St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster appeared on Mark Benarzyk's radio show this afternoon and said something incredible when talking about the Rays. To paraphrase Foster: Vince Naimoli endeared himself to the fan base more than Stuart Sternberg because he attended more than a select number of games. Of course that's a dig at Sternberg, who lives in New York and attends a few home games per season and it's a dig without merit or logic.
Let's get this out of the way. Sternberg has contacted me (and others) involved with DRaysBay in the past. Occasionally to say thanks for the effort, other times to say something more specific. He's partook in numerous Q&As on the site and yeah, he's even commented here under his own username. I'm sure someone will accuse me of being biased because of those interactions, but just looking at the facts has to - has to - draw one to the conclusion that Sternberg has done more to endear himself to the fan base than Naimoli ever did.
Let's go through the laundry list of things Sternberg has done:
- Free parking
- Park renovations
- Greeting fans at the gate on opening day 2006
- Changing the team identity; cosmetically and otherwise
It goes beyond that, though. How many owners would take time out of their day to read FanPosts? And how many would take money out of their pocket and donate towards a random user's walk-for-charity? Because Sternberg did just that months ago with PriceMultiCyYoungs. I've never interacted with Naimoli, but Patrick L. Kennedy did once. At the stadium presser (what else would it have been?) in November 2007.
Sternberg was with Naimoli and recognized Kennedy when he approached the pair. Kennedy dropped his notepad and Naimoli was quick to scoop it up for him with a warm smile. He didn't break Kennedy's pencil in half or chuck the paper in the garbage, meaning he showed considerable restraint if you've ever talked with Kennedy. And yes, he's probably a nice person once you get to know him, but let's be honest here: few owners have endeared themselves less than Naimoli.
This is the same person who once tore into a reporter for using his personal bathroom. The same who slashed costs throughout the organization no matter how detrimental the budget cuts were to the on-the-field or off-the-field product. Jonah Keri has done a ludicrous amount of work for his book and some of the stories he's going to share are flatly unbelievable.
Under Naimoli the Rays didn't have internet in the office until the waning days of his reign. Think about that. Can you imagine any million dollar operation in a billion dollar industry not having something as simple as internet in their office when most residential homes had internet. It goes beyond that, though. Naimoli simply wasn't fun to work for. Keri's book includes quite a bit about this, but other articles have quoted employees - from ushers to front office types leftover - who claim that the work environment has improved dramatically under Sternberg's watch.
Sternberg has turned the Rays from a cellar dweller with no idea how to win into one of the best-run organizations in professional sports. That's a pretty good way to start the conversation when asked "What makes an owner so endearing?" Sternberg has never made a public mockery of himself with the police like Naimoli. He doesn't meddle with the roster like Naimoli. He may only attend a handful of games a season, but what does that have to do with anything?
Bill Foster lives in the St. Petersburg area and has. Yet he's either woefully ignorant of what Sternberg has done for this team and fan base or he's completely dishonest with this appraisal. Pick your poison, because neither speaks too well for him.