Thursday, April 25, 2013
Rays Beat Yanks But Shame On Their Fans
The Hooded Hawk went 6 innings, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits and 1 walk, striking out 10. Shawn Kelly relieved him, going 2 scoreless innings.
But Alex Cobb, whom the Yankees had faced 3 times before, all last season, going 2-1 against him, pitched better for the Tampa Bay Rays. He pitched into the 9th, allowing only 3 hits and a walk, and Fernando Rodney finished the 4-hit shutout. Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix all singled. That's it: 4 total bases.
Rays 3, Yankees 0. WP: Cobb (3-1). SV: Rodney (3). LP: Pettitte (also 3-1).
If the Yankees lose, and no one's there to see it, does it still count in the standings?
Attendance for these 3 games at Tropicana Field was 15,331, 17,644 and 19,177. Total: 52,152. Or, what the Yankees, at the old Yankee Stadium, used to call "one game." (The new Stadium's capacity is about 2,000 smaller than that.)
So far, even with those 3 games, the Rays are averaging just 21,322 fans per game. That's over 12 home games. Opening Day brought out 34,078. Take out Opening Day and the 3 against the Yankees, and the average is 21,204 -- so the Yankees, who bring in New Yorkers current and former, aren't helping much this season.
Here's the Rays' per-season attendance, compared with the number of games they finished out of the Playoff hunt (behind the Wild Card winner, or the AL East winner if it had fewer wins than the Wild Card winner), preceded by a minus sign, or a mention that they made the Playoffs:
1998 30,942 -29 (first season, after years of teams talking about moving to Tampa Bay)
1999 21,601 -25
2000 18,000 -18
2001 16,026 -33
2002 13,158 -44
2003 13,070 -32
2004 16,139 -31
2005 14,052 -28
2006 16,901 -34
2007 17,148 -28
2008 22,259 AL East Champions
2009 23,147 -11
2010 23,025 AL East Champions
2011 18,879 AL Wild Card
2012 19,255 -3
2013 21,322 so far
So, setting aside the first 2 seasons, when there could still be said to be a novelty factor, actually being in a Playoff race for the first time (2008) was only worth 9,101 fans per game over a season in which they lost 106 games.
Again, taking out the first 2 seasons, in their 8 bad years they averaged 15,562 fans per game; in their 5 good years, 21,313.
Keep in mind: A lot of teams didn't do well on the field last year, but did much better than the Rays at the box office. I won't even count the Miami Marlins, who opened a new ballpark, which probably accounted for the bulk of their average attendance of 27,400; no way the stripped-down roster, slapped on them by their cheapskate owner, will approach that this season. And the Mets, well, they officially got 28,035; how many of those ticket-buyers actually showed up at Citi Field was another matter; I saw one game there last season, and attendance was announced as 21,205 but I doubt it was even half that.
But these teams' fans had a lot more excuse to not show up than Rays' fans, and look:
* The Philadelphia Phillies missed the Playoffs for the first time in 6 years, and had injuries that kept their 3 biggest offensive stars (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley) out of the lineup for long stretches, including all 3 at once for a while. And they averaged 44,021 -- they sold out just about every game.
* The Boston Red Sox lost 93 games, their worst performance in 46 years, and they averaged 37,567 -- they sold out just about every game.
* The Chicago Cubs lost 101 games. In spite of their legendary loser status, they hadn't lost 100 games in 46 years. And they still averaged 35,589.
* The Minnesota Twins lost 96 games, aside from the previous year (99 losses), their worst performance in 14 years, and they averaged 34,275.
* The Colorado Rockies lost 98 games, and still averaged 32,474.
* The Toronto Blue Jays lost 89 games, and they averaged 25,921.
* The San Diego Padres lost 86 games, and still averaged 21,258.
* The Houston Astros lost 106 games, a year after losing 107, the first 2 100-loss seasons in the club's half-century of play. They were 33 games behind the 2nd Wild Card. And they still averaged 19,848 fans per home game, 593 more than the Rays.
* And the Cleveland Indians lost 94 games, and Northern Ohio has been hit really hard, first by the Bush Recession, and now by the Kasich Austerity. And they still averaged 19,797 fans per home game, 542 more than the Rays, who've been at least in the Playoff race 5 seasons in a row coming into this one.
Let me cite one more: We hear how the people of Montreal did not support the Expos, especially after their great 1994 season was cut short by the strike, which affected all of baseball negatively, but probably doomed the franchise to being moved 10 years later.
Yet in 1995, despite finishing dead last in the NL East, the Expos averaged 18,189 -- almost as many as the Rays did in a Wild Card year. In 1996, the Expos won 88 -- they wouldn't match that again until last year as the Washington Nationals -- and drew 19,959. In 1997, they lost 84, and drew 18,489.
In 2009, with the Expos/Nationals in their 5th season in Washington and their 2nd season in Nationals Park, but losing 103 games, a year after losing 102, the novelty of having a major league team again, and the novelty of having a nice new ballpark, should have both worn off. Yet they averaged 22,435 per game -- a figure the Rays, after their 1st season, have topped only twice. The Nats lost 103 games, yet get more fans than the Rays got in 2008 when they won the Division, and 3,600 more than the Rays got in 2011 when they won the Wild Card.
