The Tampa Bay Devil Rays needed a makeover. With eight seasons of too many cellar-dwelling endings, the team has been reeling. Add the fact that former managing partner Vince Naimoli never really endeared himself to the community, arguing over speeding tickets and with fans, and you have the recipe for a franchise disaster.
But now, thankfully, the team has the business-savvy Stuart Sternberg at the helm.
Baseball likes feel-good stories that support its image as “America’s pastime.” In fact, the nation’s history can be chronicled with presidents throwing out ceremonial first pitches and, as my mom recounts, eras when time was spent listening to the home team on the radio. That’s why the story of Stuart Sternberg is perfect for the game.
Sternberg, 46, enjoyed the game of baseball from an early age. When he was 5 years old, his dad took him to see Sandy Koufax pitch. Koufax eventually became Sternberg’s baseball idol, and Sternberg even named one of his sons after him. After completing high school, he enrolled in St. John’s University at age 16, but dropped out. By 21 he had a seat on the American Stock Exchange trading equity options. Quite successful in the business world, he now seems happy coaching his son’s Little League teams and building the Devil Rays franchise. This team seems to be a perfect fit for Sternberg since he says, “I’m a buy-low guy.”
He has also surrounded himself with young, enthusiastic businessmen with resumÃ©s that boast strong academic credentials. Andrew Friedman, the executive vice president for baseball operations, and Matthew Silverman, the team president, have extensive investment experience and graduated from Tulane and Harvard, respectively. As the insightful Silverman has stated in a New York Times story, “It’s about building a business on the baseball side that matches our growth on the business side.”
As you might expect, the business-knowledgeable management team likes using quantitative measures and investment analogies to make its point about the product on the field. Low payroll, a consistent criticism of the team since its inception, is explained by Silverman utilizing “mark-to-market accounting,” as stated in the New York Times, to “value a security in his portfolio at the current market price, not the price he paid for it.” Using this reasoning, a team payroll that is one-fifth of the New York Yankees isn’t quite so bad.
But not all the organization is doing deals with statistics and variables. It is trying to reach out to the fans, something that was sorely needed. Tropicana Field has undergone a $10 million renovation, installing flat-screen televisions and revamping restrooms. In addition, all team-owned parking lots are free, and there is a potential name change in the works, which would help to re-brand the team. All these changes helped the team achieve its fourth sellout for the home opener in team history.
The enthusiasm is apparent, and I hope it continues; however, real challenges remain. As the home opener showed, performance on the field is still lacking. Erratic starting pitching was apparent, and the offense didn’t score until late in the game. New manager Joe Maddon has plenty to teach this young team and an unforgiving division in which to do it.
While there was plenty of enthusiasm Monday night, the baseball season is still young. Consistency is not only a challenge on the field with this team, but also with the fans. Sure, the improvements to the sound system and all are nice, but if September home games find more empty seats than full ones, what was really accomplished in April?
Despite all the question marks, the community should be recharged. Naimoli is “NOMO,” as a sign read Monday night, and the refreshing image of a new management team and young prospects on the field should give hope. If not hope for some more wins, hope that the $1 hotdogs and sodas will be plentiful.
Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.