Oh Tampa, oh Tampa the sports-media exclaimed giddily during the Rays vaunted World Series run last year. A Cinderella story they were indeed. Like the Marlin title teams of 1997 and 2003, the AL Florida franchise generated great substance for baseball media outlets to provide aplomb to the fact that any baseball organization can bury its losing culture and emerge out of nowhere to make a pennant run. Yes, Tampa has done a fantastic job at transforming itself into a viable contender in the stacked AL East mind you, yet some interesting facts cannot go unsaid. During this exciting 2008 season, the Rays only had only 1.8 million people go through their turnstiles. They couldn’t even draw 2 million fans! In fact, the Rays didn’t even sellout their first four playoff games. It took the exciting last two deciding games of the ALCS vs. the Red Sox before all the Tropicana Field seats would be filled. The Marlins have fared no better, each season following their World Series triumphs, less than 2 million fans have shown up. Only twice has Florida drawn over two million people and only in their inaugural season of 1993 did the Marlins crack the heavily sought, three million benchmark.
Florida has no desire to support baseball. I don’t want to hear excuses of weather (Miami) or interstate traffic (Tampa). Tampa’s metropolitan population stands at an impressive 2.7 million with Miami amassing a gaudy 5.4 million. You’re telling me these incredible population centers with healthy economies can’t place 2.5 million bodies in their respective ballparks? Ah, the ballparks, the supposed thorn in Florida baseball success’ side. Dreary Tropicana offers a roof in the Sunshine State and the Marlins navigate the cavernous football field in Dolphin Stadium. If new stadiums were built for these franchises, fan attendance could increase but I have my doubts. Miami is notorious for its poor support of professional franchises and having the stigma as a pathetic sports-town. Tampa’s population has shown to be better at fleeing to Bucs games than Ray games and the Lightning have done well at drawing since their Stanly Cup title of 2004. Tampa has never achieved over 3 million fans in attendance. Tropicana Field, though a poor venue, is actually relatively young in lifespan with construction being completed in the early 1990s (Built to attract the San Francisco Giants out of Candlestick). Is another publicly funded overly priced modern ballpark that only upper middle-class can attend what Tampa should really abuse tax funds for? I don’t think so. My solution is to banish or contract the Florida Marlins and move the Tampa Rays. Therefore, the Marlin contraction allows the Pittsburgh Pirates to move into the NL East in place of the Marlins and bring the NL Central to five teams. This will decrease travel expenditures for NL East teams and bring all three National League divisions to five franchises. As for the fledgling Tampa franchise, move them out west to Portland or Las Vegas. Maybe even move back into Canada with a venture to Vancouver. The move will allow for a fifth team to join the four-team AL West and restore competitive balance to the other two five team divisions in the American League. It’s time to abandon the failed baseball expansion experiment in Florida and turn to the sprawling West Coast or possibly the northeast where baseball is impressively supported to help restore competitive and financial balance to MLB.