I know it's easy to get upset with Rays owner Stuart Sternberg in light of his comments about the Rays' attendance and long-term viability in the area...but I simply can't do it. And this letter that he sent out to the Rays season ticket holders shows why:
We all care deeply about the organization. We want it to succeed. We want it to be a fixture in Tampa Bay. We want the seats filled, the atmosphere charged, and the play on the field to be of high quality. Each Spring, we want to look forward to the bright prospects of a new season.
As in the past, I will continue to communicate with you honestly and with candor.
Recently, I have acknowledged that the future of the Rays and Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay is precarious. I have expressed concern about the long-term health and vitality of our franchise. When asked by the press, I did not shy away from answering questions about attendance and our future. For the sake of our franchise, we cannot ignore these questions. Doing so would be a disservice to the organization, its employees and all of its loyal supporters.
Please do not take my remarks as a complaint -- they were not intended to be. I was not pointing fingers. I was not blaming anyone. I do not mean to sound ungrateful to our fans for their support, and I certainly will not tell anyone how to spend his or her money. I was simply being forthright about a reality that must be faced. It would be easy to assure you and all Rays fans that everything will be fine, but that would be disingenuous.
What in there can we take offense at? His honesty? Candor? Would you prefer he sugarcoats the situation for everyone and pretends it's something it's not? The situation stinks -- there's no way around that -- and I wish it wasn't something the Rays had to worry about, but the truth of the matter is everything Sternberg is saying is dead on.
I suppose if you want to quibble, you could make the argument that the Rays can be "sustainable" in their current situation. Even with low attendance, they can break even or turn a small profit if they continue to keep their payroll below $50 million. But of course, it depends how good of a team the Tampa Bay area wants around. As we've seen with the Oakland Athletics, even if your front office is smart and even if you manage to game the system for a few seasons, eventually the inequities built into MLB catch up with you.
If you want to consistently maintain a competitive team -- and yes, afford the sort of bats the Rays were missing in the postseason -- you need to be able to maintain a higher payroll. It doesn't have to be dramatically higher; even just $70-80 million would make a large difference.
So yes, I wish Sternberg had timed his initial comments better. But I simply can't be upset at him for speaking the truth.