Speaking last week in front of the Hillsborough County Commission in an attempt to win support for a new publicly financed stadium, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg said, "Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area."
With that powerful message, everything changed. Which is to say, nothing changed.
Few teams in any sport can match the transformation that the Rays have made since Sternberg seized control of the franchise in October 2005. The team wasn't just a perennial cellar-dweller before Sternberg, team president Matt Silverman, and de facto general manager Andrew Friedman took over; it was the biggest laughing stock in American pro sports. In a 2003 episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, Roger Clemens read number four on the list of "Top 10 Things Baseball Has Taught Me." "The best practical joke?" he cracked, "Tell a teammate they've been traded to the Devil Rays." Just three years later after the new regime's takeover, the Rays were in the World Series, having completed a wildly improbable worst-to-first season, in the process changing the organizational culture from incompetence to ruthless efficiency. Over the past five years, the Rays have snagged two division titles in arguably the toughest division in the game, one wild-card berth that capped arguably the most exciting day of regular-season baseball ever, and a better record than any other team except the Yankees and Phillies.