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MLB attendance down another 1.4 percent

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NEW YORK (AP) The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins drew 12,653 Wednesday night – combined.

Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Tampa Bay set stadium lows this year. Kansas City had its smallest home crowd since 2011, and Toronto and San Francisco since 2010. The Marlins’ average attendance is less than Triple-A Las Vegas.

Major League Baseball’s overall average of 26,854 through Wednesday is 1.4% below the 27,242 through the similar point last season, which wound up below 30,000 for the first time since 2003.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred attributes this year’s drop to fewer season tickets but emphasizes day-of-game sales are up 6%.

“Given the explosion of entertainment alternatives and the growth of the secondary market, it is not surprising that season ticket sales can be challenging,” he said. “The clubs are responding to this challenge with creative and effective approaches. For example, sales of subscription tickets are double what they were a year ago. And the Twins recently had a $5 flash sale that produced crowds of over 30,000 in three of four games, and the largest single-game attendance since 2016.”

Nineteen of the 30 teams have seen their average fall from a similar point last year, with the largest drops in Toronto (6,963), San Francisco (6,463), Baltimore (3,839) and Detroit (3,686).

Large rises have taken place for Philadelphia (10,383), Oakland (4,027), San Diego (3,465) and the Chicago White Sox (2,311). The Phillies signed Bryce Harper and the Padres added Manny Machado.

“A lot of it comes down to competition. Fans want to know their teams are doing everything they can to compete for a championship every year,” union head Tony Clark said. “I see every empty seat as a missed opportunity. Experiencing a game and seeing players perform in person creates a bond with baseball; our industry needs to find ways to convert those empty seats into lifelong fans.”

MLB’s average peaked at 32,785 in 2007 – the last year before the Great Recession and the next-to-last season before the New York Yankees and Mets moved to smaller stadiums. The average was at 30,517 in 2015 before sliding for three straight years, and last season’s final figure of 28,830 marked a 4% drop, the overall number hurt by unusually cold and wet weather early in the season.

Manfred points to other metrics that please MLB: Games top prime-time cable ratings in 24 of 25 markets and MLB.tv streaming is up 8.5%. He views increases for the Phillies, Padres, Athletics and White Sox tied to team performance.

Florida remains a problem on both coasts.

Despite a sparkling, eight-season-old ballpark with a retractable roof, Miami is averaging 9,554 in Derek Jeter’s second season as chief executive – below the 9,582 average for Triple-A Las Vegas in its first season at a new 10,000-capacity stadium.

Tampa Bay plays in one of the most outmoded facilities in the major leagues and drew 5,786 against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, the smallest home crowd for the Rays, who started play at Tropicana Field in 1998.

“The more people there are, the more energy there’s going to be,” Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “No matter what crowd you’re playing in front of, you have to get motivated.”

A quartet of last-place teams have seen swaths of empty seats.

Miami is on track to have the lowest home attendance in the National League for the seventh straight season. Tampa Bay is at the bottom of the AL for the fifth consecutive year.

“Any time you’re seeing less people show up to the ballpark, I think you’re wondering why and you’re wondering how you can change that,” said Miami first baseman Neil Walker, accustomed to big crowds from his time in New York. “You’ve got to assume that it has a little bit to do with it being expensive to come to the ballpark.”

Having traded many veterans, the Orioles are 28th in the majors at 16,263. Baltimore topped 2 million in 21 of its first 25 seasons at Camden Yards, exceeding 3 million nine times. But the Orioles drew 6,585 against Oakland on April 8, the lowest in the ballpark’s 28-season history except for a 2015 game closed to the public at a time when the city was plagued by rioting.

“I wish fans were here. When we played in Wrigley, the energy level was off the charts,” first-year Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I’m hoping that someday soon that will be the case here.”

Cincinnati’s crowd of 7,799 against Milwaukee on April 1 was the lowest for a Reds home game since 1984 at Riverfront Stadium. That same day, Toronto drew 10,460 against the Orioles, the smallest attendance at the Rogers Centre since 2010.

San Francisco drew 28,030 vs. Pittsburgh on April 10, the Giants’ lowest home crowd since 2010.

