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St. Pete's long road to get a baseball team

Rays can look for a new stadium in Tampa Bay which fought for years to get a major league team
Credit: Tampa Bay Rays
In 1995, Vince Naimoli and his group was awarded the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

St. Petersburg, Florida --The quest for baseball goes back to the early 1980s when Pinellas County decided to build a baseball stadium in downtown St. Petersburg instead of closer to the Tampa side of the bay as the county originally said it would.

That sparked a plan for the building of another stadium in Tampa and an effort to bring a team here lead by auto dealer Frank Morsani. In an effort to bring baseball to Tampa Bay.

In 1984, Morsani entered into an agreement to buy the Minnesota Twins and move them to Tampa. Although Morsani had been given assurances Major League Baseball would be supportive of the purchase, it squashed the deal and told Morsani to be patient because expansion would bring franchise here.


When Morsani learned the Texas Rangers were for sale in 1988 he entered into an agreement to buy the team, but once again MLB stepped in, killed the deal and threatened Morsani as it did in the Twins failed purchase that if he sued, Tampa Bay would never be considered for a team.

Meantime, the game for Tampa Bay changed drastically when going against the advice of baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth St. Petersburg decided to build the Suncoast Dome, which eventually became Tropicana Field.

Although several in Tampa including Yankees owner, the late George Steinbrenner, said people in Hillsborough won't drive across that rickety old bridge meaning the Howard Frankland to see a baseball game, Morsani made peace with the Pinellas group and said they would unify their efforts to bring baseball here.

Meantime, with an empty dome waiting for baseball, it became a bargaining chip for other teams threatening to leave their cities unless they got a new stadium. The Chicago White Sox announced they would move here in the late '80's if the Illinois General Assembly did not come up with funds for a new stadium. One the last night of the Illinois legislature and governor stopped the clock a few minutes before the mandated midnight end of the session and persuading lawmakers to come up with the money.

When MLB announced it would expand in 1990, it was assumed Morsani and Tampa Bay would get one of the new teams. However baseball chose another group to represent Tampa Bay, Morsani was out, baseball bypassed this area giving the team to Miami instead.

Then the Seattle Mariners were reportedly headed to St. Petersburg in in the early '90s when the team's owner said he had been approached a group from Tampa Bay who wanted to buy part of all of team and move it here. But, the deal never was consummated.

In 1993 businessman Vince Naimoli stunned Tampa Bay and San Francisco as he held a news conference in the Suncoast Dome saying he had purchased the Giants that would start playing the next baseball season in St. Petersburg. However, MLB would not allow the sale to go through and instead found another buyer for the team at lower price than Naimoli and his group had offered.

Once again baseball told this area if it sued, it would never get a baseball team, but the tactic didn't work and this time Naimoli sued MLB for tortious interference with his contract to buy the Giants.

The treatment of the lawsuit prompted MLB to announce it was going to expand again, and in 1995 Naimoli and his group were awarded the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They signed an ironclad lease that said there would be irreparable harm and damages for anyone who tried to move the team from Tropicana Field until 2027.

With the announcement Tuesday, some say the bar for irreparable harm and damages has now been set if a new stadium doesn't come together in Tampa Bay and outside interests may be ready to try to lure the team that this area fought so hard to get.

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