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The Ron & Ian interview... another opinion

I've heard and read so much from the public about the recent interview of Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman, and Stuart Sternberg on 620 WDAE's Ron & Ian show. That particular morning I was doing my job at the Lightning's morning skate at the St. Pete Times Forum so I missed the interview when it happened. But thanks to the internet, and one of the hardest working producers in radio (Justin Pawlowski), I was finally able to sit down today and listen to it.

First, let me send a message to fans and radio talk show hosts who get the opportunity to talk to Silverman, Friedman, or Sternberg: For the love of God don't ever ever ever ever get caught up in topics of team name changes, uniform changes, or a fresher-smelling Tropicana Field. That is what we like to call "window dressing". If there's one thing this ownership group is really good at, it's public relations. They know they have to dress things up on the outside because right now the product on the field isn't exactly worth plunking down hard-earned money to watch on most nights. Please understand I'm not criticizing the team for doing the promotional makeover first before the team makeover, because they HAVE to do it. The Bucs changed uniforms, and the Lightning fancied up the Forum while significant changes were being made to the product. It still took the Bucs eight seasons, and the Lightning five, to win their championships. But to get back to my point, there are far more important issues than the team name or the stadium when it comes to the Rays. If you ever have the opportunity to speak to Silverman, Friedman, or Sternberg, or all three at once, don't get caught up in the meaningless stuff. Start firing away!

That leads me to the gentlemen interviewed. While the 61-101 record reeks of Namoli days gone by, I have to credit Silverman, Friedman, and Sternberg for facing the media and willing to answer hard questions (if the media ever throws hard questions at them). Silverman is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, and he has the tough task of melding the off-the-field promotions and marketing image with what is being done on the field. Making a 101-loss team sound like the greatest thing to happen to Tampa Bay baseball is harder than you think. Friedman is also a good guy who is just finding his way as a GM, thanks to the tutelidge of Gerry Hunsicker. If there's one thing Friedman has to learn though, it's cliche answers and company lines don't always please the paying customer. Sternberg is also a nice guy, someone you want to have a beer with or a casual lunch at the corner deli. But he is also a business man who likes to make money. Sure, he's a baseball fan, but if I'm losing my ass financially as the owner of a baseball team than I either cut corners or sell the team and re-invest in pork bellies futures.

One thing you have to agree on with these three guys, whether you want to or not, is that they are all new to this baseball operations thing. I'm not trying to create excuses for them. In fact I say that to bolster my belief that they have to get on the same page as everybody else. You may be young, rich, full of new ideas, but when it comes down to it your team has lost 101 games and seems to be going backwards. There are proven formulas for winning a World Series, and trotting out nine guys who collectively have about 15 years of Major League service isn't one of them.

The first issue that comes to everybody's mind is payroll, specifically when is it going up and by how much. The answer of course was, "on average, ten to fifteen percent". That sounds nice, even at ten percent a year because you're growing and growing and growing your payroll every year. But let's take a look at where this team's payroll is right now. When the 2006 season started, the payroll was at about $35 million. At the end of the season, the payroll was at about $19 million after the numerous trades made. Do the math and that is a REDUCTION of nearly 46%. So let's just pretend the Rays decide to increase payroll by 15%, as advertised. We'll have a payroll of about (drumroll please) $22 million!!! So is this really an increase in payroll? Yes and no. It is an increase on what was left over after the 2006 season, but it is still in the realms of Namoli-spending. In fact, the payroll hasn't been this low since 2003 when the Rays won a whopping 55 games.

Which leads me to the money lost by the Rays. Now I am not a business major, nor do I read through the accounting department's e-mail at Tropicana Field. I do however know how to balance my checkbook. Attendance at the Trop increased aboout 20% this season, still a paltry average of 16,000 fans per game. Still, despite a loss of revenue on parking and some concessions, that's more fans spending more money on tickets, souveniers, and food and drink. In 2005, according to Frobes magazine, the Rays made a $20 million profit. So how can you have more people come in to the stadium, presumably spending more money in the stadium, slash you payroll by 46%... and LOSE money? I know they've started up minor league scouting camps in South and Central America, and they beefed up scouting in general, but it just seems fuzzy to me right now. And I say right now because until the Forbes report comes out in April 2007, we have to take the Rays at their word right now. Maybe they're right, or maybe they're just planting that P.R. seed in our heads that they are losing money. Only time will tell.

And only time will tell if the grand plan will work out for the better. Last season we kept getting the year 2008 thrown around as the year it would all come together. Judging by the interview I heard, it seems more and more like 2008 is a target year for .500, with the following years being those magical 90-win seasons. Any rebuilding team needs four or five years to gut the franchise and then rebuild it so I will give the team that. If the team fails to produce a winner in four or five years, then the questions can be asked on why the team failed-- much like people finally asked questions on Namoli during the 2005 season.

I have so much more to say about the interview, and some of the things said (or not said), but I'm going to hold on to them now. I have written down several notes and will store them away for future reference. Why am I doing this? Because it's easy for anybody to make promises, but it's tougher to actually stick to them. When the 2007 Rays take the field, I will bring some of these points up again as a comparison to what was said and what is being done.

I shouldn't be the only one doing it either. Go to Ron & Ian's webpage at 620wdae.dom and download the interview. The great thing about technology today is you can save it and take it anywhere you want to go. Do this please, and be a responsible fan. If and when the team is successful, you can listen to it and say, "They were right!", and I ultimately hope the Rays are right in their plan. If everything fails and it seems like Sternberg is the next Namoli, then you have the ammunition needed to ask the tough questions and demand answers for why YOU were lied to.

At least someone in this town will ask tough questions. Lord knows the local media won't, so it's up to the average schmoe like you to tell this team it's your hometown and your team and dammit you want results. Give this ownership group a couple more years, things don't change overnight. But let them know you're watching and listening and you care.

Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was also destroyed when Nero played the fiddle. Don't pick up your stringed instruments Rays fans... keep the heat on those who deserve it.


How much time do you give the Rays to produce a winning team?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    (2 votes)
  • 10%
    Still looking at 2008
    (2 votes)
  • 47%
    By the end of the decade they should have a winner
    (9 votes)
  • 31%
    I don't care, I'm a Rays fan through thick and thin!
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Whatever... GO BUCS!
    (0 votes)
19 votes total Vote Now