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Major League Baseball may intervene in Rays stadium issue

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Published:   |   Updated: August 16, 2013 at 07:09 AM

TAMPA — Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday said stadium discussions between the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Petersburg have stalled and that he was considering intervening in the issue.

His comments at baseball’s owners meeting in Cooperstown, N.Y., are somewhat surprising, because the team and St. Petersburg seemed to be making progress recently. Just last week, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he’s open to allowing the Rays to look in Hillsborough County for stadium sites, something the mayor had resisted for at least two years.

However, that progress may not be coming quickly enough for Selig and Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, based on their latest comments.

“Baseball needs a resolution to this problem,” Selig said at the owners meeting, with Sternberg in the room listening. “I find it a very, very troubling situation. We were optimistic this was moving in a very positive direction. Unfortunately, it’s stalled.”

Foster wouldn’t speculate about what provoked Selig’s comments Thursday.

“The conversation has not stalled, and they’re ongoing,” the mayor said.

For several months, the team and the city have been negotiating a way for the Rays to look around the entire region for suitable stadium sites. The team has said it can’t conitnue to play at Tropicana Field through the end of its stadium use agreement in 2027, and it has insisted that it must be able to look in Hillsborough County as well as Pinellas County for a new site.

If talks are, in fact, stalled, it’s not clear what Major League Baseball can do about it. Relocating to another market is not on the table, Sternberg said in an Associated Press article Thursday.

Sternberg has suggested several times in recent years that baseball’s other 29 owners were growing restless with the Rays’ lingering stadium problem. Richer teams such as the New York Yankees have to subsidize less profitable teams through revenue-sharing payments. It’s not clear how much the Rays get in revenue-sharing today, but internal baseball documents leaked by the Web site Deadspin.com show the Rays received $35 million in 2008.

“The other owners are looking at it,” Sternberg said again on Thursday. “How many years is this going to be? How much money is it going to be? We should be able to get to the point where the revenue-sharing dollars we would receive don’t need to be so significant year in and year out.”

Selig, meantime, said he is giving “very strong consideration to assigning someone from MLB to intervene in this process, find out exactly what the hell is going on.”

Baseball has intervened on occasion in stadium discussions around the country. The Oakland As have wanted to move out of their stadium for several years and currently want to move to Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose. However, the San Francisco Giants have fought the As and argued that Santa Clara is their territory.

Selig appointed a committee to study the battle between the As and Giants and find a solution four years ago, but the committee never announced any solution, said Roger Noll, a Stanford University professor and economist who studies sports economics.

In Miami, baseball’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, regularly attended stadium discussions between Marlins executives and South Florida government officials, Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff told the Tribune in 2010.

DePuy was present whenever Marlins President David Samson threatened to move the team without a new stadium, Sarnoff said.

“Baseball was always supporting Samson’s threat of moving,” he said.

Foster on Thursday said he would welcome Major League Baseball to talk about the stadium issue, saying, “Ours is a big table. The commissioner always is able to sit down at the table to discuss our situation.”

Karl Nurse, chairman of the St. Petersburg City Council, said he sees the commissioner’s comments as the “usual pressure on the city to go borrow several hundred million dollars and buy us another facility.”

“I guess if they bring a big enough checkbook, that would be just fine,” Nurse said. “I assume their intention is not to bring a big checkbook.”

The Associated Press and Tribune reporter Christopher O’Donnell contributed to this report.

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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