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It’s now up to Tampa Bay to keep the Rays here | Editorial
The Tampa Bay Rays announced Thursday that Major League Baseball had rejected the idea of splitting home games with Montreal.
Katie Platt holds up a sign protesting against the Rays proposal to split the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal at the ALDS game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox last October.
Katie Platt holds up a sign protesting against the Rays proposal to split the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal at the ALDS game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox last October. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 20

The Tampa Bay Rays should be fuming. For more than 2½ years, Major League Baseball let the team explore splitting home games with Montreal. The Rays were out on a limb with the novel idea, but the league seemed to encourage the two-city flirtation. The league’s commissioner even once described the split season concept as the best way to keep baseball in the area, and the idea seemed to be gaining some local traction recently. Now the engagement is off. The league abruptly killed it with little public explanation. Given the lost time and expense, the Rays have every right to want to break a bat or two over their knee.

Major League Baseball should never have let this dance go on for so long just to abruptly say “never mind.” The team announced the concept in June 2019. Support was tepid, at best. The league had every opportunity in those first few months to tell the Rays and their Montreal partners, “Nice try, but no thanks.” Instead, the league’s and Commissioner Rob Manfred’s public statements generally supported the sister-city idea, or at least they didn’t pour cold water on it. They let more than 2½ years go by, knowing that the clock was ticking on the Rays lease at Tropicana Field, which ends in 2027. To open the 2028 season in a new stadium, the team would likely need to have plans in place by 2023. Does Rays owner Stuart Sternberg feel betrayed? “That’s a word,” he said during a Thursday news conference. “That’s a word.”

Betrayal — real or perceived — lingers longer than a Game 7 playoff loss. At the very least, Manfred owes the Tampa Bay area a thorough and public explanation as to what happened and why the league took so long to scuttle the idea. How did the sister-city concept go from the “best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay” — as Manfred said in 2020 — to dead on the vine? Did the other team owners balk at the idea? Step up to the microphone, Mr. Manfred.

Hurt feelings aside, the move clarifies what seems like a never-ending search for a new home for the Rays. No more dealing with two potential home cities (one in a foreign country), two governments, two sets of rules and regulations. No more talk of building two new stadiums or convincing two fanbases to support the team. Keeping full-time baseball in the Tampa Bay area is now up to the Tampa Bay area. That should unite the fans, the ones who despised the split season plan and those who didn’t mind the idea of sharing home games.

Still, finding the right fit locally won’t necessarily be easier than a two-city plan. In fact building a full-time stadium that requires a roof is expected to cost at least $1 billion, up from $700 million for an open-air facility for a part-time team. And the Rays have tried before — with two failed stadium efforts, one in St. Petersburg in 2008 and the second in Tampa in 2018. The Rays had said they would pay for half of the cost of a new stadium — likely in Ybor City — under the two-city concept. Now it’s back to the drawing board, for the Rays and for local politicians, who would have to sell the next plan to residents.

Of course, the two-city plan never would have been proposed if the Rays drew more fans and had more corporate support. The organization has put a winning team on the field for the better part of 15 years, but they can’t get enough people and companies to buy tickets. They drew less than 10,000 fans a game last year, and consistently rank in the bottom five teams in attendance. Reasons abound for the lousy ticket sales, but if there ever was a time for Rays fans to show up to games, the upcoming season is it. Want the team to stay in the Tampa Bay area? Go to the games. Otherwise, the once unlikely reality of the team moving its entire operation to another metro area grows uncomfortably more real. After all, it wasn’t just Manfred who thought the two-city idea was the best way to keep baseball in the Tampa Bay area. The Rays believed it too.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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