The Rays have won an average of 92 games over the past four years, and this season, earned an improbable playoff berth, thanks in large part to the team ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. The Rays have young pitching, a handful of exciting players, a likable manager, and smart management. But we're reminded today why we're glad we don't root for them.
This quote is actually a week old, but it's been making the rounds the last couple of days. It's from owner Stuart Sternberg, from a St. Petersburg Times article about how stagnant attendance impacts the team's ability to address its needs. Says Sternberg:
"It won't be my decision, or solely my decision. But eventually, major-league baseball is going to vaporize this team. It could go on nine, 10, 12 more years. But between now and then, it's going to vaporize this team. Maybe a check gets written locally, maybe someone writes me a check (to buy the team). But it's going to get vaporized.
Yankees fans can complain about their hitters not coming through in big playoff spots. Mets fans can be discouraged by the team's ownership, or by the previous management regime. Red Sox fans can be troubled by, well, whatever the hell is happening up in Boston. But at the end of the day, there's a certain comfort in knowing, at the very least, that the team won't simply cease to exist. Players change, coaches and general managers come and go, and even ownership can turn over on occasion. Wrongs can be righted, in time. Dormant fanbases can be awakened.
But to hear an owner talk openly about a such bleak future — particularly when referring to a team that's had its share of successes on the field in recent years — is pretty depressing. And it's hard to blame Sternberg for being frustrated: There's no getting around the attendance figures for the Rays, who ranked 28th in total attendance in 2011. But imagine the diehard Rays fan who's powerless to convince his or her fellow Floridians to support the team — who not only has to worry about how the team will remain competitive in a difficult division, but whether the team will even be around in a decade.
For the reasons Craig Calcaterra spells out over at Hardball Talk today, we don't truly think that the Rays are in danger of being contracted (or literally vaporized, in case that's what Sternberg meant). Still, even the suggestion is something that New York fans — and even fans of most teams that don't have huge payrolls — don't have to worry about. The Rays have done a lot of good things over the past couple of years, but man, reading that kind of thing from your owner can't be easy.