- [Announcer] This is a production of WEDU PBS.
Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.
- [Announcer] "Rise of the Rays" is supported in part by: Duke Energy.
And Kane's Furniture.
- [News] Major League Baseball is discussing its expansion plans.
- [News] The National League is so tight lipped, that, really, the only thing we have to go on are rumors.
- Don't have any other comments.
- We want the Sox to stay in Chicago!
- I remember thinking, "Well, we have a baseball team."
- Forget the White Sox, vote no!
- Eh, not so much.
- I say, St. Petersburg's future is now, and I vote yes.
- This was gonna happen, until it didn't.
- Those owners were gonna do what they were gonna do.
- Stabbed Morsani between the shoulder blade and his spine.
- Honorable people were not involved.
- After being told by Major League Baseball.
"No, no, no."
Finally, we got 'em.
(crowd cheering) (upbeat music) - [Tom] It's a beautiful century for baseball here, on Florida's West Coast.
Welcome, friends, to the "Rise of the Rays," the decades long saga of how Tampa Bay finally attracted its very own Major League Baseball team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Sure, we almost got the Twins, The A's, The Rangers.
But we didn't.
We almost got the White Sox, The Giants, and The Mariners.
But we didn't.
And we almost got a National League expansion team.
But we didn't.
We got the Rays.
And how that happened, is a devil of a story.
Let's meet the rivals.
It's baseball, versus St. Petersburg, versus Tampa.
Major League Baseball starts our story.
In 1982, there were 26 Major League Baseball teams.
And, as far as baseball was concerned, that was enough teams and they were all in the right places.
- [Morsani] Whenever we started, I had to learn something about baseball.
And what I learned, is that they, it's a club.
Very, very closed club.
Extremely closed club.
They were very happy with what they had.
- Baseball doesn't want to expand.
Baseball's very happy with the status quo.
- You know, "Go back to Tampa and go to hell."
That's kind of what they said.
- Looks like baseball is gonna be a tough opponent.
But St. Petersburg and Tampa both think they are Major League material.
(upbeat music) - The idea of could we support professional sports in Tampa Bay was, you know, new.
During the '60s and '70s, you couldn't find a seat in LA.
You couldn't find a seat in Duning, or Clearwater, or Braden, or Sarasota, during all this time of spring training.
You look at what happens in Tampa with the early success of the Tampa Bay Rowdys.
(upbeat music) You know, then the Buccaneers is NFL Football.
(upbeat music) So, the idea of professional baseball coming to Tampa Bay and to St. Petersburg, I think, as our community continued to grow, it was the right time.
- I always thought, "Yeah, this is a natural."
"Couple of years, we'll have a baseball team."
- If we were that easy, Dave, we wouldn't have this story to tell.
St. Petersburg and Tampa are two different places separated by a common body of water.
They do start this pursuit, though, as rivals.
(upbeat music) - The wide body of water between the bays was just huge.
I mean, there were so much differences between the two sides.
- [Morsani] Look at every major market where water separates.
The communities are entirely different.
New York and New Jersey.
San Francisco, Oakland.
Minneapolis, St. Paul.
- There's always been that competitive edge between both sides of the bay.
They got the great beaches and Tampa has the bays.
- [Morsani] St. Petersburg was really the tourist.
And nothing wrong with that at all.
But this was the industrial hub of the west coast of Florida.
- Every time some major instruction occurred, it was in Tampa.
The big football stadium was in Tampa.
The whole military was all in Tampa.
- Probably, the first real rivalry, which airport was being designated international.
- Nothing that St. Petersburg ever wanted, ever ended up in St. Petersburg.
It always ended up in Tampa.
- So, St. Pete decided, well enough of that, we can play this game too.
(upbeat music) - We've had a long history of baseball in St. Petersburg.
Al Lang, who was the mayor of St. Petersburg, loved baseball, and he was smart enough to know that, if you invite baseball teams to come to town for spring training, you're gonna draw a lot of fans from those towns.
- 1914, the St. Louis Browns come, and it just opened the floodgates after that.
(crowds cheering) - The Yankees pretty much put us on the map.
In 1925, you know, for about, what, 10 years or so?
Every spring, you could have walked around downtown and there would've been Babe Ruth like walking down Central Avenue.
- See Lou Gehrig feeding the pigeons.
Quite a few stories about Mickey Mantle, and Billy Martin, and their gang.
- From 1922 and, really, until the Mets left in 1987, you had New York media here for the first quarter of the year.
- It really, in a way, was what made St. Petersburg St. Petersburg.
- In 1937, the St. Louis Cardinals agreed to come here.
They stayed here until 1997.
There's no team that's ever been affiliated with Tampa Bay as long as the Cardinals.
A lot of those people that came here then turned around and moved here, and that helped the city grow.
- Jake Lake, former executive with the Times, really was Mr.
