Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been mostly quiet about his campaign for a new stadium of late, but he broke that silence in an interview in today's St. Petersburg Times in which he promises that he has no intention of moving the team out of Florida:
At this point, a lot of people would ask "for how long?" It was a year ago when Sternberg suggested there were five markets better than this one that did not have baseball. Given that, it is easy to wonder if the Rays are closer to moving their franchise than they were then.
"Not at all," he said. "We are dead-set on making it work here. I have not been approached by any other area as far as moving the team, and I would not engage in any discussions about it."
Now there's an ironclad promise! One that Rays fans can feel good about—that is, until four paragraphs later:
"Every year that goes by increases the possibility that we won't be here. We can't keep kicking the can down the road. I'm not a guy who kicks the can down the road. If there is something inevitable, you have to deal with it. At some point, my partners in baseball are going to throw their hands up in the air and say 'enough is enough.'"
I could now say something snarky about the hypocrisy of promising your fans you won't leave town in one breath while threatening to go in the next—in fact, I already have. But really, this is just the kind of behavior that we should by now have come to expect from sports owners. Way back in the first edition of Field of Schemes, Joanna Cagan and I coined the term "non-threat threat" to describe the textbook gambit of obliquely raising the possibility of relocation without actually saying the words. As we wrote then:
As Miami Heat executive Jay Cross told his fellow sports leaders following his team's successful campaign for a new basketball arena, "We never threatened. We never said we're going to leave. When people asked us what we're going to do if we don't win the referendum, we said, 'We don't know. We don't know where we're going to play. We dont have a choice. We'll have to look around.'"
Instead, I'd like to focus today on Sternberg's enabler: Times sports columnist Gary Shelton, who either didn't notice Sternberg's abrupt turnabout, or just didn't think it was worth mentioning. Either way, that's a serious abdication of a reporter's job, which is to report: i.e., to help readers understand the meaning of the things people say and do. There was nothing stopping Shelton—who is a columnist, mind you, and so specifically authorized to go beyond just-the-facts-ma'am—from at least noting that Sternberg had, um, slightly switched gears. To do otherwise isn't journalism, it's stenography.
Okay, soapbox off. As for what this means for the actual Rays stadium fight—currently locked in legal limbo over Sternberg's desire to shop around in Tampa or further north in Pinellas County while St. Pete officials hold to their lease clause prohibiting the team from even thinking of such a thing—probably not a whole heck of a lot, beyond that Sternberg is hoping to light a fire under the stalled talks by injecting some fears of a move. But again, that's nothing new; and we've seen how well these these threats have worked in the past.