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Romano: Why you don't have to worry about the Rays moving to Montreal

The possibility of the Rays moving to Montreal is nonsense, John Romano writes. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 30, 2014

I would like to say rumors of the Tampa Bay Rays moving to Montreal are nonsense, but I cannot. The rumors are likely real. The talk is probably out there.

It is the actual possibility of a move that is nonsense.

The rumors exist because it is in the sport's best interest to perpetuate the notion that a large, baseball-hungry market is just a moving van away. We should know, because Tampa Bay played that wanna-be role to great acclaim in the 1980s and '90s.

But as Tampa Bay found out while wooing the _____ (fill in the blank with White Sox, Rangers, Athletics, Twins, Mariners or Giants), baseball owners are masters of the tease.

And so Montreal will soon discover.

I'm not suggesting Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is behind the whispers that talks are ongoing north of the border. It actually makes no sense for Sternberg to rattle any cages right now, because he is about to get his long-awaited chance to sniff around Tampa.

But the baseball commissioner's office likes to promote the idea of a city breathing heavily on the other end of any phone. So do most of the other owners. It's just good business for them.

But that doesn't mean Tampa Bay fans have anything to fear in the short term.

Here's why:

Baseball has used the threat of relocation to get billions of dollars in public financing for new stadiums during the past 25 years.

The White Sox were going to move to St. Pete. The Rangers were going to leave Arlington for Dallas. The Giants were also coming to St. Pete. The Astros were going to northern Virginia and the Mariners, Orioles, Indians, Brewers, Marlins, Padres and Pirates were willing to go anywhere.

But there is a huge difference between those situations and the Rays' standstill. In all of those cases, the teams either controlled or were near the end of their stadium leases. So any threat to leave at least had the appearance of being legitimate, if not the reality.

That, obviously, is not the case in Tampa Bay.

The Rays have 13 years remaining on their use agreement at Tropicana Field, and so the threat of relocation is far less imposing. Any hostile departure would undoubtedly result in the team being sued by St. Pete for "incalculable" damages, as the contract says.

And outgoing baseball commissioner Bud Selig can talk tough about the market's disappointments, but the man is not going to open the league to the possibility of a tortious interference lawsuit or have baseball's finances dissected in open court.

So does that mean St. Pete has the upper hand in this perpetual debate?

Yes and no.

The city does have leverage today. But it will have slightly less leverage tomorrow. And even less next year.

And that means St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is doing the right thing by being proactive in talks with the Rays right now. Because, down the road, St. Pete will either be forced to build a new stadium on an owner's terms or lose the Rays with nothing to show for it.

So whenever someone cites the size of a crowd for an exhibition in Montreal, or talks with longing of the days of Les Expos, feel free to ignore them.

The Rays aren't going anywhere any time soon.

At least anywhere that doesn't involve a bridge.

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