Results tagged ‘ Frank Morsani ’
Every time I see the Seattle Mariners as they take the field, I think of what could have been. Their teal, royal blue and white team colors could of easily transferred into the Tampa Bay color scheme. Funny how the arrogance of one person cost Tampa Bay a team for so long.
It seems like so long ago, but it was only 1992 when the Tampa Baseball Group led by Tampa businessman Frank Morsani almost pulled off their own baseball miracle. Say it with me for a second, Tampa Bay Mariners. It had that perfect nautical sitting on the Gulf of Mexico ring to it.
19 years ago the Tampa Baseball Group was poised and ready to help subsequently pack up everything Mariners related and move it 3, 125 miles to the hamlet of St. Petersburg, Florida. The Tampa group thought they had a clean-cut solid deal in place knowing that a majority of the American League franchise ownership was poised and ready to approval their deal and move to Florida.
The Mariners current majority owner, Jeff Smulyan could easily visualize that he could be just as rich and remain in an ownership position if he sold his team and also moved along with it to Tampa Bay. There was solid evidence that if Smulyan wanted to relocate his team to Tampa Bay, the American League would vote the franchise move in a landslide.
Former St. Petersburg Times columnist Hubert Mizell wrote back in 1992: “ Smulyan doesn’t expect a Seattle angel. If the Tampa Bay deal become reality, the man from Indianapolis absolutely wants to be a majority owner. He would steadfast oppose a lame-duck season in Seattle”
As we all know an angel did appear….from the far away island of Japan.
The video game giant Nintendo firmly put themselves at the forefront, hoping to stave off the shady doing of Smulyan. Suddenly a local business savior had emerged with a solid reputation, and very, very deep pockets. Smulyan was blindsided by the move that showed the region’s tenacity and resilience. This was the same SoDo community leadership group that he secretly scoffed about in private, and never saw imagined this type of ownership coup would materialize.
Smulyan immediately started acting like a spoiled child. Smulyan, who was a sitting member of the American League ownership committee shunned his apparent responsibilities of his post, basically refusing to even acknowledge the sale much less endorse the Japanese business Godzilla.
Instead of being in Seattle side of the issue, Smulyan vowed that he would not vote on the sale if there was a vote, depriving Seattle community of a automatic “yes” vote for the sale. Smulyan even went as far as to not recognize or give his blessing in any shape or form regarding the Nintendo offer.
I still love this quote by Smulyan: “I have read the application, but I am not going to comment on it I don’t want to give my opinion on it or any way influence the committee. The Best thing about the process is it’s out of my hands”.
Got to love the arrogance and spite riddled within those words. Here is a owner who put his club up for sale, and a local buyer did not materialize, so he sold it to the Tampa Baseball Group that would move the franchise cross-country in a heartbeat. Little did the public know at that time in 1992 that Smulyan refused to sign a local cable television deal that would have brought the Mariners between $ 3-6 million dollars just for 1992 season.
You had an owner who wanted to act like an absentee landlord hoping his nonchalant attitude would get his traveling papers stamped and approved by his fellow American League owners so he could motor on down to St. Petersburg. Smulyan had full intention of the 1992 season starting in the then named Thunderdome in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Smulyan tried to bluff the table by acting like a dis-concerned owner and it ended up backfiring in his face and wallet. The Nintendo offer brought to the table the MLB prerequisite of a local Seattle ownership group with considerable wealth and a long term commitment of providing a future investments to the team.
What was so funny about all of it was earlier in the sale process Smulyan had gone on to tell the Seattle community, “ This was Seattle’s chance to step up and save baseball for the community.” 19 years ago Tampa Bay almost got their prized baseball team, but with it might have come the owner from h-e-double hockey sticks.
So the next time you are in the stands and hear a fan rant and rave about this ownership group, or even the Vince Namoli era, maybe you should tell him about the owner we almost got saddled with. The guy who turned his back and ears on his community and tried to pack his team up for Florida without any regret. Still like the sound of Tampa Bay Mariners, but Tampa Bay Rays does have a better sting to it.
The pursuit of major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area began hard and furious in the 1988 after the proposed building of the Florida Suncoast Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The area now had a viable baseball stadium within the area, and also had an estimated 12,000 deposited Season Tickets on hand. The area baseball group were tireless in their pursuit of either an existing team, or an expansion franchise for their new domed stadium.
The local group them began to woo major-league baseball to the Sunshine State by visiting and trying to obtain ownership shares in existing MLB clubs that were in either financial trouble or wanted leverage to get stadiums or other breaks from their local city governments. Yet despite nearly eloping with several teams like the Minnesota Twins, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants, the region had to wait until 1998 to field a team of its own.
Baseball first arrived in Tampa/St. Petersburg as teams began to flock to Florida for spring training. The father of major-league baseball in the area was Al Lang, a Pittsburgh native who had moved to St. Petersburg in 1910 and within a few years had joined the management of the local ballpark. After failing to talk Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss into having his team train at Waterfront Park, the future home of Al Lang Field, ( Dreyfuss refused, calling the backwater a “one-tank town” ) and watching the Chicago Cubs move their spring operation from New Orleans to nearby Tampa.
