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Early end to season is the answer to Rays' many woes

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By JOHN ROMANO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- More than any other, baseball is a game of hope. Hope that the next day will look bright, the next season will promise more.

So it is for Tampa Bay fans. Even now, with the Rays stretching hope's credibility thin, there is reason for optimism.

Salvation is within reach and certainly within sight.

All this franchise needs is a good work stoppage.

Strike or lockout, either will do. If necessary we'll pretend Bud Selig's ideas sound vaguely intelligible. Whatever it takes.

Yes, it seems a ridiculous solution. But is it any more absurd than, say, leaving the tying run on third base in the ninth inning of every single loss since 1999? Just consider the advantages:

No. 1, no more paychecks for Wilson Alvarez or Greg Vaughn. That alone makes it darned attractive.

No. 2, no more losing streaks. No more fear the Rays will become the first team in more than 20 years with back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

No. 3, a stoppage that lasts into the offseason would prevent Chuck LaMar from pursuing Juan Guzman. Think of the millions that will be saved.

No. 4, it could lead to a new revenue sharing system that would allow the Rays to keep players like Randy Winn and Steve Cox.

No. 5, still no more paychecks for Alvarez or Vaughn.

Still think it sounds ridiculous?

You might argue a strike would be detrimental for the state of baseball. I say, "Pffffft."

Did the Yankees have the greater good of the game in mind when they acquired Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver, ensuring New York's employees would collectively make more than New Zealand's?

It is time for the Rays to get selfish. George Steinbrenner wanted a rightfielder and a pitcher and he got them. Vince Naimoli wants a balanced book and a clue. A strike would give him time to pursue both.

Really now, who is going to miss the Rays if they start winter early?

The fans? They seemed to quit on the team right around the same time Vinny Castilla did.

The players? When was the last time a player got teary-eyed when talking about wearing the ol' green and black of the Rays? And, other than noted extortionist Fred McGriff, who tried to weasel extra money on his way out the door, when was the last time a player seemed reluctant to move on?

David Letterman? Okay, he might miss the Rays. But sacrifices have to be made.

If this sounds facetious, it is. But only just a little.

There is virtually nothing to be gained in Tampa Bay by playing the final two months of the season.

Attendance will get worse before it gets better. There is little chance of passing anyone in the standings. Winn, Cox, Tanyon Sturtze and Paul Wilson will be that much closer to the exit.

All August and September will do is reinforce the same negative images borne of the previous three months. That this is a sorry baseball team playing in a sorrier stadium in the sorriest market in the league.

Sorry, but true.

In that context, a strike seems a plausible way out.

This franchise has greater problems than a few rotten acquisitions and Naimoli's loan shark management style.

In the battle between apathy and excitement, the score is not even close. Non-sellouts outnumber full houses at Tropicana Field by 370-1.

By now, fans have pretty much gotten their point across. That point being they have other things to do.

The game itself is not enough of a draw. The stadium is certainly not enough. The only hope is that winning will finally bring a respectable number of fans to downtown St. Petersburg.

And the only hope for winning is a new labor agreement. Without some meaningful form of revenue sharing, the Rays appear destined to live out their existence in the style of Minnesota or Cincinnati.

Counting pennies, praying they don't make a major blunder and hoping their farm system produces a contender every 8-10 years. And then watching those players disappear, en masse, when their contracts run out.

It should not take a work stoppage for players and owners to come to an agreement that would ensure competitive balance. Any fool can see that. The problem is we do not have just any fool in charge of baseball. We have their king.

But if a work stoppage is the only solution, so be it. Because it is clear the current system does not favor Tampa Bay and the Rays, as a franchise, have not proven themselves shrewd enough to overcome their disadvantages.

So we are left looking at the final two months of the schedule and wondering if somehow the games can become meaningful.

By canceling them.

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