You’ve heard of two-team towns, no doubt. I live in one: St. Louis, Missouri. My hometown, according to the smear campaign organized by now Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke (sorry, we’re still bitter) can support the Blues and Cardinals fine, but could never support additional sports franchises. (By the way Stan, we’re just fine with our Stanley Cup, thank you. Moving on…)
There are plenty of two-team towns in the world. But MLB is considering trying something new: a two-town team!
This is based on new reports that suggest that Major League Baseball is allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to explore the possibility of splitting their home games between Tampa and Montreal, Quebec, a 22-hour drive to the north.
Tampa Bay Payday
The Rays are notorious in MLB for their ability to generate a great team with little to no payroll. Despite having the lowest payroll of anyone in the majors (yes, lower even than the pathetic Marlins or Orioles), they are currently in second place in the loaded American League East.
Yet despite years of sustained success, the Rays remain the second lowest-valued team in the majors, surpassing only their state neighbors to the south, the Miami Marlins, who are in the midst of a years-long campaign to intentionally ruin their on-field product.
The culpability for that valuation is split. the support of their fanbase has historically been poor. And the quality of their stadium is even poorer. Tropicana Field is notorious for its quality, or lack thereof, and the idea of an indoor stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida is ludicrous on its face.
For years, the Rays have been searching for a solution to that problem, and it appears they may have found one. But, like everything the Rays have done, it’s radical, forward thinking, and might be looked down upon by “good baseball men.”
BREAKING: The Tampa Bay Rays have received MLB's permission to explore becoming two-city team: the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, sources tell ESPN. The plan: Play early-season home games in the Tampa Bay area and finish the season in Montreal. News at ESPN: https://t.co/X6uSt4KLfC
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 20, 2019
The solution? Play in two cities. During the early part of the season, the Rays would play in Tampa, with a new open-air stadium being built to accommodate the schedule. Florida’s weather would prevent the need to build any kind of roof over the stadium, thereby defraying the cost immensely.
Later in the season, the Rays would travel north to Montreal, marking a return to the city that lost its Expos in 2005, when they moved to Washington, D.C. and became the Nationals. Because of Montreal’s long-standing hunger for baseball to return, there is little doubt that they could find funding to build a new stadium to accommodate.
Could it Work?
So is this plan crazy? Or is it so crazy, it just might work?
It’s crazy, probably. But fun crazy!
It’s not like it’s never been done before: Omaha and Kansas City split home games of an NBA franchise (now the Sacramento Kings) for three seasons from 1972-75 until they moved full time to K.C. and then on to Sacramento. But those two cities are neighbors. Could Tampa and Montreal feasibly split a team?
Geographically, this plan makes sense. While Tampa and Montreal are far apart, Quebec is much closer to Tampa’s current division rivals than Florida. Games against the Toronto Blue Jays will become a heated rivalry, and New York, Boston, and Baltimore are just stones throws away.
The problem is in the details. If MLB really expects both markets to build a new stadium to support half a team, they’re crazy. Why would Tampa make the investment to build a new stadium for half of the games of a team it couldn’t support for a full season?
We Can Dream
In reality, this seems like one of two things: it’s a warning to Tampa Bay that if they can’t facilitate a new stadium, MLB will likely look to move the Rays. It’s also a message to Montreal that if they can facilitate a new venue, MLB will look to move a team there, whether it’s the Rays or something else. The timetable on this decision makes that even more clear.
Manfred said the Rays are committed to playing at Tropicana Field through 2027, so the idea of a St. Pete/Montreal split-season would be more of a long-term concept.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) June 20, 2019
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear that the league can’t make this decision before 2027, most of a decade from now. He referred to the idea as a “long-term concept,” but the eight year gap also gives MLB plenty of time to consider better solutions. It’s a fun idea, but not one we’re likely to see come true anytime soon.