Jon Morosi recently sat down with Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg to discuss multiple topics. In separate stories published over the weekend. The first interview revolved around Sternberg's role as chairman of MLB's newly formed diversity task force, and the second is about the Rays' current stadium dilemma.
I would encourage you to read both interviews, linked above. Below is a brief recap of both articles.
Major League Baseball has a problem with diversity. In April of this year, the USA Today reported that less than 8% of major league baseball players were black. According to 2011 census data, 13% of the US population is black, non-hispanic. That's troubling, and the result of many factors.
Bud Selig and the Commissioner's Office responded by setting up a Diversity task force to investigate ways to improve the game's somewhat alarming disparity, and the Rays' principal owner Stu Sternberg was named Chairman.
Three months into the season, that task force held a Diversity Business Summit in Houston, where foxsports.com's Jon Morosi sat down with our owner to discuss MLB's future. Over the course of the interview, Sternberg's vision of the current state of baseball was on display.
Among the issues identified in the interview were a loss of players in the youth-system in Little Leagues after age 12, the lack of scholarships for high school athletes looking for opportunities at the college level, the lack of baseball's charity work outside inner cities, and the difficulty of kids having opportunities to travel and organize in large numbers in poorer communities, including homes where there is only one parent, or where both parents work.
There was a sense that these issues were interrelated:
It is really America's game. We reflect America. We want to make sure we're doing a good enough job. It seems clear (to me), because of my age, that kids - after 12, 13 years old - is they're lost (by the youth baseball system).
Where do those kids fall off the radar?
Part of that is travel, and the expenses and time commitments involved. Another is expanding baseball's charity work outside the inner city (from baseball's RBI Program) to placed like Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia. Where the weather is great, and the scouts scout more often, but baseball is currently making lackluster efforts to reach kids.
Another problem is structure for the future, streamlining development in the teenage years, and most importantly, scholarships. Morosi notes that NCAA Division I scholarships average less than twelve per team. If a kid is looking for the easiest road to college, baseball doesn't have much to offer at the highest level; although, baseball does have a storied history of getting kids into community colleges. But so often, baseball has to draft at the high school level.
You look at a guy like Carl Crawford, who we had. He had a choice to do a lot of different things. We in baseball, coming out of high school, we were able to provide him a good amount of money. So, he chose baseball. That's one player.
That's one special player. One.
How many kids can aspire to being Crawford, and have the ability to be drafted out of high school if he didn't have consistent chances to play baseball from age 13-16? Mentioning the exception only leads to more questions.
Morosi then pushed Sternberg in an interesting direction, while on the topic of Diversity, to discuss incentive.
Morosi paints a picture, imagining LeBron James and Evan Longoria each shown on a jumbotron in the farthest place from Florida possible -- Seattle. How many recognize one of baseball's best players, compared to one of basketball's best? Does baseball need to do a better job of making celebrities?
Unequivocally, yes. Just try and search for a game winning home run or an historic fist fight on YouTube.
Can of worms alert: Baseball is both America's Pastime and America's past, and it's held true to staying as far in the past as possible. Instant Replay, no salary cap, television contracts, integration, you name it. Baseball could do better. Says Sternberg:
We can definitely do better. We can always do better. We are trying and doing whatever we can, especially with social media now. With national sponsorships and endorsements, you see a guy and the face becomes familiar. Baseball is still a 25-man team. Basketball has the advantage that you see them up close and personal. The more individualized the sport - tennis, golf - you see the player (more often). But baseball, there could be 20 guys on the highlights.
Let's acknowledge that and bring it back to diversity.
Morosi closes with mentions of the Dominican national team, and it seems most appropriate. Baseball has a diversity problem, but not necessarily in Latin America. Baseball is not dead. Baseball will respond and continue to grow. And as a Rays fan, and a Sternberg fan, I am thrilled that our owner can show such vision, and that he has the opportunity to lead baseball in the right direction.
It's a long road, and I'm hopeful of what's to come. But don't let me speak for our owner, again, please read his comments in full.
Sternberg makes an important public acknowledgement in this interview, a basic one you already know, but is worth saying again and again:
The Rays have a lease. The Rays will stay in the lease. The focus must be on the next location.
He admits the temptation and opportunity to move the Rays existed, but that was in 2005, maybe 2006. Now he's interested in Tampa Bay alone. To quote the man, "I just want to explore my backyard."
This interview is an interesting back and forth, testing the waters of what circumstances could get the Rays out of Tropicana Field (a hope that doesn't really exist), and out of Tampa Bay itself, which Sternberg begrudgingly addressed late in the discussion, and it's based on the perspective of the other owners:
I think ours is the only franchise - maybe I'm mistaken - that has been to the World Series (recently) and we still had to take a lot of money in revenue sharing. The fact that all the other owners are consistently writing checks to us and see no way to get out of it, some of this will be their desires. ... The decision can be taken out of my hands at some point. If you haven't made any progress, and it's not working where you are, (MLB could say), ‘We're going to duke it out. This team is going to be somewhere else, whether it's 10 miles away or 510 miles away.'
But is he relenting? no.
Morosi: What are the realistic chances the Rays leave the Tampa Bay area?
Sternberg: It's very unrealistic. If it's up to me, it's very unrealistic. There's certainly been a lot of discussion, from others within baseball, that we should get the hell out of there. It's not in my makeup to do that. I am committed to doing whatever I can, until I can no longer do it, to make it work there.
David Price is the closing topic of conversation, and how Longoria's contract extension to 2023 effects Price's future. Sternberg kept his tune of claiming Price is a Rays player, and they'll keep paying him.
Read these thoughts and more here, and thanks to Morosi for publishing.