As the leaves turn, the “let’s contract the Rays” talk begins anew

34 Comments

I feel like I spent half of last offseason debunking the notion of Major League Baseball contracting a team, be it the A’s or the Rays or whoever. It’s an easy notion to debunk when you actually think about what contraction of a franchise would entail.

Just off the top of my head it would require the other 29 MLB owners to fork over close to a billion dollars to pull it off, what with paying off the current owners for the franchise, the banks and creditors who are owed money, the governments who are owed money on ballpark leases, the business partners and other stakeholders who would sue, the army of lawyers it would cost to negotiate all of this and then to throw concessions to the union for the loss of 25 major league jobs, 15 more guys on 40-man rosters and all of that kind of thing. Hell, it may be more than a billion dollars. And for what? To keep an owner from losing ten or twenty million here or there? Please.

But the talk starts up again.  This time, however, we don’t have columnists with overactive imaginations to blame for the talk. We can thank Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg, who unleashed this comment yesterday, and which was picked up by Bill Madden of the Daily News and Rick Freeman of the Times of Trenton:

“It won’t be my decision, or solely my decision, but eventually Major League Baseball is going to vaporize this team,” Sternberg said. “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). If I had $80 million to put out there, we’d be moving along in life. We just don’t have $12 million to put into a hitter.”

I like “vaporize” better than “contract.” I hope that catches on.

Anyway, yes, the Rays’ situation is bad. They are just scraping by and there’s no immediate or obvious way out of the financial trouble they’re in.  But let’s also have some perspective here: the two players Madden and Freeman note the Rays can’t afford to re-sign are Kyle Farnsworth and Casey Kotchman. I get the idea that not being able to sign that big hitter is depressing, but if letting Farnsworth and Kotchman walk is the bellwether, we’re going to have to contract, like, 15 teams.

Sternberg is venting. He’s been doing it for a week now.  He’s entitled. But at some point we need to put his venting in perspective and realize that the Rays present a business challenge for baseball. They do not represent an existential crisis requiring vaporization — or whatever else you want to call it — of a franchise.

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

mlb
Logan Riely/Getty Images
1 Comment

PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.