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MLB will protect Athletics, not the Rays

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Without saying it directly, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred sent a message to the Tampa Bay Rays and as well as local and state politicians on Tuesday. That message is “get moving on your stadium or prepare to lose your team.”

During Manfred’s press availability prior to Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, he was asked about possible future expansion in Major League Baseball. The Commissioner stated that adding new teams was not on the horizon.

He explained expansion will not be discussed until the stadium issues involving the Rays and the Oakland Athletics are resolved. Of course that means that if no new stadium is coming, both of those franchises will be going to other cities looking for one.

“Both of those clubs need new major league quality facilities,” Manfred said. “Until that’s resolved, I think expansion’s got to be on the back burner for us.”

That is a sound approach, but his answer to another question should be taken in our part of the world as a clarion call. Baseball seems committed to keeping at least one of the teams in its current venue.

“I am committed to Oakland as a major league site,” he said. “I think that if we were to leave Oakland, I think 10 years from now we would be more likely than not looking backwards saying we made a mistake.”

Tampa Bay received no such love. To be fair, Manfred was likely responding to a specific question about Oakland. It would have been just as easy to make the commitment to Oakland as well as Tampa Bay.

Major League Baseball Players Association President Tony Clark was more inclusive.

“Whether it’s Oakland or any other team, we have had a dialogue about their particular situation,” Clark said after Manfred had finished.

Manfred was more geographically limited, leaving us to interpret his unspoken message. There can only be one logical translation.

Major League Baseball will not wait nearly as long for a 21st century facility in the Tampa Bay area as they will for the other team in the San Francisco Bay market. The hierarchy of MLB has proven that in the past.

Many of us remember 1992 when local interests had a contract to bring the San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay. Bill White, President of the National League at the time, stepped in to scuttle the deal.

Despite four failed stadium referendums, Baseball wanted to give San Francisco another chance. The fifth time was the charm.

White held the belief that baseball in St. Petersburg would face “a problem with attendance.” Fair or not, 25 years later MLB would likely be skeptical of any stadium site in Pinellas County.

The clock appears to be ticking on baseball in Tampa Bay. People of good will from both sides of the bay are interested in keeping the team in our area.

We do not have an advocate like the Giants had in Bill White. Neither did the Montreal Expos, much to the delight of Washington Nationals’ fans. It is up to Tampa Bay and Florida.

Whatever we do, the Commissioner’s words, or lack thereof, should jump start the effort.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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