Rays change autograph rules midseason, aggravate fanbase

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During the Rays last homestand, a slow grumbling began among the Rays twittersphere. Many fans who were used to hovering near the dugout long before the game started, were told by security to find their seats. Once the clock reached 45 minutes before the game, the fans could no longer get autographs or interact with the players.

Many fans took to twitter to tweet @RaysBaseball and ask why. Some fans reported they were told people in the first few rows complained and that the Rays were following up on the complaint. One even went as far as to say they were told the players were instructed not to take pictures with the fans anymore.

Here are some facts:

Every team in Major League Baseball has a page for their stadium on their website. The Red Sox have a page for Fenway Park, the Cubs have one for Wrigley Field, and so on. The Rays of course, have a webpage for Tropicana Field. On this page the Rays have an A-Z Ballpark Guide. This page covers all the intricacies of the ballpark operations and experience, from “Alcoholic Beverages” to “Parking” to “Umbrellas”. Most teams have an A-Z Ballpark Guide for their stadium.

Just below “Alcoholic Beverages” on the Rays A-Z Ballpark Guide is a section labeled “Autographs”. This section reads:

Fans are permitted to seek autographs from players along the railing at the outfield side of both the first and third base dugouts up to 45 minutes prior to game time.

According to fans’ twitter accounts, the Rays are enforcing the 45 minute rule.

But is it new, or newly enforced?

Using Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, we can get an idea when the Rays published this rule. If it has been on the books for a while, then maybe the staff is only now enforcing it. But perhaps it has been changed.

The first time the Wayback Machine scanned the Tropicana Field A-Z Ballpark Guide was in December 2010. Looking at that archived page, the autograph section reads:

Fans are permitted to seek autographs from players along the railing at the outfield side of both the first and third base dugouts up to 30 minutes prior to game time.

Interesting. Four years ago, fans could get autographs for 15 minutes longer.

The most recent scan the Wayback Machine has for the Tropicana Field Ballpark A-Z Guide is on July 20, 2014. Under the heading “autographs”, this page states:

Fans are permitted to seek autographs from players along the railing at the outfield side of both the first and third base dugouts up to 30 minutes prior to game time.

Same phrase as the 2010 webpage. Very interesting. Now we know sometime between July 20th and today, the webpage changed.

Sometime between July 20th and today, the Rays changed a rule that was on the books for at least four years and allowed fans to interact with their favorite players.

According to a Rays Renegade post on August 16th,

after the conclusion of the New York Yankees BP, the Sentry security team which protects the field regions around Tropicana Field were informed pre-game to begin informing the amassed crowds of Rays fans who seem to migrate and linger within the Lower Bowl seating area that they will no longer have access to this area 1 hour before game time.

That means that this once prime autograph and photo real estate will be off-limits.

The Rays have played 65 of their 81 home games. The August 15th game was their 60th home game of the season. Why change a rule 75% of the way through a season?

That’s not smart.

Unfortunately for the Rays, 2014 has been full of in-season changes. The death of Don Zimmer left a hole in the coaching staff. The trade of David Price during the season left a hole in pitching staff and in the locker room. And the changing of the autograph rule leaves a hole in fan relations.

In each of these situations, something that was there one day wasn’t there the next. The average Rays fan can understand death and they might even comprehend trading one of the best players. But the average fan will struggle to see the logic of changing the autograph rule during the season.

(Note: most teams have a 45-minute rule as well. The White Sox, however, let fans stay until 25 minutes before the game.)

Prior to the David Price trade, the Rays usually traded their veteran players during the offseason. Losing James Shields and Matt Garza was more accepted when fans had an offseason to digest the news. That’s how the autograph rule should have been handled.

Changing a rule that affects fan relations during the season, especially after trading one of the team’s best players, is awkward at best, ignorant at worst. The Rays should have known fans would complain. The last thing the Rays should want is fans complaining about something the team can control.

2 comments for “Rays change autograph rules midseason, aggravate fanbase

  1. August 25, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    I always remarked to people in the past how open and fan-friendly the Rays players, Coaches and staff were to their fan base, Been blessed to have sat in a player friendly area for a long time and had some great moments with the players before, during and after games. But even that ship has sailed and might of actually sunk now. True losers in all this is the kid’s just wanting to see their favorite player.

    • Mike Lortz
      August 28, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      Appreciate the comment. I am curious if the Rays will address the autograph issue in the offseason. Very surprised this was more than a “enforcement” issue, but also a “rule change” issue.

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