This one snuck in while I was writing Friday’s news roundup: Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld declared Thursday that while team execs remain focused on the bonkers plan of playing home games in new stadiums in both Tampa Bay and Montreal, if they can’t work that out by January of 2022, then “we need to figure something [else] out.”
What’s so magic about January of 2022, when the team can’t relocate for even part of a season until 2028, unless given special permission by the city of St. Petersburg? Time for a trip to Chapter 4 of Field of Schemes, “The Art of the Steal”:
Step 5: The Two-Minute Warning
No matter how well you’ve played your cards to this point, there’s always the danger that the proceedings may threaten to drag on indefinitely as pesky voters demand referenda or legislative leaders hit gridlock on deciding on a funding plan. At this point you may want to declare a crisis: Proclaim that the window of opportunity on a new stadium will remain open only for so long, leaving unstated what disaster will befall the city if the window should be allowed to slam shut. [Frank] Rashid [of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club] calls it the “used car salesman” approach: Buy now because this offer won’t be good for long.
The two-minute warning is especially risible in the case of the Rays, because Tampa Bay and Montreal appear to be their only two good options for playing in. I suppose Rays owner Stuart Sternberg could announce in early 2022 that he’s now conducting a nationwide search for a new home for 2028, in the hopes that Portland or Charlotte or someplace can get interested in starting a bidding war if Tampa Bay and Montreal aren’t interested. Or, if only one of Tampa/St. Pete and Montreal seems likely to cough up stadium funds, he can use his preannounced deadline as an excuse to say, Sorry, we thought the two-city thing would work out, but we’ll take the stadium in the hand over two in the bush, thanks — which makes more sense as a strategy anyway than the two-city thing.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s not to believe anything that sports team owners say when talking about moving teams, or setting deadlines, or really anything when money is on the line, because as we should all remember by now, a savvy negotiator creates leverage. The Field of Schemes section on the two-minute warning (and the followup section in Chapter 13, “The Art of the Steal Revisited”) includes stories of Houston Astros execs setting deadlines in 1995 for a move to Virginia, then continually extending them through 1996 until Houston agreed to provide stadium funding; the Florida Marlins owners setting final deadlines year after year after which they would move the team out of state, each year returning hat in hand until they finally got what they wanted out of Miami; and a Dallas Cowboys spokesperson admitting that the team had set a deadline for stadium funding partly “to create a sense of urgency.” If there’s ever an “Art of the Steal Re-Revisited,” I’ll be holding space open for the story of the Rays.