A few weeks ago I wrote about geographic realignment in baseball and said it wouldn’t be the craziest thing to happen to Major League Baseball in the next decade.
That would be contraction, and it could be coming to a league champion near you.
The Tampa Bay Rays won the American League in 2008 and captured the American League East last season, yet draw as many fans as MLS teams, on good nights.
They play in a stadium that makes those old cookie cutter, multipurpose astroturf buildings created in the late 60’s and early 70’s look like cathedrals and the state they call home has more New York transplants and retirees than baseball fans.
Is it a coincidence that the Rays and Marlins draw less than anyone else in Major League Baseball? Of course not. Florida isn’t a baseball state. Florida isn’t a great sports state to begin with, but that’s a different column for a different day. What separates the Marlins from the Rays, however, is that that neon glow stick of a park they just opened, keeping them firmly in place for the foreseeable future.
The Rays play here:
Rays owner Stewart Sternberg tried landing a new ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg recently but was swiftly denied. He also told the Tampa Bay Times last year that his team wouldn’t be playing in Tropicana Field when the lease was up in 2027 (or 2017, when the Rays could potentially opt out.)
With fans that don’t care enough to see winning baseball every night (The Rays are currently 36-28) and a city that won’t support a new stadium, it suddenly doesn’t seem crazy that Rays ownership would accept a hefty check from 28 other owners (contraction would suffocate another franchise as well to stay with an even number of teams) and shut off the lights to that dump you see above.