Lang finally convinced Branch Rickey to bring his St. Louis Browns to St. Pete. In anticipation of the team’s arrival, financing was approved for a new ballpark, seating 2,000 fans. The first game at the new field saw the Cubs defeat the “hometown” Browns 3-2, behind a first inning homer by rookie outfielder Cy Williams. Professional baseball in the town was an instant hit, and soon became so popular in St. Petersburg that businesses began to close early on weekdays so that fans could attend games.
However, Rickey’s players, unable to find any other sources of entertainment (movie theaters closed early, and alcohol was forbidden by town law) were bored silly. Embroiled in a financing dispute, the Browns left after their first year to be replaced by the Philadelphia Phillies, who moved to the town’s training facilities in 1918. In 1922, the New York Yankees and Boston Braves arrived in St. Petersburg. Babe Ruth, the Yanks star attraction, was once chased out of the outfield by alligators at Huggins-Stengel Park located near the center of town.
In 1928, the baseball-mad city helped Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert turn a $60,000 spring training profit. The St. Louis Cardinals arrived in town in 1938 and stayed until 1997, at various times sharing the city with the Yankees, Giants, Mets, and the Orioles. Tampa, too, has had its share of spring training tenants, having hosted six teams since the Cubs left after the spring of 1916.
Local interest in bringing a team to the Tampa Bay area first emerged after MLB expanded into Toronto and Seattle in 1977. While attracting major-league teams to the area for the spring was never a problem, luring a team on a permanent basis proved to more problematic. Most of the problems were a result of a lack of cooperation between the Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments. Although it was mutually agreed upon between the two cities that it was in their best interests to bring major-league ball to the area, Tampa and St. Petersburg’s local sports authorities independently courted dissatisfied major league owners while making plans for separate stadiums.
In 1984, a group of investors known as the “Tampa Bay Baseball Group” ( led by businessman Frank Morsani ) managed to buy a 42% stake in the Minnesota Twins, hoping to move the team to Tampa. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, acting in what he called “the best interests of baseball,” pressured the group to sell their share to Carl Pohlad, a local banker who intended to keep the team in the Twin Cities. Tampa was foiled again in 1985, when Oakland A’s president Roy Eisenhardt, after agreeing in principle to sell the team to Morsani’s group for $37 million, decided to keep the team after agreed to a new stadium lease with Oakland’s mayor.
In November 1985, both cities made separate presentations for expansion teams (amidst charges of plagarism ) to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was annoyed at the local community civil war. However, the rivalry continued. From 1986 onwards, St. Petersburg appeared to be the destination of choice for the Chicago White Sox, who were unhappy with Comiskey Park. The St. Petersburg group went so far as to break ground on the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1988, ostensibly the new home of the White Sox. Their neighbors across the bay steamed, and the Tampa Tribune opined that that the locale of the new stadium “puts one in mind of a particularly pinched Albanian village.”
However, hopes ended in 1988 when Chicago officials managed to pass financing for a new stadium at the last minute by unplugging the Legislative clock to get a resolution passed to keep the team in the South Side of Chicago. Even though the Sox ended up staying in Chicago, the Suncoast Dome was well on its way to being built, effectively ending the long rivalry between the two cities with regards to baseball; it was agreed that any team coming to the area would be housed in the new stadium.
However, opportunities evaporated as quickly as they appeared. Morsini’s attempt to buy the Texas Rangers in 1988 was foiled, MLB left the Tampa Bay area out of its expansion plans in favor of Miami in 1991. Then Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan had made a verbal agreement with the Tampa Bay baseball group, but decided to try and keep the team in the city by selling his team instead to Nintendo in 1992. MLB again rebuffed Tampa Bay in late 1992, when National League owners rejected a agreed upon proposal that would bring the San Francisco Giants to the Suncoast Dome.
Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded an expansion team on March 9, 1995, ending what new owner Vince Naimoli called “a path of ten thousand steps, ten thousand phone calls, ten thousand frustrations.” Three years before starting play, the team named former Braves executive Chuck LaMar as their general manager; LaMar, charged with the task of building a team from scratch, decided to build his club around veteran cornerstones. To that end, the team signed future Hall-of-Famer Wade Boggs, slugger Paul Sorrento, and Opening Day pitcher Wilson Alvarez. They then traded for Tampa Bay native Fred McGriff and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Kevin Stocker. The trade for Stocker took the most heat as the team had picked young outfielder Bobby Abreu and then turned around and traded the young star to Philadelphia for the experienced shortstop.
Larry Rothschild, who had never before managed a game but has always been a well-regarded major-league pitching coach, was named the team’s first manager. So here we have a just a short history of the Tampa Bay area and their quest to obtain their MLB franchise. The area sweated long and hard to finally field a team in the local sunshine of Tampa Bay. And within 11 years of their first game, celebrated a playoff berth for the young team.
Tampa Bay’s pursuit of major league baseball was a investment in the past and the future for the region. And the area is finally reaping the benefits of acquiring a professional team to play in the confines of Tropicana Field.