Baseball in St. Pete.
- Jake was a go-getter.
He envisioned, along with Jim Healey, that it might be possible to bring baseball here.
- They'd fly all around the country just to get a minute with some of these owners, the barons of baseball, so to speak, and kind of whisper in their ear, "Look, when you expand again, you know, you've gotta consider us."
"If you're gonna move a team, you've gotta consider us."
(upbeat music) - [Tom] St. Pete has a great baseball tradition.
But Tampa has its own history and a long list of homegrown ball players.
- I grew up in West Tampa.
Baseball was like a religion.
Everyone talked baseball.
We played every Sunday, all summer long.
That skating parks, where our pro team played, Tampa Smokers was the name of the team, and it was an International League, 'cause Havana was in the league, drew great crowds.
What else did you do?
There was no TV.
- During the spring training time, Tampa, at Al Lopez Field, they had the Cincinnati team and the White Sox watching Pete Rose when he was a rookie.
- Tampa produced a lot of ball players.
Al Lopez was the first.
He was also the most important.
- Your parents would tell you, you know, "You gotta be like Al Lopez, look what he did."
You know, "He came from humble beginnings and he made it."
- He was an all-star catcher.
An all-star and hall of fame manager.
- He was a hero, he was an idol to all that kids in West Tampa and Ybor City.
- Al had a tremendous influence.
He really helped a lot of us understand what a major leaguer looked like.
- You had Lou Piniella, David Magadan, Tino Martinez, Tony La Russa.
- Doc Gooden, Gary Sheffield.
- Luis Gonzalez, Steve Garvey.
It goes on, and on, and on.
- Fred McGriff, he'll be the fourth person with Tampa roots to be in the Hall of Fame.
- So, both sides of the bay are thinking big and both have a good baseball story, but Tampa has an early advantage.
It has a potential team owner.
(upbeat music) - Frank Morsani was a Tampa businessman.
- A car dealer, soft spoken man.
Seemed to be a humble man.
He wasn't one to pat himself on the back a lot.
But I quickly learned that he's a mover and shaker.
- I never had seen a Major League Baseball game.
However, looking at the history of baseball in our community, well, it was time that we had baseball here.
I said, "All right, I'll try to lead the effort."
- He assembled an ownership group that he believed would be a credit to baseball.
- [Morsani] George Steinbrenner was a supporter of us all the way.
Cedric Tallis had been the general manager for George Steinbrenner for eight years.
I had a meeting with him and I said, "Would you consider coming on board and creating an effort for Major League Baseball?"
- When you've got Frank Morsani on your side at the city as big as Tampa, along with a a solid baseball man, a career baseball man as Cedric Tallis, I thought, "These guys have a real chance."
(upbeat music) - [Tom] And we're underway in the first inning.
It's 1982, and Frank Morsani is the first to bat and he wants to move an existing franchise to Tampa.
(upbeat music) - [Morsani] The poorest attendance was Minneapolis.
Their average attendance was less than 650,000 a year.
Versus everybody else, was high millions.
We decided that we would purchase 42%.
- Morsani Group bought out a minority owner and now they're in the room.
And we all got excited, because we thought The Twins were gonna move to Tampa until- - [Morsani] Carl Pohlad decided he wanted to keep it in Minneapolis.
- [Tom] Morsani is rounding third, but it looks like baseball is blocking home plate.
And now, there's a conversation between baseball, Morsani, and Twins owner, Carl Pohlad.
- So, they go to a owner's meeting in Philadelphia.
And Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner at the time, walks out with an announcement where he says, "The Tampa Bay Baseball Group have agreed to sell their percentage to Pohlad."
"The team will stay in Minneapolis."
- Baseball asked him to, basically, back out of the deal and there would be future considerations, that he would end up with a team later.
- I think they thought, at that point, that that would definitely give Tampa a privileged position.
- We found out later, eh, not so much.
- [Tom] Second inning now, St. Petersburg does not have a big bat like Morsani, but they do have the best utility guy in the game, and he is hustling.
(upbeat music) - And I would see the name "Rick Dodge," and I would see "Assistant City Manager."
And I'm thinking, "Okay, what is an "Assistant City Manager" doing being so involved in these baseball talks?"
- [News] Assistant City Manager of St. Petersburg, Rick Dodge.
- [News] Rick Dodge.
- [News] Rick Dodge.
- The most powerful Assistant City Manager in the history of the United States.
- Rick Dodge was a civil servant who went well above and beyond his duties to try to bring baseball to St. Petersburg.
- He understood the facts.
He understood the position of the community.
And he understood baseball, and so, he was our point man.
- Rick Dodge could make things move simply by talking to people behind the scenes.
- He was set to go anywhere and any place to argue to get a baseball team in St. Petersburg.
- [Tom] While St. Petersburg's Assistant City Manager is busy talking to owners, Frank Morsani and the Tampa Group are out here buying teams again.
