Rays Hall of Famer Boggs Favors Tampa Stadium

Don Laible
Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs has a theory on countering the Tampa Bay Rays' home attendance woes. Building a new ballpark in downtown Tampa should do the trick.

During a recent visit to the "Home of Baseball," Cooperstown, New York, Boggs didn't hesitate when asked what could be done in attracting more fans to Rays' games.

"They (Rays) should build a stadium in downtown Tampa. Right now, with the team playing in St. Petersburg, there are too many bridges and too much traffic for fans to tackle."

Boggs, who was one of seven Hall of Famers in Cooperstown over the Memorial Day Weekend participating as coaches in the 12th edition of the Hall of Fame Classic game, is adamant about his views.

"I've never been asked for my input," said Boggs of Tampa's management.

According to Spotrac.com, billing themselves as the largest online sports team contract resource, the Rays rank 24th out of all 30 MLB franchises in payroll. For the 2022 season, Tampa's payroll is just over $87 million.  The Atlanta Braves, the franchise with the highest payroll in the big leagues, has a $308 million roster.

More people attending Rays' games should generate more funds at a new ballpark, thus management would be able to attract high-profile free agents. At least, this is a plan, in theory, that could bring about positive results for Tampa's franchise.

Boggs' final two seasons of his 18 MLB years were as a member of the Rays (originally called Devil Rays).  Having grown up in Tampa, playing before the hometown fans was a big deal, and physically appealing to the former five-time American League batting champion.

"I enjoyed playing for the Rays at the end of my career. After home games, I was at home in bed. I got to play in front of my family and friends. Being with the organization when it was new, at its foundation, was fun," said Boggs.

While Boggs is impressed with the Rays' success on the field with a low payroll, which he labels "unique," he is clear that the franchise's future isn't in St. Petersburg.

"It (St. Petersburg) isn't an option."

The 2020 United States census lists Tampa's population as 384,959. Combining that with St. Petersburg's 268,000 population, it's not too hard to believe a new ballpark in downtown Tampa wouldn't excite a potential audience numbering more than half a million.

The Rays have been playing home games at Tropicana Field since their inaugural season in 1998. The Trop, set up with 25,000 seats for baseball, is the smallest MLB stadium by seating capacity.

Last season, the Rays were 28th in MLB attendance averaging 9,513 fans at home. Thus far in 2022, Tampa ranks 27th in attendance drawing 13,821 fans to The Trop.

During batting practice prior to the Hall of Fame Classic legends game, Boggs, who along with fellow Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Lee Smith were coaches for Team Fergi (managed by Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins), offered his support for fellow Tampa native Fred McGriff's chances at being elected to the Hall of Fame.

"I think he (McGriff) has a chance," said Boggs, a 12-time American League all-star.  "Each year Fred's numbers are going up in the voting."

In most cases, baseball ownership pushes for a new ballpark, in hopes of attracting new fans. The Rays are a winning ball club. Two seasons back, Tampa collected their second American League pennant in their club's history. Perhaps, as Boggs declares, Rays' Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg needs to push harder for a new home for his club in downtown Tampa.

When searching for answers on how to get more fannies in seats, it seems like a no-brainer for Sternberg to bring Boggs onboard, when discussing his franchise's future.  

When speaking with Boggs at Doubleday Field prior to the seven-inning exhibition game involving retired players representing all 30 MLB teams (Carlos Pena represented the Rays), other than presenting his views for a new ballpark in downtown Tampa, the two-time Gold Glove Award winner seems indifferent on the daily happenings of the Rays. This should change.

He follows the club but is not any closer than any other MLB team. A local baseball legend not directly involved with the Rays seems so wrong. Playing home games in a new ballpark should make an even bigger difference for the Rays' winning future. 3,010 hits aside, when Wade Boggs speaks, ownership should stop, and listen.