Rays' Stuart Sternberg Sued by 5 Minority Owners, Allegedly Had Secret Montreal Talks

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMay 25, 2021

Members of the Tampa Bay Rays take batting practice at Tropicana Field before a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday, July 24, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

While the Tampa Bay Rays are in first place in the American League East on the field, there is reportedly plenty of turmoil in the ownership group off it.

On Monday, Josh Solomon and Emily L. Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times reported a group of the team's minority owners filed a lawsuit against principal owner Stuart Sternberg. The suit is seeking more than $30,000 in damages and for his company to be expelled as general partner.

The lawsuit states Sternberg has schemed relentlessly to acquire more control of the Rays and in 2014 began secret negotiations to sell an interest in the team to Montreal investors.

City officials told Solomon and Mahoney that the alleged negotiations may have violated the Rays' exclusivity clause with their Tropicana Field lease, which requires the team to play all its home games there through the 2027 campaign and not negotiate to play somewhere else.

The suit states Sternberg has increased his stake in the team to 85 percent from the 49 percent he had in 2004. According to the suit, he did so by negotiating "a secret series of contracts" with previous managing partner Vince Naimoli and, as he continued to acquire stakes, began "secretly negotiating" with Canadian businessman Stephen Bronfman and his Montreal Baseball Group in 2014.

He also allegedly forced some partners to sell their shares to him at less than their value and then transferred "the entire baseball club and franchise" to a new company under his management without telling the other partners.

Solomon and Mahoney noted the Rays and the city of St. Petersburg are negotiating about the team's future and where it will play starting in 2028. Part of the negotiation is about whether there will be a new stadium and if the club will play a split season in St. Petersburg and Montreal, which hasn't been home to an MLB team since the Expos left to become the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season.

"The residents of St. Petersburg and fans of the Rays should not be made to wait any longer for clarity related to the future of the team in Tampa Bay or redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement.

The Rays have played at Tropicana Field since their inaugural season in 1998, when they were the Devil Rays.

They have reached two World Series and played in the playoffs six times. The 2021 team has an opportunity to add to that following a 30-19 start and is a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.