12:42 PM: Though he made no express commitments, Sternberg made his disappointment with the Executive Council’s decision clear. When asked explicitly if he’d explore moving the franchise out of the Tampa Bay region, Sternberg neither confirmed nor denied that such an idea had entered into his plans, stating that club brass “will see how the stands look this year…to help inform us as we move forward” but that they had been “all-in on this plan” and had “completely pushed our chips in.”
The owner also made a bit of news in disclosing that he’s privy to full-season proposals currently being put together by both the city of Tampa and Pinellas County (home to St. Petersburg) but expressed doubts about the long-term viability of either (it isn’t clear if Tampa’s full-season proposal involves the same Ybor City site that the split-season proposal did). Though he stated that “the region is willing to and able to and looking forward to supporting us in every way it can” and that he was “certainly going to be exploring things in the Tampa Bay region,” he also expressed doubts that the region could “handle 81 games of baseball…that just hasn’t happened to this point.” Asked directly if Tampa deserves a full-season baseball team, Sternberg responded simply that it “deserves to have baseball.”
Most striking, perhaps, were Sternberg’s comments on the long-term viability of single-city teams, even as he stands alone among owners in major sports in proposing a split-city arrangement. “Partial seasons are going to be the wave of the future in professional sports,” he stated, adding that Montreal has “earned the right to have baseball back.”
11:58 AM: In a blow to principal owner Stuart Sternberg’s attempts to secure a new ballpark in or around the city of Tampa, the Major League Baseball Executive Council officially quashed the Rays’ plans to split time between Tampa and Montreal, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. MLB had given the Rays permission to explore the ’sister city’ concept in 2019.
The decision puts the Rays future in the Tampa Bay region very much in doubt. As MLBTR explored last week, Tampa mayor Jane Castor expressed her commitment to keeping the Rays in the area but offered only qualified support for a proposed $700MM open-air ballpark in the northeast Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City, stating that the community would be best served by keeping the team in Tampa while all but ruling out the possibility of a significant investment of public funds into the project. The Rays had committed $350MM to the project.
It’s presently unclear whether the Ybor City plan, which called for the construction of a similar park in Montreal to host half the team’s games, is now effectively dead as well. Though unusual, the plan was not unprecedented. In both 2003 and 2004, their final two seasons before relocating to Washington, D.C., the Expos played 22 of their 81 home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico while under the stewardship of Major League Baseball; the league bought the team from Jeffrey Loria (who subsequently purchased the Marlins) ahead of the 2003 season.
The Rays’ lease on Tropicana Field — an object of near-universal derision around the game — runs through 2027. It obviously isn’t yet clear what would happen thereafter should the Rays fail to secure a new stadium, but a move to Nashville — where a group calling itself Music City Baseball has attempted to organize both an ownership group and community support for a potential big-league team in the city — could be an entirely live possibility. High-profile individuals associated with the project include former United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Titans running back Eddie George, and current White Sox manager Tony La Russa.