MLB Reportedly Denies Rays' Request to Split Season Between Tampa Bay and Montreal

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 20, 2022

SARASOTA, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: A Tampa Bay Rays hat sits on top of a glove in the dugout during a Grapefruit League spring training game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium on March 02, 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays will have to abandon their plan to split an MLB season between St. Petersburg, Florida, and Montreal.

The Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin reported MLB has struck down the idea, an outcome that is "sure to frustrate and stun team officials." The Rays were expecting to move forward with the strategy and pursue new open-air stadiums at both sites.

Almost everybody agrees the Rays deserve better than Tropicana Field.

The location is less than ideal since it's not actually in Tampa, Florida, and forces fans to put up with traffic coming to and from games. The venue itself isn't really suited for baseball, either, which anybody who has seen a ball carom off the catwalks can attest to. 

Constructing a new stadium in Tampa is proving difficult, however. The process has been ongoing for years with little in the way of tangible progress.

The "Sister City" plan emerged as an alternative. Team owner Stuart Sternberg told Topkin in December 2019 he had lost hope in remaining in the Tampa region on a full-time basis:

"I'm open to any conversation. They'd have to show me why it would work. We did work previously, we spent years on it. Some of the really solid business leaders, earnestly, and in a caring fashion, tried to make it work. But if there's a genie in a bottle somewhere that wants to show me why it would work—I just can't envision it. You never say never, but I can’t envision it. It's less than highly unlikely."

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred endorsed the plan in February 2020.

"People continue to believe that the two-city alternative they’re exploring is viable and could be a really good solution for keeping baseball in Tampa Bay," he said, per Topkin.

Manfred added he's "100 percent convinced and, more importantly, the other owners have been convinced by Stu, that this is best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay."

However, the split-season approach has always been met with a measure of skepticism.

Playing in Tampa and Montreal presents obvious logistical questions because of the significant distance between the two cities and the fact they're in separate countries. Fans in both cities may never feel the Rays are truly theirs, too, given the dual loyalties.

Then there's the matter of constructing two new stadiums. Topkin reported each venue was estimated to cost around $500 million or $600 million, and Sternberg said the Rays were projecting to average 25,000 fans in each city.

According to Topkin, it's unclear whether MLB's decision will lead Rays ownership to pursue relocation.