Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s ominous threat that he is ready to “intervene” in the Tampa Bay Rays’ quest for a new stadium should add energy to the effort to find the Rays another home in the area.
Selig, according to MLB.com, said, “They [the Rays] have a very, very, very competitive club. Years have ticked by with no progress to resolve the situation. And frankly — and this is coming directly from me — baseball needs a resolution to this problem.”
He refused to say whether the relocation of the Rays to another market would be considered.
Selig does not have the authority to summarily dismiss the Rays’ contract to play at Tropicana Field, which lasts until 2027.
But he could render that contract mute by contraction — eliminating the team altogether, something he has said he does not support.
Still, his escalating frustration with the situation and pointed comments Thursday underscore the importance of the St. Petersburg City Council amending the city’s contract with the Rays so it can scout other locations.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster suggested last week he would support such a measure, though he had previously insisted the Rays had to honor their contract.
Foster told the Tribune’s Michael Sasso that talks with the Rays have not broken down as Selig suggested Thursday in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Rays’ principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, stood nearby as the commissioner spoke.
The Rays are attracting slightly more than 18,300 fans per game, the second lowest in all of MLB, this season.
The Rays would like to consider other stadium sites in the region, and downtown Tampa is the most centrally located.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Chairman Ken Hagan are prepared to move quickly, but St. Petersburg has threatened legal action if there are discussions while the Rays are under contract.
That is why it’s important St. Petersburg unlock the shackles and amend the contract so the Rays can at least investigate other possibilities. The city, of course, has a right to protect its financial interests and expect compensation should the team move.
But Hagan is right to view Selig’s comments as a warning and a call to action to the entire region: “This is what I’ve been worried about. We need to have a sense of urgency about sitting down with the team and seeing what can be done to keep Major League Baseball here.”