For those who might not have heard, Andrew Friedman, the Rays Executive of Baseball Operations, left the team to take a position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
According a team press release:
Current Rays President Matt Silverman will now serve as president of baseball operations, and Rays Senior Vice President of Business Operations Brian Auld has been named team president
From a baseball perspective, this is a big deal. Friedman has been with the team for nearly 10 years and is one of the most highly respected front office people in the game. While the Rays have many other smart sabermetric Keebler elves who will pick up the slack, Friedman’s loss will be felt.
From the aspects of the game I cover – attendance, economics, and marketing – the Friedman loss won’t make that much of a difference. Most fans don’t concern themselves with the President of Baseball Operations or General Manager or similarly named position. He is just the person who gets the players fans pay to see.
Had Joe Maddon left as some rumors speculated, fan behavior might have been affected. While Friedman and Maddon are both well-respected in their positions, Maddon is much more of a public figure and more of a face for the franchise. Friedman was not very public. He was not seen on Bayshore Blvd. He did not comment after meetings with the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg. He was just the guy who got the players.
What could make a difference in fan relations are Stu Sternberg comments as quoted by Josh Vitale of SunCoast Sports:
From Day 1 when he came in here, when we all came in here, we knew what challenges we had. Obviously we would have liked to have been further along in that area, but Andrew has lived through that and worked through that as well. But at the end of the day, whatever happens with our attendance and as far as our stadium is concerned, it has an effect on everything that’s done in the organization. We work around it, we work hard and we try to work smart, but when you finish last in attendance or near the bottom consistently, it permeates throughout the organization.”
Sternberg should have left the attendance talk out of the comment. Period. End of sentence. No other comment. Anything else is bad public relations.
While the stadium talk is an obvious swipe at the politicians, attendance talk should have been avoided. Again, Sternberg threw the area population under the bus. It is not a leap to claim “the lack of butts in the seats prevented us from keeping our President of Baseball Operations”.
Sternberg didn’t make that claim when the Rays traded David Price. He didn’t say it when Carl Crawford or BJ Upton left. He said softer terms such as “the realities in which we play” or other such phrases. He did not mention attendance.
Sure, Friedman is a friend who has worked alongside the boss for 10 years. Yes, it is an emotional day for the Rays front office. Sure, the Dodgers lured Friedman with piles of money not possible in Tampa Bay. But to associate lack of attendance with Friedman’s departure – no matter how true it is – is not smart.
As I mentioned years ago in a blog letter to Stu Sternberg, like a woman, fans respond well to compliments. Hearing from the owner that because not enough fans go to games, operations are negatively affected is like telling your wife her dress actually does makes her look fat. It might be true, but you shouldn’t say it.
Sternberg then continued by saying the Rays performance is a “half a miracle” and that front office confidence is lacking.
The level of confidence wasn’t that great to begin with. Year to year, it’s not that great. Given the hand that we’re dealt and how we go at it, it’s half a miracle that we get done what we get done and get to where we get to. Having said that, if Andrew were here and we weren’t having this phone call today and the Rays were just moving along, I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence that we were going to become a 90-win team next year like we had been for a period of time, either.
He softened his comments by then saying they rely on the process and just play the games, but the damage was already said.
If the front office is not confident the team can win, why should fans have any hope? Why should fans invest their time and money into a team the owner has limited confidence in? Why not spend their money on less emotional and cheaper baseball alternatives?
Advice for Stu Sternberg: heed the words of Don Corleone: “Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again.”