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February 24, 2011
Sportswriters generate "contraction" threat from thin air
How a random thought becomes a meme, lesson #327:
- A sportswriter, in this case Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports, needs something to write about on a slow news day, as they all are during spring training. He writes: "Don't be surprised if the 'C' word — contraction — returns to the baseball lexicon soon. I'm already hearing rumblings that certain big-market teams want to drop the A's and Rays, even though the idea stands little chance of actually becoming reality." Plus several hundred more words, with the only actual "rumblings" being from Hank Steinbrenner and Larry Lucchino, each of whom, Rosenthal notes, didn't actually mention contraction.
- FoxSports doubles down on Rosenthal's speculation by headlining the story "A's, Rays must relocate or face contraction." (Later changed to "Contraction's not the answer for MLB," though the original is still visible in the title bar.)
- St. Petersburg Times sports columnist John Romano writes that "Contraction, once again, is in the news," where "in the news" means "in Ken Rosenthal's column." After another several hundred words, Romano concludes that while contraction isn't likely soon, "that threat will continue to grow day by day, dollar by dollar and empty seat by empty seat. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, Tampa Bay is now on the clock." The Times' headline: "Threat to contract Tampa Bay Rays may be gaining credibility."
- Ray Ratto writes a column decrying all this talk of contraction, which he says is a terrible idea.
I covered all the reasons MLB contraction is extremely unlikely ever to happen ten years ago, and most of those arguments still hold true today. Romano does point out that with increased revenue sharing, there's more money to be recouped by buying out struggling franchises; however, team owners are also going to want more to be bought out now than in 2001 (in part because revenue sharing makes even low-revenue teams potentially profitable), and there's a simpler solution, which is just to reduce revenue-sharing payments — which is, no doubt, what Steinbrenner is really after. And in any case, any attempt at contraction would still prompt a labor war plus a wave of antitrust suits — with Florida having some of the toughest case law around antitrust issues, which is in part why MLB gave the state the Rays to begin with after blocking the San Francisco Giants from moving to Tampa Bay.
For now, then, I think it's safe to declare this a non-story. But expect to see lots more of it in coming weeks, especially if the Rays ownership keeps trying to heat up his soft sell stadium campaign, and MLB gets an early start on saber-rattling for the next collective bargaining agreement.