- [Morsani] I actually made a deal to buy the Oakland A's.
They agreed to sell.
Then I get a call, President of Oakland A's said, "Well, we're having a press conference this afternoon."
"We received a $10 million grant from the city of Oakland to upgrade the stadium."
"Therefore, we're not going through with the deal."
- That's two strikes now for the Tampa side so far.
But, look who's coming to the plate.
It's Frank Morsani again.
(upbeat music) - [Morsani] We had a call from Texas.
The owner of the Texas Rangers was in lot of financial trouble.
They couldn't get anybody in Texas to step up to the pump and do anything about it.
I had met with them and they had agreed to sell.
So, I flew to New York.
We met with Peter Ueberroth.
Well, unfortunately, Peter Ueberroth is not an honorable man.
We're meeting and he said, "I want to tell you, this meeting does not exist."
(tense music) Okay, doesn't exist.
So then we start in talking about Chiles and buying the Texas Rangers.
And he said, "I will support it."
"We need to get 'em out of there."
"You guys go right ahead and make your deal with Chiles and I'll support it."
- The contract called for Eddie Chiles to use his best efforts to help this sale get approved.
We go to an ownership meeting.
We're waiting for Eddie in the lobby of a very nice hotel, and he walks in.
And he just turns a 180.
Starts saying, "I didn't know they wanted to move my team to Tampa."
"That's just wrong, we can't have that."
And the deal collapsed.
- [Tom] The Rangers will stay in Texas, and Eddie Chiles sells the team to an investor group fronted by George W. Bush.
Once again, baseball strikes out Tampa and Morsani.
- He began to realize that he wasn't dealing with the most honorable cast of characters.
- The Commissioner of Baseball could make the final decision for that kind of a transaction.
Peter Ueberroth had full authority.
Of course, he denies that today.
There wasn't any meeting, you see.
This meeting did not occur.
- Texas ended up with this great, wonderful ballpark in Arlington.
- [Morsani] Same time, St. Petersburg kept saying they were gonna build a stadium.
- We build a ballpark, as in that movie, they will come.
- [Tom] Third inning, still no team on the way, but St. Petersburg needs an advantage over Tampa.
They are going to build a baseball stadium.
What the hell are they thinking?
(upbeat music) - The St. Petersburg City Council, at the time, either made, some thought, the stupidest decision.
Some thought, the smartest decision, to authorize building the stadium.
- The stadium would be built in what we called, The Gateway Site, halfway between Tampa and St. Pete.
- And then, the idea of the gas plant came up in St. Petersburg.
- St. Pete said, "Nah, we think we'll build it downtown."
The Tampa are people going, "No, no, no, no, no."
"That's crazy, you, don't do it."
- Public money would build the stadium in St. Petersburg.
But the advantage was, that they were gonna get their gas plant for a dollar.
- In 1987, our principle goal, our first goal, was to, for this community to achieve economic vitality.
We were going to prime the pump with public money into the private sector.
The stadium was the biggest.
The Bay Plaza Project.
Renovating the pier.
Renovating the Bayfront Center, and axing 1100 acres north of town.
- George Steinbrenner, living in Tampa at that point, told me, in no uncertain terms, when I printed it, "Do not proceed, St. Petersburg, with building this stadium."
"We're not gonna guarantee you a team out of this and you're gonna be sorry if you do."
- I think it was the quote from Jake Lake.
He said, "And they told us not to build a stadium."
And I kind of, "Did they really say that?"
"Don't build it?"
He said, "Yes, they did."
"They said it would be counterproductive if you do."
And Pinellas County went ahead and built one anyway, ignoring what baseball told them.
- I say, St. Petersburg's future is now, and I vote yes.
- [News] The council voted six to three to go ahead with the project.
- There was a lot of dissension.
A lot of anger.
- [News] The use of public money angered many.
- And anger that was not unjustified.
- Our funds, our tourism funds, that were of such value to us at the time, should not have just been, without a referendum at least, or something of that nature, just siphoned off in that magnitude towards a stadium.
- And, of course, several of those who supported the stadium fell to the voter's vote in the next election.
- And so, they built the Suncoast Dome.
138 millions of dollars of bonds.
- In four years, we raised the taxes twice.
Well, ain't anybody happy about that.
But we had a stadium to build and it was in process.
- They built the stadium.
- [News] Very big and very expensive.
- They certainly did.
And once they built it, they then had to find a team to play ball in it.
- [Tom] Fourth inning and Rick Dodge coming to the plate for St. Pete.
He does not have a checkbook, but he does have a ballpark.
(upbeat music) - There had been stories in the, you know, newspapers about the White Sox needing a new ballpark and having trouble getting it.
- There were fights every night.
And people stealing the cars out of the lots.
- Comiskey Park was not any place you'd really want to go for anything other than a ballgame if you were a fan.
