On January 31, the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame inducted six new members. These superstars were recognized in a ceremony at Tropicana Field that included the inductees, several Tampa area former ballplayers, a few Rays players, and an actor from the movie Field of Dreams.
Taking nothing from the accomplishments of Tim Raines, Jim Thome, Thurman Munson, Denny McClain, and Jim Kaat, the celebration at the Ted Williams Museum raises two interesting questions: why the museum is where it is and what is the future of the museum.
In 1994, the Ted Williams Museum opened its doors as a living shine to one of the best hitters in baseball history. When it was established, the museum was located in Citrus Hills, Florida, a small community in Hernando County, a little over an hour from the Tampa Bay area. The Citrus Hills location was selected as it was near Williams’s home and was the centerpiece to the Citrus Hills development, owned in part by one-time Red Sox part-owner Sam Tamposi. Williams not only lived in Citrus Hills, he was also the spokesperson for the community.
With attendance dwindling due to its out-of-the-way location (a familiar refrain), the museum moved to Tropicana Field in 2006. Today, the museum is part of the Rays game experience and admission is free on game days.
Besides being a showcase for Williams and other great hitters in Major League history, the museum is also home to the Ted Williams Foundation. According to its website, the Ted Williams Foundation
“is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit institution that provides for the continued existence of the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame as well as to provide for its youth programs and scholarships for deserving student-athletes. The Ted Williams Foundation also provides assistance to charitable organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club, the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Phillies, and Twins Foundations in baseball, the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation in the NHL, and Dolphins Foundation in the NFL, with all funds directly assisting youth programs.
While the existence of the museum is great and the causes the museum stands for are commendable, it’s time to move the Ted Williams Museum from Tropicana Field.
Admittedly, I’m not sure who negotiated the deal to put the Ted Williams Museum in the Trop. Was it the Rays or was it the City of St. Petersburg? Is the museum paying rent to the Rays or to the city? Whoever the deal is with, here are several reasons the Rays or the City of St Pete should cut ties with the Ted Williams Museum.
There is no connection – Yes, Ted Williams loved Florida. He loved the Florida Keys and he loved fishing in the Tarpon Springs area. But that is not a good reason to house the museum in its current location. Williams was born in San Diego and made his career in Boston. The Trop was convenient when the original museum closed, as it was close, but now a permanent home should be found where Williams’s legacy will be better acknowledged and appreciated.
Not built for Florida baseball fans – As mentioned before, Ted Williams was a spokesperson for Citrus Hills in an attempt to help a former Red Sox co-owner. Williams’s mission was to sway New England retirees to move to Citrus Hills. The museum was built with New England fans in mind. It was not built for Florida sports fans. Williams never played baseball in Florida. Outside of general baseball appreciation, there is no reason for Florida baseball fans to visit. The museum does not speak to the history of their community.
Doesn’t help the Rays community – Not only is the Ted Williams Museum devoid of Florida baseball history, its presence actually enforces out-of-state fandom. Ted Williams was a Red Sox. His career is synonymous with the Red Sox. In an area where the baseball demographic is so splendidly splintered, hosting a shrine to a legend of a rival team makes little sense. Using the “retirement location” logic, should we expect a Derek Jeter Museum to also open in the home of the Rays?
There is a better option – Sometime in the very near future, the Tampa Baseball Museum will open. This museum will be located in the Ybor City home of Al Lopez, Tampa’s first Major League Hall of Famer. While the museum will focus primarily on the baseball history of Tampa, why not create a subsidiary museum for baseball across the bay and tell the story of Al Lang and baseball in St Petersburg? The Tampa Baseball Museum is already a cross-Bay venture with support by the Rays and St. Pete-based design group Creative Arts Unlimited.
Social Media embarrassment – Not only is the Ted Williams Museum website seldom updated, but its twitter feed has been controversial to the point of confrontational. For example, following the City Council vote in December to not let the Rays look for other possible stadium locations, the Ted Williams Museum tweeted this:
Thank you Council of St Pete 4 understand that its all about what extra money u can stuff into ur pockets. Great job on pier too! #Geniuses
— Ted Williams Museum (@TWmuseum) December 19, 2014
That’s not smart at all.
The Ted Williams Museum twitter account has also posted such irrelevance such as asking for fantasy football advice and re-tweeting negative comments about Rays pitcher Grant Balfour. Social media should be personable, but that’s not a good look.
Move now before it’s too late – Eventually, the Rays will leave Tropicana Field. They are going somewhere, whether to a new stadium in Pinellas County, a stadium in Hillsborough County, a stadium in Montreal, or a location in Nashville, Columbus, or Sheboygan. Wherever they go, the Rays’ time in Tropicana Field is limited. With the City of St Pete already considering the value of the Tropicana Field property, there is no chance the Ted Williams Museum will stay in its current location past 2027. The museum should explore locations now in preparation for whatever decision the Rays and the City of St Pete make. Moving as soon as possible would give the museum time to establish and could actually make the museum more money if moved to a more profitable area such as San Diego or near Fenway Park.
While convenient, the relationship between Tropicana Field and the Ted Williams Museum has run its course. There is little the Ted Williams Museum can contribute to the Tropicana Field experience that would benefit the Rays. If anything, the museum is detracting from the Rays’ mission of winning the market. Finding a new home for the Ted Williams Museum and Hitter’s Hall of Fame would be in the best interest of the museum, Tropicana Field, and the Tampa Bay Rays.