© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- It has been a mild winter in western Iowa, but Bill Fischer figures he hasn't seen the last of the snow.
By now he's usually packed up, driving to Florida for the start of another season. It has been that way for most of the past 55 years.
But this spring, Fischer doesn't have anywhere to go.
When the Rays surprised Fischer and fired him as their pitching coach the morning of the season's final game, he went home to Council Bluffs unsure of what to expect.
He didn't call anybody for a job; that'd be hard to do for the first time when you're 71. The Rays say they talked to him about a coaching position in the minor leagues; Fischer says nothing ever got to the point of an offer. The bottom line is that Fischer won't be putting on a uniform.
"It's been a long time since I haven't been in spring training," Fischer said. "It'll be strange for a while."
The Rays are paying him around $100,000 to cover the last year of his contract, so money isn't the issue. It's working with the pitchers that he's going to miss. "I guess there comes a time when everybody has to stop," he said, unconvincingly.
The Braves did call, but they asked him to work with one of their midwest area scouts, looking at kids in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. Part-time scout, they'll call him. "I'm going to help the guy out," Fischer said. "You've got to keep your feet in it."
He asked about the Rays, wondering how Tanyon Sturtze was, how some of the others looked, what improvements had been made.
"I didn't know they were going to fire me," Fischer said. "We did pretty good at the end, from the All-Star break on. I really didn't have any inkling."
Still, he has no complaints. Even if that was his last coaching job.
"I'm doing fine," Fischer said. "I'm very satisfied. I enjoyed my two years there and I can't bad-mouth anybody. Baseball's a game where you never know what's going to happen. People and coaches are getting fired all the time. It's part of the game."
CONTRACTION PAINS: Some continue to label the Rays a team likely to be contracted, but MLB executive vice president Sandy Alderson made it clear they don't meet the current criteria because their local revenues are "reasonably healthy." The length of their lease and state attorney general Bob Butterworth's aggressiveness also are in their favor.
Plus, the rules thus far seem to be that an owner has to agree to be contracted. Just a hunch, but managing general partner Vince Naimoli -- along with his local investors and image-conscious St. Petersburg leaders -- probably wouldn't go quietly.
So which team will be paired with Montreal if there is 2003 contraction? Toronto may be a possibility. The Jays aren't making any money, the exchange rate is a killer, and there are no senators from Canada.
NEW MATH: Hal McRae will go back to wearing No. 11, his number during a stellar playing and managing career in Kansas City. Unable to get 11 in subsequent coaching jobs, McRae started wearing 56. That's what his son, Brian, wore as sort of a numerical tribute to his father: 5+
6=11. Larry Rothschild wore 11 for the Rays until he was fired in April -- and replaced by McRae.
THE BUFF BOYS: Two of the hardest workers at offseason conditioning sessions were Joe Kennedy, who dropped about 20 pounds, and Aubrey Huff, who added considerable muscle. Huff, after dabbling in red, is also now sporting blond hair. "I've got to try something," Huff said. "Brown didn't work last year."
MISCELLANY: The Rays, at 200-to-1, are the longest of longshots to win the 2002 World Series according to the vegas.com Web site. The Yankees (surprise!) are 9-5 favorites. ... Jason Tyner, according to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, had the fewest extra-base hits last season (13) of any player with 400 or more plate appearances. ... Minor-league coaches, scouts and other baseball personnel were told they must now clear interview requests through the PR department. ... Individual game tickets go on sale Saturday.