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If this is Tampa Bay Rays’ long goodbye, say hello to newest, biggest joke in sports

In the long saga of Major League Baseball’s viability in the bay area, this team and this place have hit a new low.
Has the June 13 power outage at Tropicana Field become a metaphor for the Rays' future in Tampa Bay? MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Jun. 21
Updated Jun. 22

What’s French for “What’s the matter with Snell?”

The Rays have done it.

On the way out the door, presumably, they have become the biggest joke in sports.

And Tampa Bay has become the laughingstock of American sports cities. No, make that international sports cities.

The team’s proposed can’t-possibly-work Canadian time-share is but the beginning of a true circus that is anyone’s guess when it will end.

2022? 2027?

MORE RAYS: If the Montreal idea is bogus, what are the Rays really thinking?

Just know that when the music stops, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is sure to get his deposit back on the calliope.

Half a season here, half a season up there?

I know the Rays invented openers, but this is ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay fans are gearing up to register their distinct pleasure by not attending Rays games. Do not underestimate them. They have been practicing for two decades.

This international crisis is absolutely nothing against the great metropolis of Montreal, a true sports mecca, so long as you’re wearing ice skates.

South of the border, way south, back here, this is almost too much to handle. Imagine losing your baseball team, even if it’s just for half a season, to a place that already had baseball and lost it despite having the best players going.

It’s enough to make you start wooing an NBA expansion team.

By the way, if Sternberg starts showing up in Montreal as much as he does in Tampa Bay, I might throw up in two languages.

MORE RAYS: What would they be called if they moved half their home games to Montreal

Meanwhile, we’re stuck with a football team that is beyond pathetic and a hockey team that is really good but not really, really good enough to win a championship.

There are two ways to look at this cockamamie two-city deal.

On one hand, maybe the Rays want to be here, truly, and this is merely their final play in brinkmanship, an attempt by Sternberg to stir Tampa Bay civic leaders to build a baseball park.

By the way, Montreal would have to build a ballpark, too. Yeah, this thing has can’t-miss written all over it.

The Rays have one foot in the moving van and one foot in a city council meeting. Who will blink, or pour concrete, first?

Empty seats are a familiar sight at Tropicana Field. The Rays had the worst attendance in Major Leageu Baseball in 2017 with an average crowd of 15,670 per game. This year has been even more barren. Going into Monday night's game, the Rays were averaging 14,618 per game. [Times files (2017)]

On the other hand, maybe the Rays don’t want Tampa Bay to budge. Maybe they just want out. Maybe baseball and its commissioner, Rob Manfred, wants them out of Tampa Bay, too.

That’s what I’m betting.

Can this work? The NBA’s Kings once split time between Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb. They ended up in Sacramento, Calif.

Anything else?

Look, I like Sternberg, really. But he didn’t get a lot of money by not making money. He is a forward-thinker, as is his front office, unlike baseball, which moves at a glacial pace. No, the Rays are innovators. They see what we don’t see.

So, how long has this Montreal thing been talked about? This franchise talked about using a pitching “opener” to start its games for months before it became reality. Think the Montreal thing just came up last week around the coffee maker in the break room?

Maybe, just maybe, the Rays don’t see it happening here, and this implausible, lunatic two-city thing is their way of letting us down gently, dressing up the inevitable, knowing the idea will never work, knowing the whole thing is doomed. And then they leave. Parting line: Hey, we tried.

Do you really think this team, if it splits time with Montreal, is going to say, “We decided we like it here better?” They’re gone, and all of this is just a preamble, one the rest of us could do without.

Just let them leave.

Let’s get on with our lives. After all, Tampa Bay isn’t a network of caves. This was a good place to live before baseball, and it will be a good place to live after baseball. I know I’ll miss it, but a slow, lingering death is no way to go. How many times can you go to the Trop and root for the other team? We might be about to find out.

