OAKLAND—Despite having the lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays have found success in the postseason once again. The Rays downed the Oakland Athletics 5-1 on the road Wednesday night in the do or die one game Wildcard round of the MLB playoffs. While this is a significant milestone for the small market franchise, the real story behind this is the mastermind behind the money, Stu Sternberg.
Sternberg has been the principal shareholder and owner of the Rays since October of 2005, when his ownership group purchased a 48% stake in the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization for a cool $200 million. He prides himself as being a savvy investor, and he has proven to be just that while taking on the big challenge of revamping the the worst team in baseball. Before Sternberg took over full baseball operations after the 2005 season, Tampa Bay had never won more than 70 games, and the franchise’s best finish in the American League East Division was fourth out of five teams and 30-plus games out of the race for the division. After two more last place and losing seasons, Sternberg knew there needed to be more than just on-field changes, and sought to repair an organization in dismay from top to bottom.
So he changed the name.
“I think this gives us as an organization an identity,” Sternberg exclaimed in front of a gathering of 7,000 Florida men at a downtown St. Petersburg park in November of 2007 while announcing he had dropped the ‘Devil’ from the team name and switched the team colors from black and green to navy and light blue, trying to rid the cursed franchise of it’s failed past.
And it worked. The year of the Ray(s) was 2008, when a rookie Evan Longoria and a rag tag group of journeymen and previously unknown future Red Sox and Yankees took the ten year old franchise to their first World Series appearance, in their first playoff berth, after claiming their first AL East Division title. The turnaround was almost like a fairytale, only to be shot up by an all-American AR 15 of a Phillies pitching staff featuring 45 year old Jamie Moyer and ace Cole Hamels, as Philadelphia swept the reborn Rays in four straight games.
$54,449,283. That was the difference in salary payroll between the 2008 World Series Champion Phillies, and upstart runners-up Rays. That number is more than 11 million dollars higher than what Sternberg spent on Tampa Bay’s entire 2008 payroll of $43,820,598 which ended up as the second lowest payroll only outspending the 77 loss Marlins. So Stu had a Philly blueprint, a young talented core complete with soon to be elite pitching, and surely a plan to to close the talent gap of the Ryan Howards and Jimmy Rollins of the baseball world.
“Nah I just wanted to change up the color scheme and soak up all the new season ticket holders I could possibly bring in while the excitement around the team was still there,” Sternberg said when asked about having a plan to catch up to the high payroll teams, “the fact that the team got so far only ensured the buzz around town would lead to big time bumps in season ticket numbers.”
The 2019 season marks the franchise’s fifth postseason appearance, all since Sternberg’s branding gamble in 2007 proved to be successful enough to continue investing his time and resources. Only the 2010 AL East Championship Rays payroll came in higher than 25th in the league, one of Stu’s biggest accomplishments. Given the state of the MLB and health of the yearly revenue share ($118 million in 2018) spending to be competitive with the big market teams seems a lot easier than owners make it out to be, but this humble journalist is but a simple middle class person with no knowledge of the intricacies of spending the type of money Stu does on a yearly basis. His organization has vastly outperformed his conservative spending, something Rays fans everywhere have complained about at one point or another.
“Why doesn’t that rich fuck spend some of that Wall Street money and bring in some players like the Yankees have who can hit the ball to that planet that shows up in the sky when the sun goes down,” vented Clearwater resident and registered democrat Ken while he tuned up his riding lawn mower he was using to commute to work the day I caught him for a quick chat about Tampa Bay’s team.
I posed the question to Sternberg who shook his head and chuckled before responding. “You know, being a multi millionaire is tough work, and it may not register in the brains of the normal folk, but there’s a lot of taxes and stuff that go along with spending the type of money it takes to field a ball club. Being in Florida, the advantage is even bigger since there is no income tax collected. So we can offer under market contracts while the player is still clearing about the same if he were to play in California or New York, and that has really helped our bottom line.”
And if the players aren’t happy being under paid?
“Well that’s why we have contracts, and we can keep a player, especially a short tenured young player, under team control for quite a long time under this CBA. And if they still don’t like what we’re offering, they can fuck off and wear Pinstripes or live in the liberal hell of California,” Sternberg continued to rant, “And let me tell you another thing, Ken, if you don’t like how we’re running things, why don’t you buy the…oh wait you don’t have 200 million dollars do you? Do you even have 200 dollars? Jesus Christ, a fucking lawnmower?”
Sternberg unfortunately cut our interview short, saying he didn’t realize he was being recorded or that this wasn’t even for a baseball publication at all. We didn’t even get the chance to speak about his stance on the uprise of socialists among the younger demographic and whether or not that has had anything to do with the down tick of popularity amongst the same age group.
One thing is for sure, Stu Sternberg is an American hero, and although not yet a champion of the MLB, he is a true champion of Capitalism, proving that as long as you have enough money to throw at something, you can have a bunch of underpaid people work countless hours to grow your operation into a somewhat successful venture, without compromising profits for on-field success. He’s hit a homerun this year, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the triumphs for his net worth. At press, Stu was actively shopping for real estate in Montreal and sending expletive-heavy emails to city council leaders in St. Petersburg and Tampa demanding more tax payer money to fund a new stadium on the gulf coast.