Kansas City’s crowd of 10,024 against the Twins on April 2 was the lowest at Kauffman Stadium since 2011. Minnesota drew 11,465 against Toronto on April 17, the lowest figure in Target Field’s 10-season history.

“As a kid, I loved more than anything to go to the ballpark and I loved nothing more than playing baseball,” Walker said. “But I think a lot of people are just – they want action now. They don’t want to be totally consumed with a game maybe that’s just not timed.”

This Day in Transaction History: Padres pawn off James Shields

James Shields
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For a few years, starter James Shields was quite dominant. From 2011-14 with the Rays and Royals, the right-hander made a minimum of 33 starts each season with a 3.17 ERA. He peaked in ’11, finishing with a 2.82 ERA and finishing third in American League Cy Young balloting.

Shields leveraged that 2011-14 run into a four-year, $75 million contract with the Padres, inked in February 2015. It wasn’t an outright disaster of a contract for the Padres, but Shields did not live up to expectations. In his first year with the Padres, he posted a 3.91 ERA. Through the first two months of the 2016 season, Shields allowed 32 earned runs over 67 1/3 innings. The Padres, however, scored only 22 runs in his 11 games, so he was 2-7 after 11 starts. Shields also gave up one of the more memorable home runs in recent history on May 7, 2016:

On June 4, the Padres moved Shields and $27 million of the $58 million remaining on his contract to the White Sox. The White Sox gave up pitcher Erik Johnson and an infield prospect named Fernando Tatís Jr.

If the White Sox had a do-over button, they would have pressed it. Shields, 34 at the time of the trade, had a disastrous rest of the 2016 season, posting a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts for the White Sox. He finished out the remainder of his contract in Chicago, registering a 5.23 ERA in 2017 and a 4.53 ERA in ’18. Shields went into free agency but went unsigned and hasn’t pitched since.

Johnson flamed out after the 2016 season, yielding 20 runs in 19 2/3 innings in four starts for the Padres. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and spent the ’18 campaign between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A El Paso.

Tatís, as we know now, was the jewel of the trade. The White Sox signed Tatís as a 16-year-old as a free agent. A year later, before he ever appeared in a professional game in the White Sox organization, he was moved in a big trade. While it took him a couple of years to appear on top-100 prospect lists, his talent was readily apparent. In 2017, Tatís spent most of his season with Single-A Fort Wayne. He accrued 26 doubles, 21 homers, 29 stolen bases, 69 RBI, and 78 runs scored in 518 trips to the plate. Going into the 2018 season, Baseball America, MLB.com, and Baseball Prospectus each ranked him among the top-10 prospects in the game.

Tatís was off to another great start in 2018. Through 88 games, he had a .286/.355/.507 line with 22 doubles, 16 homers, 16 stolen bases, 43 RBI, and 77 runs scored spanning 394 plate appearances. Sadly, in mid-July, Tatís broke his left thumb and suffered ligament damage while making a head-first slide. He recovered from the injury, playing in the Dominican Winter League and having another strong performance over 23 games. Tatís followed that up with a productive spring training, giving the Padres only one choice. He began the season on the Opening Day roster and jumped out to become one of baseball’s best players.

Over his first 84 games as a major leaguer, Tatís batted .317/.379/.590 with 13 doubles, six triples, 22 home runs, 16 steals, 53 RBI, and 61 runs scored over 372 plate appearances. Baseball Reference put him at 4.1 Wins Above Replacement. Sadly, similar to 2018, Tatís suffered a season-ending injury, a stress reaction in his lower back. At the time, he was neck-and-neck with Pete Alonso and Mike Soroka in the NL Rookie of the Year race. The injury allowed Alonso to win the award in a landslide while Tatís finished third.

While the White Sox would have loved to have Tatís at third base, they did end up finding some quality players in Yoán Moncada at the hot corner and Tim Anderson at shortstop. The White Sox and their young corps are close to being competitive again, but having Tatís in tow certainly would have sped up the process. And the Padres likely never would have gotten Tatís if they hadn’t inked Shields first.