketball or hockey. It creates an unbalanced playing field and gives a huge advantage to a few elite teams.

As the man said, nobody can defend that.

And yet I'm sure the hyper-sensitive Selig would try. He would point out that baseball is unlike other sports. That baseball's players union is by far the most powerful in organized sports, which makes the idea of a salary cap sound like fantasy.

He could point out that baseball has actually made noticeable gains in revenue sharing during his tenure and that successful low-revenue teams such as Tampa Bay and Oakland disprove the idea of an uneven playing field.

In other words, he would say there is more nuance to the argument than raw numbers. And that is why he is wrong about Tampa Bay.

There are many ways to describe attendance at Rays games. Disappointing would be one. Concerning is another. Untenable may eventually be the most important.

But inexcusable is far from accurate.

The list of reasons why Tampa Bay struggles with attendance is as long as the commissioner's expense account:

1. Tampa Bay's population is not on par with those in a lot of other Major League markets. 2. The Rays are not a century-old institution the way teams are in Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. 3. A lack of corporations hurts, as does the number of service-industry workers and retirees on fixed incomes. 4. The recession has hit Florida, and this market, much harder than it has hit the rest of the nation.

None of which means that Tampa Bay doesn't have a problem with attendance. Heck, I've shouted about that as much as anyone else.

And if you want to include Tropicana Field's location and its lack of ambience as a significant part of the equation, I would not argue with that.

But these problems cannot be solved by insults and accusations. And that's what Selig's words sounded like. They sounded like a precursor to threats.

The commissioner absolutely has a right to talk about this. In fact, he has an obligation.

But Selig needs to be part of the solution instead of perpetuating the problem.