- We were having a lot of trouble in the legislature.
Governor Thompson, at the time, had told me that, while he wanted to get a stadium for the White Sox, it would be very difficult unless we had an alternative.
Nobody who owns a Major League franchise wants to move it.
- [News] Not without good reason.
Sox owners say having to play in the decrepit Comiskey Park is reason enough.
- Rick tried to convince me that we should just pick up and go to St. Petersburg.
- We all kind of laughed, "Yeah, okay, right."
"The Chicago White Sox are gonna move to St.
Well, Reinsdorf took him seriously.
- There was a lot of substance to him.
It wasn't all salesmanship and con.
He knew what he was talking about.
- The legislature had been given an ultimatum.
"Either give me a stadium or I'm outta here."
- And the deadline was midnight on July 1st, 1988.
- [News] Very soon, White Sox baseball might be this dome in St. Petersburg, Florida.
- Jerry really was planning on moving the ball club.
- Improbable as it would've sounded, a team leaving Chicago for St. Petersburg, Florida.
Yet, there were a lot of reasons that it made a lot of sense and looked like it was gonna happen.
This one seemed the most real.
(upbeat music) - We want the Sox to stay in Chicago!
- Sorry fellas, it's June 30th, 1988.
St. Pete and Rick Dodge have the bases loaded and they are just minutes away from moving the White Sox to their new dome.
- [Interviewer] Do you remember that night?
- Everybody remembers that night.
- They had a midnight deadline in the state capital of Illinois to approve funding for the stadium, or it would go away.
And it didn't look like it was gonna pass.
- Forget the White Sox, vote no!
- I remember watching it on live TV here.
- Five minutes to 12 and the die was almost cast.
The White Sox were coming to St. Pete.
- And here comes midnight.
And here we go past midnight, and no decision.
And I remember thinking, "Well, that's it then."
"We have a baseball team."
- A local TV announcer is going, "It's midnight."
"They're moving to St.
"Wait a minute, what?"
- But lo and behold, at the 11th hour, and 59th minute, and 59th second.
- They literally stopped the clock.
- Literally pulled the plug on the clock.
- Everybody just looked stunned.
But this is Illinois politics, right?
- They extended the session another several minutes and the governor of Illinois had gone on the floor of the legislature.
- The governor wasn't gonna let the White Sox go.
- You saw, you actually saw him go up to people, get real close, give 'em that firm handshakes, whisper something that wasn't a sweet nothing in their ear.
Suddenly, people that were gonna vote against it, voted for it.
- Then, before it got to 12 the second time, they had the vote.
- [News] The state legislature approves a plan to build a new White Sox stadium in the City of Chicago.
- It was a tantalizing and frustrating experience for the people in Tampa Bay watching that unfold.
- St. Petersburg is a great city.
Great fan support.
We're gonna have a heck of a stadium.
Put 'em number one on the list for expansion.
- Well, knowing what I know about Chicago, 'cause I grew up in the suburbs there, it didn't surprise me that those politicians, in the state of Illinois, could pull some crap like that.
- Well, Rick Dodge just struck out, but plenty of innings left to play.
(upbeat music) - The fact that the Chicago White Sox would consider moving from Chicago to St. Petersburg validated St. Pete, along with the effort to build the stadium, and along with the fact that, you know, they marketed it as the Tampa Bay area.
- It totally legitimized Tampa Bay as a Major League Baseball market.
- Did Joe just say Tampa Bay?
He didn't say St. Pete.
Let's look at that again in slow motion.
(slowed down) - Tampa Bay.
(slowed down) Tampa Bay.
- Wow, that's a new one, and let me tell you, these guys are 0 for four against baseball.
But if they start working together, this is a whole new ball game.
Welcome to the fifth inning.
St. Petersburg's new dome has attracted one new potential baseball owner to Tampa Bay.
It's Tampa's Frank Morsani.
(upbeat music) - I think he eventually realized, being the pragmatic man that he is, the two sides really have to do a better effort of coming together to try to show baseball, "We are a united community, not two different sides of the bay."
- Morsani agreed to abandon plans for a stadium in Tampa, and that, if he got a team, it would play in the St. Petersburg stadium.
- [News] The Bay Area, once divided, now has its civic and political leaders united in the quest for a team.
- [Morsani] It behooved everyone to, "Let's try to work together."
"Now, how do you make things happen?"
- [Tom] It's June, 1990 and everything is coming together for Tampa Bay's Major League Baseball dream.
There's a stadium.
There's an owner.
And now, baseball is ready to announce it's expanding to 28 teams.
- [News] Baseball is talking about the decision made today, in Cleveland, about putting expansion teams on the field in 1993.
And we'll hear from some of the insiders who think that we have a pretty good chance of having a baseball team in the Suncoast Dome by 1993.
- And then, by September of 1991, the two winners will be announced.
