The MLB playoffs are underway. The two American League Division Series stand at 2-1; both National League Division Series are tied at one game apiece. I am sure that baseball fans already know about the games and do not need me to try to do any “gamers” here. But there are two “baseball issues” that are worthy of consideration today. The first is contained in an observation by Bob Molinaro in his column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“On the clock: Despite efforts to speed up things, MLB games this season averaged three hours and 10 minutes, the longest ever. Considering how many catnaps I’ve been known to fit into a game, I would have thought they were even longer. The added time is attributed to teams using a record average of 3.4 relievers per game. In the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Cardinals Wednesday, the teams combined to use nine relievers over the four hours and 15 minutes it took to play nine innings.”
This is a fundamental baseball problem. Look, there are days where both teams are hot at the plate and the final score is something like 15-11. Those games might take 4 hours and 15 minutes to play simply because just about everyone and his Aunt Matilda is on base for most of the game. But a game that ends up 3-1 should not take 4 hours and 15 minutes; it might actually only need 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach its conclusion.
Yes, much of the problem is the time between innings when the networks insert a profusion of advertisements. Having acknowledged that, let us come to the realization that it is those ads that drive major numbers of dollars into the league coffers and thereby to the owners. Those ads are not going away. So, the only meaningful way for MLB to address this is to stop all the time-wasting activities on the field. We know what they are; they have been chronicled in hundreds of places; the fact that there have not been changes to address them in any meaningful way can only mean that MLB does not see this as a problem worthy of resolving.
So, while I am in total harmony with Bob Molinaro on this issue, I have abandoned any idea that the execs in MLB and/or the MLBPA care at all about this issue. This is the vector heading for MLB now and into the foreseeable future. Only when ratings drop enough for the TV networks to refuse to pay more for television rights will there be any real action to effect change.
There is another baseball issue worth contemplating today. The Tampa Bay Rays won 100 games this year; they were the only AL team to do that; as of this morning, they trail the Red Sox two games to one in their best-of-five American League Division Series matchup. The Rays led the AL in wins, and one might think that success on the field translated into a strong showing at the stadium turnstiles. WRONG! The Rays had the third-best record on the field in MLB in 2021 and the Rays also had the third-worst average home attendance in all of MLB in 2021. The average attendance for a Rays’ home game was 9,396. Even the hapless Baltimore Orioles – a team that lost 110 games and finished 48 games behind the Rays in the standings drew more fans than the Rays did.
Last week, the Rays’ team president, Brian Auld, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that playing full seasons in the Rays home stadium in St. Petersburg, FL is not a viable option. Here is the precise quote from the Journal:
“We’ve concluded that it’s next to impossible that full-season baseball can succeed in Tampa Bay today.”
We have been here before. The Rays are poorly supported in the Tampa/St. Pete area and have been for just about all their existence there. Let me go through some of the standard arguments here:
- The Rays play in an “outdated stadium” that was not specifically designed for baseball. [I have never been inside Tropicana Field so I cannot confirm or deny that assertion.]
- Tropicana Field is not conveniently located. [I have driven by the stadium and can agree it is not near anything resembling a population center or a commercial center. It is well served by highways, but it is not in an area where there might be a “walk-up crowd”.]
- The Rays do not pay their players so fans do not get attached to players because the team will trade them away rather than pay them. [Clearly this is true; but when there is a season in which the Rays are dominating the division and heading for the playoffs, you might think they could get 10,000 folks per game in the stands, no?]
The owner of the Rays “studied” and tried to promote the idea of building a downtown stadium in Tampa. That went through all the ritualistic stages of a “new stadium proposal” and died on the vine, The last pronouncement I recall from one of the folks in charge in Tampa was that this idea was tabled permanently. Then, the Rays’ owner, Stuart Sternberg, proposed the idea of a split-season; the idea is that the Rays would play half of their home games in Tampa and the other half in Montreal. That is the idea behind team-president Auld’s statement that “full-season baseball” is not going to work in Tampa Bay anymore.
The Rays’ circumstance regarding home attendance is parallel to that of the Oakland A’s except that the A’s have received the blessing of the Commish to chat up other cities that might want to have the A’s as their home team. Both franchises have suffered at the gate for more than a couple of years; both franchises have suffered at the gate despite being successful on the field; yet, the A’s have the support of MLB to move if they can find a better deal, but the Rays do not.
I do not pretend to know the answer for the Rays – – but it is clear to me that there is not a significant fanbase in that area for that team playing in that stadium; the status quo is a mess. The problem I have with the idea of splitting time between Tampa and Montreal is that Montreal gave up on the Expos to the point where MLB had to take over the team and run it before selling it to the owners of the Washington franchise that rebranded the team as the Nats. If I were the Rays’ team president and were trying to attract support for the idea, I think I would look for a shared venue where there was “pent up demand for MLB games” rather than a shared venue where both cities have a history of shunning MLB teams.
Let me throw out an idea here for which I have no solution:
- MLB has two teams that play regular season games in Florida. Both teams – the Rays and the Miami Marlins – have trouble at the gate. The Rays stand 28th in average attendance for 2021; the Marlins are dead last in average attendance per game drawing almost 1500 fewer fans than do the Rays.
- Maybe – just maybe – Florida is a great place for Spring Training and there is interest there to support those activities, but Florida is not so great a place for MLB to offer up 162-game seasons of baseball?
Finally, having mentioned the idea of the Rays moving half of their games to Montreal in Canada, let me close with this observation about Canada by Voltaire:
“A few acres of snow.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………