So what has winning meant to the Rays, in terms of fan support? For all intents and purposes, nothing.
Maybe it's the stadium? Is Tropicana Field really that bad? It is a dopey-looking place. But the only way to find out for sure is to build the Rays a new ballpark. Preferably one closer to the center of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area. The Trop is about a mile west of the business center of St. Petersburg, but 24 miles southwest of downtown Tampa, across the bay and 2 bridges, one so traffic-jammed it's known as the Car-Strangled Spanner. Compare that with the Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the NHL's Lightning, which is a 5-minute walk from downtown Tampa and next to a major shopping mall that allows easy access for people wanting a pre- or post-game meal or snack.
But why should the City of Tampa, the County of Hillsborough, or the State of Florida build a new stadium for a team that the locals aren't supporting anyway? It's a bet that the fans will come out to a better stadium in a better location. But it's a pretty expensive bet to lose, especially if the team ends up moving anyway, and you're stuck with a new stadium and nobody to play in it. Concerts, March Madness and bowl games will only give you so much revenue; you need a regular tenant.
Maybe it's the fan base itself? There's a lot of people there who moved from elsewhere, rooting for other teams. Particularly the Yankees (who train in Tampa and used to train in St. Petersburg, and there's a lot of ex-New Yorkers there), the Mets (who also used to train in St. Pete and would bring in ex-New Yorkers if the Rays were an NL East team), the St. Louis Cardinals (who also used to train in St. Pete) and the Cincinnati Reds (who used to train in Tampa).
In addition, the Tampa Bay area has that Florida stereotype: A lot of old people. Maybe they can get to a ballpark by 7:00 PM. But can they stay awake long enough to watch the game, get to the car, and alertly drive home? If not, can they get someone to drive them there and back? If they can't, why should they go to the game when they can watch it on TV, and, if necessary, fall asleep in their favorite chair? So schedule a lot of day games. But that means working people and kids can't go. So what can you do? Drop ticket prices? It's not like the Rays are among the more expensive MLB teams now.
It may be that there's nothing that can be done.
Or maybe the fans should be blamed. After all, they spent about 20 years, roughly from the time the NFL expanded and announced the Buccaneers in 1973, thus semi-officially announcing Tampa Bay's status as a "major league market," until 1995, when MLB finally announced that the area would get a team, whining about how they got passed over:
* Passed over in 1974, when a new buyer swooped in and bought the San Diego Padres, when they had already announced they were moving, and it was to Washington anyway, not Tampa Bay.
* Passed over in 1975, when the Detroit Tigers announced they were staying in Tiger Stadium, and pretty much said that, if they moved anyway, it would have been just up the freeway to the Pontiac Silverdome.
* Passed over in 1976, when a new buyer swooped in and bought the San Francisco Giants, when they had already announced they were moving, and it was to Toronto anyway, not Tampa Bay.
* Passed over again in 1976, when MLB announced expansion teams for Seattle and Toronto.
* Passed over in 1977, when Charlie Finley announced he was selling the Oakland Athletics to a buyer who would move them not to Tampa Bay, but to Denver -- a deal that ended up collapsing.
* Passed over in 1979, when the Minnesota Twins announced they were building a new stadium, rather than move.
* Passed over in 1987, when the Pittsburgh Pirates announced they weren't moving, and the Baltimore Orioles got a deal to build a new ballpark, and pretty much said that, if they moved anyway, it would have been just down the Parkway to Washington, not Tampa Bay.
* Passed over in 1988, when the Illinois legislature had to engage in shenanigans in order to legally pass a bond issue raising money for a new ballpark, in order to make the Chicago White Sox call off their very sincere threat to move.
* Passed over in 1991, when MLB announced it was expanding to Denver and Miami -- Miami, the city Central Floridians hate the most.
* Passed over in 1992, when a new buyer swooped in and bought the San Francisco Giants, when they had already announced they were moving to Tampa Bay.
* And passed over in 1994, when the Houston Astros announced they were staying, and pretty much said that, if they moved anyway, it would have been to Washington, not Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay got passed over 11 times -- including one occasion when the team had announced it was already moving (the 1992 Giants), and another when the team had said it would move if it didn't get the new ballpark (and those 1988 White Sox came within minutes of not getting it).
And still, they don't appreciate what they've got.
A metropolitan area that does not support a losing team is understandable.
A metropolitan area that does not support a winning team, especially now that the economy has been improving, is inexcusable.
There is only one conclusion: Tampa Bay does not deserve a Major League Baseball team.
In the remainder of this season, MLB officials need to begin the process of talking Rays ownership into moving the team, or selling it to someone who will move it.
There are a few markets that have been trying to get a team. Up Interstate 4 in Orlando. Charlotte. Nashville. Memphis. Norfolk. Buffalo. Salt Lake City. Las Vegas. Portland. Heck, Montreal already has a stadium that has hosted big-league baseball.
Tampa Bay finally got their team, and they don't even seem to care.
Shame on you, Tampa Bay.