Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB
Mark Didtler, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, January 20, 2022 2:21PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 20, 2022 5:48PM EST
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Rays' proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.
“Today's news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.
The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.
“Things had progressed nicely and things had been working nicely, and then recently it just sort of took a turn to the south and we don't precisely know why,” Sternberg said. “I have no doubt that what we tried to accomplish with our sister-city plan will become accepted in all of professional sports. Major League Baseball simply isn't prepared to cross that threshold right now.”
When asked if he felt somewhat betrayed by his fellow owners, Sternberg replied “that's a word.”
“The game is peculiar in a lot of senses and things happen for a lot of reasons,” Sternberg said. “Sometimes for the good, but always with good intentions for the game itself. We quite often have differing opinions on what that might mean.”
“Sometimes people don't like to be first,” Sternberg added. “There was a fellow on this call when we went cashless a few years ago said to me, 'I get it, I understand, but why do you have to be first.' It's just people have different approaches to things. We don't mind being first on things.”
Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.
“They were as, if not more, devastated than I was at the news,” Sternberg said.
Montreal businessman Stephen Bronfman, who led that city's group, told reporters Thursday the split-season plan is “the way of the future.”
“It's very forward-thinking and it will happen,” he said. “But often times it takes a first group, a first league, a first person to jump in and take that leap of faith.
“We would have proved them all right. They would have done the right thing by supporting us. It's very unfortunate they didn't end up making that call.”
Bronfman said there is currently no “Plan B” to bring baseball back to Montreal.
“I've grown up with the game, I love Montreal, I believe in what we were working on,” he said. “I think we're all a little burnt today ... but anything can happen. We put a ton of work into this marketplace and I think there is a lot of data out there, there is so much positive news about what Montreal means to baseball, what it can bring.”
The Rays' lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.
Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field, but not at the box office.
Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 fans for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.
St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch said he thought a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.
“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”
The city of Tampa is also in the mix.
“All along our goal has been to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay,” Tampa mayor Jane Castor said in a statement. “We had been working on both sister-city and full-season proposals, and now we can focus all of our energy on a full season. I am optimistic the Rays will call Tampa Bay home for many years to come.”
Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area. He has no plans to sell the team or request permission to explore relocation from MLB.
“We'll see how the stands look this year and the support we get, and that's going to help inform us as well going forward on our plans,” Sternberg said.
-- With files from The Canadian Press