- [Tom] Expansion is drawing a crowd.
Denver, Miami, Orlando.
Washington DC, Buffalo.
It looks like they are all in line behind Tampa Bay.
- We have the state-of-the-art facility ready and the best marketplace, with a terrific ownership group, and a great broadcast market all wrapped up.
And those are the ingredients that baseball's gonna look at.
- It was fairly well thought that it was gonna be Tampa Bay and Denver.
- The Florida Suncoast Dome that is already in place, in essence, got the stamp of approval from Major League Baseball owners when, indeed, the Chicago White Sox were on the verge of moving to the Tampa Bay area.
- I probably gave some credibility to the St. Petersburg area, but the other owners had to make a decision, you know, based upon what they thought.
- It seemed like Tampa Bay had its act together.
They had their owner, who'd been through experience with Major League Baseball in Frank Morsani.
He had been, he thought, promised a quid pro quo of future considerations.
They had an agreement with him to play in the stadium that was built.
So, they looked like they were all set.
- This is the right market.
And this is the right time.
And Major League Baseball is going to come here.
- Holy smokes, wait a minute.
It looks like the Morsani Group is not the only batter up for Tampa Bay.
- One of the surprises that came up was the men who owned the local St. Petersburg Cardinal's Minor league team, Stephen Porter, wanted to represent Tampa Bay.
They had the connection with Bud Selig, very powerful owner, future Commissioner of Baseball.
- And because there were competing ownership groups, baseball had to designate which group would represent the area.
- Commissioner, Fay Vincent, has said many times, most recently today, that stability of ownership is going to be very, very important.
They want an owner to be able to sustain a team during years of losses.
- The Frank Morsani Group appeared to be the strongest group out there.
- Porter Group kind of showed up and no one really knew what to make of them.
No one was sure exactly where their money was coming from.
No one was sure what their intentions were.
- Supposed majority owner, by the name of Steve Porter, he made an appointment with me, because, here I am, Chairman of the largest Fortune 500 company.
And he said, "I'm really here to get your commitment for a number of millions of dollars," that would've equaled all of our minority investments.
And I knew we had a phony, right from the start.
- [Tom] In 1991, baseball is ready to announce two expansion teams.
One to Frank Morsani, who'll play at the Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg.
And the other team to- Who cares?
It's Tampa Bay's time!
(upbeat music) - So, we have the economic weight to handle Major League Baseball's requirement under any circumstances.
- [Interviewer] Frank, let me ask you a little bit- - Morsani was the one who was supposed to get the team.
Much to the surprise of a lot of people, especially Frank Morsani, baseball picked the Porter Group to go forward.
- We were led to believe that the Porter Group had financial backing from the Kohl brothers from Wisconsin.
And also maybe Roy Disney, of Disney.
- They rejected Frank Morsani, who didn't get the promise fulfilled that he could have the next expansion franchise.
- Stabbed Morsani right between the shoulder blade and his spine.
They sent him a fax.
It said, "You're not gonna be the owner."
"We chose the other group."
And that was despicable.
Good grief, give the man a courtesy anyway.
- [Morsani] My wife would tell you, "Why, I told you a dozen times, to get outta this damn baseball."
That's what she told me day, after day, after day.
I said, "Well, I'm already committed."
Of course, we suffered the consequences.
Never have gotten over it, really.
Honorable people were not involved.
- Baseball took a little bit of the spirit out of him.
- [Morsani] I'd borrowed a lot of money.
And the people that loaned me the money thought we were gonna get baseball.
- Wow, baseball picks Porter over Frank Morsani?
I don't know who Stephen Porter is, but I'm pretty sure it's a bad sign.
(upbeat music) - [News] The National League is so tight lipped about everything right now that, really, the only thing we have to go on are rumors.
And the latest rumor is that Miami and Denver have moved to the head of the expansion class.
- Wayne Huizenga, in Miami, seemed to jump into the lead.
- Wayne Huizenga got involved.
The man who founded, essentially, the Blockbuster Video franchise and Waste Management, two major companies.
He had very lot of substance to him.
- Back then, our lives revolved around Blockbuster.
I could see where baseball would look at that and say, "I can see a marriage there."
- When it came right down to awarding the expansion team, the Porter Group didn't have the financial backing.
- Their finances fell apart.
- Well, today, is a very exciting day for South Florida.
- The expansion team ended up in Miami with the Florida Marlins.
- We received word from Bill White this afternoon that we are one of the two finalists.
- It almost made me wonder, if I were prone to believe in conspiracies, that baseball knew that that other group was shaky.
Morsani would've been very difficult to turn down.
- Major League Baseball was playing games with us from the start.
I don't think they ever intended to consider St. Petersburg, but they couldn't do that publicly.
This is my opinion.
- By God, those owners were gonna do what they were gonna do.
