Interesting thing I did not know until now: St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster lost his reelection bid on Tuesday. This could be significant inasmuch as Foster was the primary force behind St. Pete’s unwavering insistence that the Rays stick to their Tropicana Field lease and not pursue other stadium options elsewhere. Maybe his successor and the city council don’t change the stance — money is money and leases are leases after all — but it could signal change.
Against that backdrop, Tampa’s Mayor talked big about a Rays stadium in downtown Tampa yesterday:
Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday told a gathering of hospitality officials that a downtown ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays is within reach, despite challenges that persist. “It’s either going to be Tampa or someplace else, not St. Petersburg,” Buckhorn told 100 members attending the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association’s annual luncheon.
His statements imply that Tampa would be willing to help finance a parch as well. He mentioned a couple of sites and said that a financing plan that did not include a “taxpayer giveaway” would need to be put in place. That’s a clever bit of nuance there. If it were to be all private he’d say a plan that did not include “taxpayer funds.” He seems to be OK with public money being used as long as someone — someone pro-ballpark — can characterize it as smart or responsible as opposed to a “giveaway.” And there is always someone who is willing to do that even if it’s disingenuous in the extreme to do so.
But that’s Tampa’s problem. With Foster leaving office and Tampa’s mayor talking like this, one suspects that we’re in for a new act in the Rays ballpark drama.
Rays pitcher Chris Archer doesn’t see himself joining Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest any time soon, Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports reports. Archer said, “From the feedback that I’ve gotten from my teammates, I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me, at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality.”
Archer continued, “I don’t want to offend anybody. No matter how you explain it or justify it, some people just can’t get past the military element of it and it’s not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates’ feathers on my personal views that have nothing to do with baseball.”
Archer did express admiration for the way Maxwell handled his situation. The right-hander said, “The way he went about it was totally, I think, as respectful as possible, just letting everybody know that this doesn’t have anything to do with the military, first and foremost, noting that he has family members that are in the military. It’s a little bit tougher for baseball players to make that leap, but I think he was the right person to do it.”
Maxwell recently became the first baseball player to kneel as the national anthem was sung, a method of protest popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As Craig explained yesterday, baseball’s hierarchical culture has proven to be a strong deterrent for players to express their unpopular opinions. We can certainly see that in Archer’s justification. Archer was one of 62 African Americans on the Opening Day roster across 30 major league clubs (750 total players, 8.3%).
Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.
The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.
To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.
Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.