Talks with area officials on a potential new stadium fell apart earlier this month, so the Rays are back in their generation-long limbo. Perhaps matters in Oakland are more pressing for MLB, but eventually, something’s going to have to give here—and as Rays outfielder Tommy Pham so brutally but accurately put it, it’s likely going to have to be “a new ballpark, or maybe a new city.”
Pham, who was acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline and went on to post career-best numbers with the Rays, is currently playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, and did an interview with MLB Network radio in which he compared the crowds in St. Louis and St. Pete, and it’s not pretty.
“It sucks going from playing in front of a great fan base to a team with really no fan base at all. St. Louis, they’re one of the few teams where, day in and day out, they have 40,000 fans at every game. That’s something that I miss. Because even out here in the Dominican they have a strong fan base with the team I’m playing for, their fans are very supportive, they’re loud, and the Rays, they just don’t have that.
“Do I think something has to happen, whether it be a new ballpark or maybe a new city? I think so. If you have a team that’s going to be winning 90-plus games, competing in that division, and you don’t have any fan support, then that’s a huge problem.”
If Pham is unaware of the history or the context for why the Rays have such trouble drawing, that doesn’t make anything he said wrong, or less of a problem. The Rays averaged 14,259 fan per game last year, a significant drop despite the team winning 10 more games. They haven’t averaged over 20,000 since 2010. I question whether a new stadium would even fix the problem, given that the Marlins, with their still-shiny park, were the only MLB team with lower attendance than the Rays last season. I don’t know what there is left to say let alone do about the issues raised by Pham in this interview, but Pham’s comments themselves are noteworthy and ominous: players notice this stuff, and care.