- Going in, everyone knew there were gonna be four unsuccessful candidates.
It's too bad and, you know, one hopes that they understand the process was legitimate and the course was very prudently followed.
- Rick, he did feel it.
He felt that public trust and he felt like he hadn't fulfilled it.
He's like, "Okay, I'm down, but we're not out."
"We're gonna come back and do this one more time."
"And make one more phone call."
- [News] Coming up next, the Florida Suncoast Dome.
A construction marvel, all right, that must now live up to its $110 million dollar billing.
Attracting more than just praise, but major events and people to fill these now empty seats.
- [Tom] It's opening day in Denver and Miami, but here, in Tampa Bay, the Dome sits empty.
This is 1.1 million square feet of empty.
It's the first seven inning stretch that will last eight years.
- It can't just sit there and be a money sucking machine.
- [News] Tonight, more than 28,000 are expected at the official grand opening.
- We determined that if we could do 120 event nights a year in the stadium, that it would be cash flow neutral.
- [News] It's the Suncoast Home and Garden Show.
- [News] For the International Folk Fair.
March 16th through the 18th.
The Florida Suncoast Dome- - I can remember taking my two year old son to the largest Halloween party in Halloween history.
I took him to the trucks that would smash into each other.
We had the largest garage sale at the trap.
We had 35,000 people at Lightning games.
- [Tom] There's a lot going on in the Suncoast Dome, but it sure ain't baseball.
We go to the eighth inning and Tampa Bay has lost five consecutive times.
Frank Morsani is out of the game now.
And Rick Dodge needs some help.
And here comes Jack Critchfield out of the bullpen.
- After the Morsani group was torpedoed, we didn't have a lot of billionaire guys sitting around here with a blank checkbook to pull this off.
- I'm not sure credit is giving adequately to the Board of Directors of Florida Progress, specifically Jack Critchfield.
- Dr. Jack Critchfield really galvanized the community and all the business leaders.
- I wasn't really involved 'til Mayor Fisher contacted me, right after we didn't get the National League expansion team.
And asked me if I would kind of lead the parade and really get something going here that would work.
You know, I thought, "You know, Major League Baseball could fit here very well."
"And it's got a history, so it shouldn't be that hard to get a team."
And, I expect, about a month later, I got a call from Rick Dodge.
He thought the Seattle Mariners might very well be interested in relocating.
(upbeat music) - Jeff Smulyan was looking for either a new stadium or looking to move.
- There's no doubt this franchise can generate more revenues in many other cities.
The challenge is to give it enough revenues to stay competitive in the American League in this city.
- They had a decrepit, falling apart stadium.
And their attendance was lousy.
- The franchise has been losing between six and 10 million dollars a year.
- It just seemed like, okay, Seattle's too hip for baseball, and they were ripe to move.
- [Tom] Jeff Smulyan may be willing to move the Mariners, but Seattle isn't willing to let him go.
- We're not getting up any rights simply to allow Mr. Smulyan to take the team to Florida.
- The problem was he had a lease that required him to give the Seattle market an opportunity to keep the team.
If they could come up with a viable ownership group, he had to sell it to them.
- [News] According to the lease at the Kingdome, the community now has 120 days, or until March the 26th, to come up with a local buyer.
- If no one comes forward in 120 days, the franchise clearly has the right to leave Seattle.
Yes, we do believe that.
- [News] And here's a company that's ready for the move.
Wouldn't it be nice if baseball could move this quickly?
(upbeat music) - Fans, you know this doesn't end well for Tampa Bay.
But get a load of how this thing happened.
- [News] A group of Seattle business leaders made the announcement today.
They say they found a group willing to put upwards of 125 million dollars in cash into buying and running the Seattle Mariners.
- [Tom] Hiroshi Yamauchi, the Chairman of Nintendo, has stepped up.
Major League Baseball forbids foreign ownership of teams.
Or do they?
- [News] Nintendo, and it's offer to buy some 60% of the Seattle Mariners, stand between Tampa Bay and its field of dreams.
Will Major League Baseball succumb to pressure and accept this offer?
Something major league owners vow they would never do.
- It is still baseball's view that local ownership, North American ownership in specific, is the preferred, strongly viewed, preferential ownership for baseball.
- Before you know it, there were deals done in the back rooms.
- The ownership committee of Major League Baseball has just completed its meeting on the Seattle matter.
- And there was no deal.
- They changed their bylaws to permit a foreign investor.
And Nintendo was the foreign investor.
- I thought, "Here we go again, baseball."
- They wanted to keep a franchise on the west coast to go with Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels at that point in time.
- And they said the reason that they weren't gonna move Seattle to Tampa Bay was because of the kids of Seattle.
- [Tom] Seattle already lost one major league team when Milwaukee car dealer, Bud Selig, bought the Seattle Pilots and moved them to Wisconsin, creating the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970.
