The demonstrably unsalvageable Tampa Bay Rays' efforts to secure their own future reached a new level of desperation Thursday, with the club reportedly receiving permission from commissioner Rob Manfred to explore the possibility of splitting games with Montreal.
In this cockamamie scenario, the Rays would play their early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area, then finish out the year in Montreal, ESPN's Jeff Passan writes:
While the plan is in its nascent stages, the Rays have embraced the two-city solution as the most feasible to saving baseball in the Tampa Bay area after years of failed attempts to build a new stadium in the region, sources said ...
Under the plan, the Rays would play in new stadiums in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, sources said. The number of home games each city would receive has not been determined, sources said.
Nothing could stoke the passion, after all, of a perennially disinterested - and, frankly, barely existent fan base - quite like, uh ... playing the stretch run in an entirely different city. And with a different nickname, maybe. And potentially the postseason games, too? Yes, generations from now, graying Tampa natives will no doubt regale their grandchildren with tales of the Tampontreal Abominations' triumphs.
And as ludicrous as the central premise is - that playing half your games in a different country will help save baseball in the region - what's even more preposterous is the idea that two cities can either A) dupe their taxpayers or B) entice an eccentric gazillionaire into financing a brand new stadium for a half-portion of the games and revenues of those antiquated one-city teams.
Ultimately, this proposal invites a litany of questions that can't be immediately answered (and likely won't ever be) and feels, more than anything, like an attempt by the club to coerce the Tampa government into providing a new, taxpayer-funded stadium. Stuart Sternberg, the club's principal owner, insists otherwise.
"My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come," Sternberg said via statement. "I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration."
A concept more deserving of serious exploration, though, is just giving up on the Tampa Bay Rays altogether.
Since their inception, the Rays' lack of fan support has bordered on comical. Only once in their 22-year existence have they finished higher than ninth in the American League in attendance, and that was in their inaugural season. When they won the AL pennant in 2008 on the backs of homegrown stars like Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and James Shields, the Rays drew fewer fans per home game than every AL club except the mediocre Oakland Athletics (another team long beset by stadium problems) and the abysmal Kansas City Royals. They've been the worst-drawing team in the league for the last half-decade. Right now, even as they contend in earnest for a division title, sitting just 3 1/2 games back of the first-place New York Yankees, they're averaging a mere 14,546 fans each night, the worst mark in the league. This year, in fact, they stopped selling seats in the upper bowl.
And, look, maybe a new stadium - one of the stipulations of the new proposal - would help change that. Tropicana Field is an utter abomination, after all, a blight to both players and fans that's as inaccessible as it is unsightly and ill-conceived. It's hard to support a franchise that plays in a dump.
Maybe, however, the pervasive lack of interest has more to do with the fact that the Rays have always operated like an arbitrage outfit, more focused on maximizing surplus value and reducing costs than, you know, winning baseball games. This past offseason perfectly encapsulates the cynicism that colors the Rays' baseball operations: coming off a 90-win season, the Rays cut their year-over-year outlay by roughly $16 million, and their resultant $60 million Opening Day payroll was the lowest in the majors by more than $10 million, according to Spotrac. That, more than anything, is the problem, and turning the Rays into in a binational franchise isn't the solution to contemptuous management.
But it was never intended to be the solution. Again, this proposal is little more than a political and economic gambit by the Rays, who might actually believe that a new stadium is the answer to their economic woes, not to mention a tease for famished fans of Montreal, where the appetite for baseball hasn't waned in the decade-and-a-half since the Expos moved to Washington.
And it won't work. Because the Rays have ensured, through their way of doing business, that baseball won't work in Tampa Bay.
It's time for Major League Baseball to realize that.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.