ST. PETERSBURG — Attendance remains dreary and talk of a new stadium is stalled, but former baseball commissioner Bud Selig said it’s too soon to write off Tampa Bay as a Major League market.
“I wouldn’t use the term failure,” said Selig, who has written a book about his 23-year tenure in the commissioner’s office called For the Good of the Game, due out July 9.
“I did award the franchise and I guess it’s disappointing to some extent and puzzling because the demographics in Tampa are damn good. But I’m not yet ready to call it a mistake, absolutely not.”
Selig, who retired in 2015, often played the role of baseball’s heavy during the early years of a stadium pursuit in Tampa Bay. As far back as 2008, Selig said the Rays could not survive at Tropicana Field. At times, he called the situation “very, very troubling” and said the status quo was not sustainable.
He did not backtrack during an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, but his tone was much softer than previous years when helping to get stadiums built was part of his job description.
“I don’t want to get too much into the middle, but the answer is (a stadium) would be a huge help,” Selig said.
The Rays got a boost in the last homestand with an offer of $5 tickets, but their average attendance of 14,545 is last in the American League and 29th in Major League Baseball. Their average crowd size is about half of the league’s median number, which is pretty typical of their attendance in the past decade.
The numbers are even more glaring considering the Rays have been one of baseball’s best teams on the field since the start of the 2018 season, despite having a miniscule payroll.
“They’re doing remarkably well this year, goodness gracious. Remarkable,” Selig said. “I give Stu (Sternberg) and everybody there credit. It’s an amazing story.”
Selig talked about how difficult it was to allow the Expos to leave Montreal and move to Washington after the 2004 season, and said he probably waited two to three years too long.
He declined to say whether relocation should be a concern in Tampa Bay.
“I’m going to let (commissioner Rob Manfred) and Stu go through that, I’ve been gone now for three or four years,” Selig said. “They’re doing so well on the field and I hope maybe that will translate to something else. Hopefully that problem will get solved.
“It’s one of the things I always felt badly about because I left not having solved that problem.”
Contact John Romano at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.