- Well, apparently the kids didn't matter then.
But, at any rate, that was the reason given.
- But something else happened at that meeting.
The night before this vote took place, the Giants sent around a news release that they would now consider selling the team to somebody who would move it out of San Francisco.
- Instantly, Rick Dodge says, "The next one is San Francisco."
(phone ringing) - About six in the morning, my phone rings, probably half a dozen times.
- I hear the phone ringing.
(phone ringing) - It's Rick Dodge going, "Pick up, pick up!"
- Rick Dodge is screaming into the phone.
"We bought the Giants!"
"We bought the Giants!"
- "We got 'em!"
- [Tom] Tampa Bay has a new designated hitter, here in the ninth inning.
It's Vince Naimoli.
I've never heard of him.
- And Vince Naimoli, that was the first time he got involved.
Even though he was a very successful, very prominent, and very rich businessman who lived in Tampa, he had kept an incredible low profile.
His name had never been in our paper before.
- He was basically a turnaround artist.
- Had he not come along, we wouldn't have been able to make the offer to the Giants.
He came into my office to introduce himself and to say that he was interested in being an investor in a baseball franchise.
He was the first one to commit to 51% ownership.
- He started meeting with Rick Dodge.
I thought Rick Dodge called him every minute of the day.
- Rick and I were both aware that Mr. Lurie was waiting for a bond issue to build a new stadium for him and it failed.
We had representatives coming here.
They visited the dome.
We visualized what it would look like for baseball.
- We've got a serious problem in San Francisco and we need to find a way to solve it.
- Rick Dodge, Vince Naimoli, others that were involved in the effort, negotiated and signed a a contract to relocate the the Giants to St. Petersburg.
- [Tom] Vince Naimoli is rounding third and he's headed home to the Dome.
It looks like the Giants are coming to Tampa Bay!
- They had a deal.
The then Commissioner of Baseball, Fay Vincent, on the phone, approved it.
We had the opening press conference and announced that the Giants were coming to Tampa Bay.
Big headlines in the newspaper.
- We printed up special sections.
There's, I still have a copy.
"Tampa Bay Has a Giant Deal."
Tampa Bay Giant uniforms were designed by Major League Baseball.
- We all felt good about it.
- I mean, this was gonna happen.
Until it didn't.
- Major League Baseball did not want the Giants to relocate.
- We were Bill White away from getting the Giants.
- Ultimately, he felt, as president of the National League, that a team shouldn't leave San Francisco to come to St. Petersburg.
There's some geographical reasons for that, competitive reasons, but probably, the history and tradition as much as anything.
(low tempo music) - He didn't want to see them become the Tampa Bay Giants.
That just spoiled the entire baseball plan.
The whole history of baseball would've been just put off its axis.
- [Tom] Naimoli is caught in a rundown.
And I thought he had a deal?
How can baseball keep the Giants in San Francisco?
- Bill White was apparently meeting with everybody he could to find somebody who could put up, supposedly, 51% and meet the qualifying rules of baseball to be the majority owner.
The Commissioner of Baseball, the acting Commissioner, directed him to do it.
- [Reporter] Mr. Selig, why is it that the San Francisco Group has been allowed to make several proposals?
- I really don't have any other comment.
- Similar to the White Sox situation, they extended the clock.
They basically said they're gonna give San Francisco groups time to assemble a better offering.
- Now, there seems to be some question of whether or not there'll be a bid submitted by tomorrow, the deadline, to Bill White and the National League.
So I guess all of us need to wait and see, again, one more day what's going to happen with the next tale.
- They extended that deadline a couple times.
It was very, very frustrating for Vince Naimoli and the Tampa Bay people.
- [Reporter] The obvious question.
Why has San Francisco been given opportunity after opportunity to make a competitive offer?
- It's appropriate not to move a team unless the city that the team is in has been given every opportunity to keep the team.
- You know, I hate to see franchises moving willy-nilly and if there is a legitimate buyer in San Francisco that we have to give San Francisco group serious consideration.
- We've been saying that we expect baseball to do the right thing.
And that we expect them to act on our application favorably 'cause this community and this ownership group has done the right thing.
- Ultimately, Major League Baseball is a private enterprise.
They can decide how they wanna operate.
- Baseball was looking at the long term.
They wanted to pull the strings.
They wanted to make sure that they were in charge.
- And, at the last minute, he went and found new ownership for the San Francisco Giants, who kept them in San Francisco.
- Mr. Lurie was required to take a significant amount less than the contract we offered him.
- [News] Some quick math will tell you that San Francisco's offer is 20 million dollars less than Tampa Bay's.
- It was a bad deal for him, it really was.
- The vote was as a result of, I think, a very, very meaningful and a very caring discussion.
Now, obviously, in situations like that, there are gonna be some people who are very unhappy.
- And the boat went the way it did and there were winners and there were losers.
And that's baseball.
