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McRae: Best way to learn is by winning

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Hal McRae's one-year anniversary on the job is Thursday and, trust us, he'd like a victory much more than a card or a cake.

Since McRae took over as manager on April 18, the Rays haven't won all that much -- 62-96 after Saturday's loss. But he has made it abundantly clear how important winning is -- today, tomorrow, every day.

It would be wrong to suggest that former manager Larry Rothschild didn't want to win just as badly, or that he didn't put his heart, soul and everything else he had into trying to win.

But Rothschild -- who as a first-time manager may not have had much choice -- at times went along with what his bosses told him, accepting their various plans and timetables for developing players and building a team, spouting the benefits of learning the hard way, assuming that things eventually would work out.

McRae has a different view.

"If we're going to build and we're going to get better and we're going to develop players and develop the right attitude, we've got to win more games," McRae said. "We can't develop nothing without winning. If you think you can, you're full of (it). ... To get anything done, we need to win more games. There's no education in losing. None whatsoever."

McRae feels, as you can tell, rather strongly about this. And he has shared his feelings in some rather, um, interesting conversations with his bosses.

The front office, for example, was excited about claiming Jorge Sosa and Felix Escalona, talented young players who had been Rule 5 draft picks, off waivers. McRae, though, was concerned, at least initially, that the moves limited his roster and, in essence, hurt the team's chances to win each night, since neither Sosa nor Escalona, who hadn't played past the Class A level, couldn't be used in key situations.

That topic may be revisited this week when the Rays make room on the roster for Russ Johnson. If they don't want to risk putting Sosa or Escalona on waivers, they'll likely option Jason Smith to Durham.

General manager Chuck LaMar said he and McRae have had to develop a feel, and a respect, for what each is trying to accomplish, and to strike a balance between the causes.

"In his nightly effort to win every game, he can't forget we're building this organization for the future," LaMar said. "And in my situation of trying to acquire as much talent as possible, I can't forget that he's trying to win as many games as we can right now. ... We need to have that balance, and right now we do."

LaMar said he couldn't be more pleased with the job McRae has done.

"Every reason why I offered Hal the job when we made the managerial move last year has proven to be true," LaMar said. "He's loyal to the organization. He's instilled a winning atmosphere among the staff as well as the players. He has a great feel for what it takes to win at the major-league level.

"I don't think we could have made a better choice than Hal McRae to manage this club."

DISAPPEARING ACT: It wasn't good when the Rays drew 1,298,365 fans last season. It turns out that wasn't right. Technically, they drew 1,227,673.

The difference was the result of a change midway through last season in the way they report attendance. They went from counting all tickets distributed to just tickets sold.

That means the Rays gave out more than 70,000 free tickets in the first two months of last season. It also means the 2001 opening-day crowd was 26,678, not the 41,546 that was announced, and their smallest crowd was 8,346 on May 25.

Team spokesman Rick Vaughn said they are continuing with the new policy.

NUMBERS GAME: Baseball America dropped the Rays from sixth to 15th in its ranking of minor-league talent. ... The New York Post ranked the Rays the fourth-worst team (ahead of the Orioles, Royals and Pirates) and LaMar the second-worst GM (ahead of Baltimore's Syd Thrift). ... CBS Sportsline moved the Rays from 27th to 14th in its power rankings after the 3-0 start.

HOO-RAYS: The team and Pinellas County schools are sponsoring an essay contest for fourth- and fifth-graders. The subject is how playing sports can build strong character traits. All participants get two tickets; winners get more tickets and other team-related prizes. Winning schools get cash awards.

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