Stuart Sternberg held court with the media in Port Charlotte yesterday. His comments are transcribed below and we have highlighted a few of the more telling passages.
Here’s the video…
On the upcoming season: “We’re optimistic, we’re happy, we’re excited. It’s been an eventful, yet uneventful, off-season. We did some really good work and I think, from where we started, our off-season fortunately came a little later than we anticipated last August, we finished up in a place here and we did great work in the off-season with our players and getting them prepared for this year. We were fortunate enough to acquire a few players to come in, especially on the offensive side of the ball, who can make a significant difference for us this year. I think it was clear to me, and you don’t have to be the owner of the team to recognize what we have to go up against during the season… We are doing everything we can to counteract that.”
On if he expected to spend so much during the off-season: “No. I wouldn’t have told you last year if I did, quite frankly. I think it was understood and we had a belief [the 2012 payroll would be in] the low-$50s [million]…We knew it was going to go up a bit this year, we had a number of guys under contract with raises and we try to do things internally, but it always depends, like any off-season or during the year, on what’s available.”
On being able to sustain what you’re doing: “No, can’t … plus we’re sustaining losses. It shows, the money that we’re putting toward the payroll, it shows the faith we have in this market. I’m optimistic, my belief since day one, that it can and will work in this market, but we’ve got more challenges and things to do ahead of us. If I didn’t think it would work, we wouldn’t be spending what we’re spending here to win. I think the winning, and the continued winning and continued success, gives us the best chance to ultimately put us in a position to have this sustainable. … The most crucial year was after ’08. That was a water-shed sort of year, because none of us had a real sense of where we were heading. I had a goal at the time of being league average, and that was sort of looked at as ‘oh, you’re going to do much better than that, Stu, you just made it to the World Series – where we ended up was a shock to everybody from the Commissioner’s Office to me, to you guys – a lot of people scratching their heads, but that’s the nature and reality of it. So that was sort of the watershed year, we continued after that to throw everything we possibly can in extraordinarily creative ways, and using all our resources, to continue to bring the magic of baseball to the area and succeed.
On the timeframe before MLB steps in and addresses the stat of the team/stadium: “There’s no one killer app, so to speak, that works here. It’s just what can we do? There’s a frustration level at the MLB level. Clearly there are 30 teams, but the Commissioner’s Office – and when I say that, it counts the business people in there, and labor in there – is saying, ‘Clearly, we’ve got to do better. Stu, you’ve done everything and anything and all that you can, what can we do to help?’ And they’re trying, but something’s not working, we’ve got to figure something out. This can’t go on for decades. …It’s clearly going to go on for years. Here we are in 2012, and we keep winning, [that's] the most important thing. The reason why you want more revenue is to give yourself a better opportunity to compete. We are competing without the revenue. That is not an endless cycle. I don’t mind the difficulty of doing it – I like that challenge, that’s all fine and dandy. But, you want to have a ray of hope that we can sustain this, and we have to this point, it’s been very fortuitous, we’ve been very fortunate. That’s really what it’s all about. If we had more revenue … there are teams with a lot more revenue that don’t win like we do. I would much rather have less revenue and winning. If you could say to me, ‘Gee, Stu, don’t worry, your attendance will stay where it is, your revenue will stay where it is but you could keep winning, that would be certain, you’ll have a good opportunity to win the next 10-15 years’, I’m fine, but it’s unrealistic.”
On St. Pete & Tampa mayors meeting together with business leaders: “I think I’m encouraged, but I also think it’s going slower than it can be. I think Chuck Skyes’ group, working with both groups on both sides, is incredible. To me, the work they’re doing, the time they’re taking and the energy they’re putting in, and most importantly, the regionalization of the team – which I’ve been a proponent of since ’06, since it was clear to me on coming in here – is what’s going to make this thing really hum over time. I can’t underestimate the great job Chuck and the people he’s working with and their willingness to do that job with him.”
On if he had doubts on if Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman would return: “There’s challenges; anytime there are challenges, no one is 100% sure. I knew the sun was coming up, I knew I was going to be owner of the team and I knew that, even though Joe [Maddon] was under contract through this year, that he’d be in demand for other teams. Certain things happened during the off-season with different teams and their managers leaving high-profile jobs, retiring or moving on. Not that Joe was available for anybody, but to just make sure Joe wanted to be here because Joe was to believe it’s in his own best interest because you don’t want a person who doesn’t want to be there. Once it was certain to me and certainly to Joe that he wanted to be here, that we could strike up a longer term relationship again, for a third time, and Andrew [Friedman] as well- just make sure this is the place he wants to be. There were a lot of high-profile openings again in the off-season. It’s not about tying somebody up or throwing the most money at them necessarily, because that’s something we certainly can’t do often or at all, but it’s about them wanting to be here and believing in what they are doing and what we are all accomplishing together.”
On owning a baseball team and keeping the management team together: “It’s everything to me. People ask, ‘why do you get involved? Why do you buy a baseball team?’ For the obvious reasons: you can buy a baseball team. When you are a baseball fan, that’s the first thing. But what you want to get out of it is certainly success on the field, because it is fun to win. It’s just a good thing and you feel like you are good if you are able to get that done. Second is, and most importantly, bringing the joy of baseball and all that baseball can bring because of the nature of the game. It’s day-in and day-out, a very long season that can be part of people’s lives and I thought the Tampa Bay region really fully appreciated and understood, for a lot of good reason, what baseball could bring to them. The third leg to that chair is giving people opportunities who really didn’t have them before. Joe [Maddon] is a perfect example. He’d been a bench coach and done a lot of different things with the [Los Angeles] Angels before, he interviewed and never had that opportunity. Matt [Silverman] had never had anything to do with baseball before, Andrew [Friedman] neither, and a lot of other people in the organization as well. We just wanted to give them different tools, different people to work with and a different mindset. To see people succeed like that is, to me, the most rewarding thing as a person who is ultimately responsible for business.”
On the history that’s been built: “Winning the American League twice, whether it was given to us or not – and I would choose to say it was not – we’ve put ourselves in a position to be there. It’s what you do with that; that preparation, and putting yourself in that position to succeed. We succeeded, and last year the team found another way which was completely off the wall and completely serendipitous, amazing and incredible. If that’s the course of getting to the playoffs, great, but I’d prefer to do it in a nicer fashion.”
On his expectations for the team this season: “We’d like to win a lot of games this year. I can’t say if I expect to win 80 or 100 … you can never expect to make the playoffs. I don’t think any team does other than one or two of them. Look, if I came in and was spending [three times] what we are now, I would tell you I had an expectation to make the playoffs. But to sit in the American League East, and spend 60-some million dollars, which is still a 50 percent [increase] from last year, I have no right or need to expect that we’ll make the playoffs. I do expect we’re going to win a lot of baseball games. Short of that, it will be disappointing.”