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

In the long saga of Major League Baseballís 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
Has the June 13 power outage at Tropicana Field become a metaphor for the Rays' future in Tampa Bay? MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published June 21

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)]
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.


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