(this post also appears at Where Have You Gone, Johnny Grubb?, which will be updated every Monday and Friday during the baseball off-season)

I was talking the other day to a colleague of mine in television production. During a lull in our activity, the talk turned to the ongoing MLB playoffs — specifically, the Cinderella Tampa Bay Rays. Neither of us are fans of theirs, it turns out. While he couldn’t really pinpoint the reason why he’s not on the TB bandwagon, I offered a suggestion.

“The fans there don’t deserve a winner,” I said. Plain and simple.

Taking a look at the 2008 MLB attendance figures, my crankiness is borne out.

Of the eight teams that qualified for the playoffs, the Rays are, by far, the worst in terms of home attendance. There they sit, 26th out of the 30 teams, with a hideous total of 1.8 million people. That’s a paltry 22,259 per game.

Tampa Bay — the City That Never Woke Up.

What’s that all about, anyway? The Rays had the second-best record in the American League, on the heels of 10 straight losing seasons. And not just losing seasons, but finishing south-of-the-equator kind of losing seasons. The Rays were a team that was routinely mathematically eliminated when the May flowers started blooming. You’d think that their breakout year of 2008 would have been like pure oxygen to an emphysema sufferer.

But, as Yogi Berra once said, “If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, there’s nothing stopping them.”

Yet, there should have been something stopping them: the Rays provided thrills and chills all summer long — not that their town noticed.

If that’s how you support a first-place team, with barely 22,000 fans per game (less than 50% of its 45,000 capacity), then I say the Rays should pick up their spikes and go somewhere where they give a damn.

Less than half full, on an average? For a team that won 97 games? Past Rays teams would have needed a full season plus most of July of the next to win that many ballgames. Despite the lack of support, the Rays managed to win 57 home games — over 70 percent. When your winning percentage is 20 points higher than your percent of fannies versus capacity, then something’s not right.

I thought something was peculiar this summer when I watched Rays highlights on ESPN. In their home games, all I saw were empty seats in the background.

What was keeping the fans from showing up? Did all the losing make them apathetic? Didn’t the local newspapers and TV stations clue folks in down there that something great was happening?

Twenty-two thousand fans per game is a figure reserved for the dregs of baseball. And sure enough, the spots 28-to-30 are occupied by perennial losers like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Florida. You can’t blame those fans for staying home.

It’s a travesty, the lack of support the Rays got in Tampa Bay. The city doesn’t deserve big league baseball. Take the team away from them, as soon as the final out of their season is made. Their stadium, named after an orange juice, should be squished like a carton and eradicated. May as well put something else there, like a Wal-Mart or another retirement home.

Tampa Bay is going to be a great city, once they clear out all the zombies.

Cities that stay home from first-place teams aren’t worthy. There are 26 other teams in MLB that would love to be in the Rays’ position right now; same with their fans.

Someone should nudge the Tampa Bayans awake and let them know that they’re missing a helluva baseball season.

Shame on them, anyway.

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