Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is sad

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NASHVILLE — Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg spoke with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times here at the Winter Meetings. And he was waxing pessimistic. Pessimistic at the fact that the Rays don’t make a lot of money or draw a lot of fans and that the cost of players keeps going up and up and it makes it hard for his baseball operations folks to make the team better.

We’ve heard this from Sternberg in the past. Many times, in fact. This time, however, he has a lot of vivid metaphors for the Rays’ plight which makes it a more entertaining read than usual. He’s not just not on a level playing field or on the same field as everyone else, he’s out in the parking lot, looking in at the field. The other teams have tanks, he has a three-speed bicycle. He’s fighting with one hand tied behind his back. And so on.

He’s certainly not wrong about the relative financial disadvantage at which the Rays find themselves. They don’t draw at all, even with several good on-the-field years in their recent history. And even if they did, their ballpark is not a cash register like most other teams’ ballparks are. He can’t get a new one built or get out of his current lease. The Rays do well on television but are still a year or two away from cashing in on good ratings. They get revenue sharing money, but the checks which are cut to the Rays are now far closer to Ben Zobrist money than they are to top-flight starting pitcher money.

But despite all of those challenges, my sympathy for Sternberg only goes so far. Because while he’s right that no other baseball owner would want to trade places with him, that’s a pretty damn privileged group of men to which he’s referring. Men who have, thanks to monopoly protection, taxpayer subsidies and the public’s acceptance of their maintaining opaque financials, defined what it means to be successful so comically upward that even the worst in their club is doing fantastically well.

Take the Rays, for instance. Granting — with a respectful nod to Oakland — that they’re in the worst shape of any team in baseball, they’re still profitable. Granting that the money isn’t liquid, Sternberg’s investment in the Rays back in 2004 has grown dramatically. Forbes financial numbers for baseball teams are sketchy at best, but the Rays are generally thought to clear around $8 million a year and have gone from being worth $152 million to $625 million in the decade and change Sternberg has owned them. That pales compared to what the other teams are doing, but find me an example of a bottom-performer in any other business which is still making money and seeing such dramatic appreciation in value. Baseball is a pretty sweet business to be in.

I do get that this all stinks for Rays fans. The fact that Sternberg is still making money doesn’t make it any easier for a fan to get excited come hot stove time and the Rays can’t sign any big names or extend most of their players to long term deals. It’s pretty depressing, actually. But the linked article — as so many local media profiles of the Rays plight are — is couched in terms of Sternberg’s unhappiness, not that of Rays fans. And it’s really hard to gin up sympathy for a sophisticated financial mind who knew well the challenges of buying a small market team with a bad stadium situation before he did so.

Maybe he hoped that, like a lot of other cities, the local politicians would print some money for him with a taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal. Maybe he expected that the 150-year history of professional baseball which, in large part, has been defined by vast financial inequality among clubs, would suddenly reverse itself and equitable distribution of baseball revenues would commence.

If he did hope that I guess I can see why he’d picture himself sitting on a three-speed bicycle, about to be run over by a bunch of tanks right now. But if so it sure was dumb of him to ride his bike out onto this very well-established battlefield like that.

Will fans be allowed to attend MLB playoff games?

The MLB Playoffs are underway!
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After a condensed 60-game regular season, the MLB playoffs kicked off this week with an usual 16-team format that you can read more about below, but one of the many questions on everyone’s mind is whether or not fans will be allowed to attend MLB playoff games.

Will fans be allowed to go to MLB playoff games?

There have been no spectators at any games this season but MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is hopeful that fans will be able to attend the National League Championship Series and World Series Games. Both will take place in Texas which has been one of the few states allowing spectators to attend events this year.

“We are pressing ahead to have fans in Texas with a ticket sales announcement expected soon,” said Manfred to reporters at USA Today Sports. “One of the most important things to our game is the presence of fans. Starting down the path of having fans in stadiums, and in a safe and risk-free environment, is very, very important to our game.’’

Earlier this month, the Dallas Cowboys allowed over 21,000 fans into AT&T Stadium for the home opener. However, the MLB is still waiting for approval from Texas government officials. ALCS and NLCS games are expected to begin on October 11 and 12, respectively.

Below is the format and locations for each round. Unlike the regular season, there will be a bubble setup for each series in the postseason with the exception of the Wild Card round. Click here for the MLB schedule and scoreboard.

MLB Playoffs Format

Wild Card Series (Best-of-three): September 29 – October 2

All games will be held at the higher seed’s ball park.

American League

No. 1 Rays vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 Athletics vs. No. 7 White Sox
No. 3 Twins vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Cleveland vs. No. 5 Yankees

National League

No. 1 Dodgers vs. No. 8 Brewers
No. 2 Braves vs. No. 7 Reds
No. 3 Cubs vs. No. 6 Marlins
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Cardinals

Division Series (Best-of-five): October 5 -10

The American League Division Series will be contested at Petco Park in San Diego and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The National League Division Series will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and Minute Maid Park in Houston.

League Championship Series (Best-of-seven): October 11-18

The American League Championship Series will be held at Petco Park in San Diego while the National League Championship Series will take place at Globe Life Field in Arlington.

World Series (Best-of-seven): October 20-28

The World Series will be held at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Home field advantage will go to the team with the best regular-season record.

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