Maybe this was never meant to be. Maybe the original sin was when Tampa Bay leaders convinced themselves, then Major League Baseball, that this place was some sort of Tigris and Euphrates. Hey, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa are from Tampa. Dwight Gooden and Wade Boggs, too.

But just because Al Lopez was born here, that didn’t mean 25,000 of his descendants were going to descend on Tropicana Field every night.

Even so, local leaders have mucked this up. And it has dawned on me that the Rays, having exercised due diligence (winning teams, $5 ticket nights, everything but paying you $5), are now willing to let it get mucked up for good, all the better to leave town on. I think the Rays might be counting on civic dysfunction at this point.

I never thought Sternberg would move this team since he was too much of a baseball purist. But he is willing to go halfsies with Montreal. He’s clearly willing to let us sit here and wonder who gets the postseason if the Rays ever again make the playoffs, Tampa Bay or Montreal? Or maybe they will accept third-city bids. Charlotte, N.C., and Las Vegas would be among the favorites.

If that sounds crazy, what else is new? The Rays are full of ideas. So is baseball. Ideas and bubble wrap packing tape.

Here’s to the newest, biggest joke in professional sports, and the laughing­stock city being played in this scam.

Will we ever learn?

Au revoir.


  1. The Rays' Travis d'Arnaud drives in three runs with a bases-loaded double during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels. MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    Since the May trade for $100,000, d’Arnaud has been a key contributor to the Rays’ success on and off the field.
  2. Brendan McKay, shown here in July at the Trop as the Rays' DH against the Orioles, comes through with his first major-league hit on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, against the Angels. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After winning his June debut on the mound, the rookie gets his first hit Sunday. Also, Pagan as the savior, Meadows keeps streaking.
  3. The Angels' Andrelton Simmons beats the throw to Rays catcher Mike Zunino to score on a double by Albert Pujols during the first inning on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. ALEX GALLARDO  |  AP
    On the merits of resiliency, Yarbrough’s career-high workload, Pham’s adventurous albeit not costly trip around the bases.
  4. Rays shortstop Willy Adames battles a ground ball up the middle but can't come up with the single hit by the Angels' Kevan Smith during the third inning on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. ALEX GALLARDO  |  AP
    Angels 6, Rays 4: A rough outing by Ryan Yarbrough puts Tampa Bay down early, and a late rally wasn’t enough.
  5. The Rays wrap up their series with the Angels today at picturesque Angel Stadium in Anaheim. MARC TOPKIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tommy Pham is hitting leadoff as the Rays go with six righty hitters vs. Angels lefty Sandoval.
  6. From left, Tampa Bay Rays' Joey Wendle, Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi meet at home plate after all three were driven in by a bases-loaded double from Travis d'Arnaud during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ  |  AP
    Rays 3, Angels 1: Glasnow’s solid start, and six strong innings from the bullpen are enough as Rays open lead over Indians.
  7. Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Jalen Beeks, left, and Johnny Davis congratulate each other after the Rays defeated the Los Angeles Angels 11-4 in a baseball game Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) MARK J. TERRILL  |  AP
    He shows off that elite speed Friday with a triple for his first hit, then some pent-up emotion afterward.
  8. Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) celebrates in the dugout after scoring on a single from Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Daniel Robertson (28) at the bottom of the eighth inning against Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday, Sept. 07, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.   ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times
    Tyler Glasnow will be on the mound for his second outing since an extended injured list stint.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays' Austin Meadows, right, is greeted in the dugout after a two-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. RICHARD W. RODRIGUEZ  |  AP
    Fred McGriff should be at the top, but there is an interesting list that Austin Meadows is already making a case to join.
  10. For several weeks, Rays manager Kevin Cash has had to look over his shoulder to see whether the Indians or Athletics have been gaining in the American League wild card race. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Rays, Indians and A’s are all projected to win 94 or more games. In the past quarter-century, only one team has won that much and failed to make the playoffs.