- [Tom] I guess we're going to extra innings.
As we know, Tampa Bay still does not have a baseball team.
But it seems like they just won't give up.
- At this point, I had enough of Major League Baseball.
I think I knew how Mr. Morsani felt.
Not that they did it, but the way they did it, to me, was not just ungentlemanly, it was just bad.
It was just wrong.
And I think the only way you're gonna get this team is to do to them what they've done to others, sue 'em.
- Vince was angry.
He was the person that, "My word is my bond."
"My handshake makes a deal done."
Mr. Naimoli and the city decided to file suit against all the teams in Major League Baseball, which is the way you have to sue Major League Baseball.
No judge is gonna award a Major League Baseball team to you.
But he clearly understood the leverage part of it.
- We began to hear rumors that, well, expansions back on the table.
I will always believe it was 'cause of Vince Naimoli's lawsuit.
He was gonna win that lawsuit.
- People wanna avoid litigation.
And, remember, all of these owners were going to make a ton of money from the expansion price tag.
- Remember when the Pilots left Seattle for Milwaukee?
Seattle sued the American League, and in return for dropping the lawsuit, baseball awarded Seattle the Mariners in 1977.
Lawsuits are not a new threat to baseball, but they are a very, very effective strategy.
(upbeat music) (phone ringing) - After a couple of months, Mr. Naimoli got a phone call saying, "You drop the lawsuit, you and Critchfield come to Chicago, make a presentation to the owners, and you'll get a new franchise along with another city," which was Phoenix.
- There's like one final meeting and that should make it official.
- And it was kind of an anti-climactic, except for one thing.
- The day before, which was March 8th, a rumor started getting around that the deal wasn't done.
- Old buddy, Wayne Huizenga had gone into yet another owner's meeting and said, "Look, we're selling this team too cheap."
"We need to jack the price up."
- Vince and and Jerry Colangelo were told that the expansion fee was increased from 90 million to 135 million.
- You know, he sort of had them over a barrel.
And Vince being Vince, threatened to just call the whole thing off.
- This thing was in danger of falling apart.
- They wanted it done their way, that they can squeeze out every dollar they can from a prospective buyer.
- They ultimately had to pay the higher price.
- After being turned down so many times, and told by Major League Baseball, "No, no, no."
- Major League Baseball has voted 28 to nothing to award expansion franchises to Tampa-St. Petersburg and Phoenix, Arizona.
- Finally, we have our baseball team.
- The heaviest part of anything is holding other people's dreams in your pocket and being responsible for 'em even a little way.
If there's anything that we can say about our area, it's been relentless and businesslike and that paid off today.
- I think this is the greatest day in the history of Tampa Bay.
(upbeat music) - Here comes your Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
(upbeat music) - [News] The gates to Tropicana Field swung open just a few minutes ago and we're now just a short time away from the start of Devil Ray's baseball.
- Just can't wait.
Can't wait, been waiting for it all year long.
- I remember, the opening game, we sold out in about seven minutes.
- There are about 45,000 people enjoying today's game.
Or they will- - I mean, you talk about something that there was a buildup to.
- [News] Look at the crush of the crowd.
You can see the excitement in their eyes.
This is a dramatic day at Tampa Bay.
A day decades in the making.
- Tampa Bay is a real baseball community.
- It's been a hard road- - To see all that hard work and those dreams be realized was really something special.
- Opening day was so exciting.
You know, after all those garage sales.
After all those Halloween parties.
After watching the trucks.
- The stadium was packed and it was rocking.
- We had, in our little town of St. Petersburg, Major League Baseball.
- [Announcer] That will go directly to the Hall of Fame.
- That was the greatest day in Tampa Bay baseball history, for sure.
On March 31st, 1998, there was a Major League Baseball game being played in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the home team were the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
That was the culmination of almost 20 years of effort.
- [Announcer] It's gone!
(crowd cheering) - That was the most worth day.
- That wraps up the "Rise of the Rays."
Rick Dodge left St. Petersburg government in 1997.
He passed away in 2021.
Frank Morsani emerged from bankruptcy and made enormous charitable contributions to the Bay Area.
He has never attended a Rays baseball game.
Vince Naimoli sold his stake in the Rays in 2004, and he passed away in 2019.
Jack Critchfield and his wife, Mary, have seats behind home plate and they still attend every game.
Today, downtown St. Petersburg thrives with many attributing its growth, in part, to the Rays.
The Ray's lease at Tropicana Field ends in 2027.
It's an old, but familiar story to you by now.
A team wants a new stadium, so other cities have come calling.
The Rays could stay in St. Pete.
Or they could leave for Montreal.
Or, as ever, there is always Tampa.
But that's a whole other story.
So long, everybody.
(upbeat music) - [Announcer] "Rise of the Rays" is supported in part by: Duke Energy.
And Kane's Furniture.