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Jays won't run in financial race

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

Across the border on the shores of Lake Ontario, Blue Jays officials are spouting a refrain similar to what Tampa Bay baseball fans have heard about their team.

Younger and cheaper is the way to go. Competitiveness and improvement count. Hopefully Major League Baseball and the players union will level the financial playing field soon.

"I've said on a number of occasions that it's silly to try and compete and spend millions more dollars in trying to keep with the Yankees or Red Sox financially," Toronto CEO Paul Godfrey said last week. "I think there's evident proof that teams that spend less money -- Oakland and Minnesota to name a couple -- have been able to compete and be contenders and make the playoffs."

Since Minnesota has been spared from contraction for at least one more season, the Blue Jays are being mentioned to take their place.

A decade removed from consecutive World Series championships and drawing 4-million fans for three consecutive seasons, Toronto posted the biggest operating losses ($52.9-million) of any team in 2001 and had the third-largest loss overall ($43.1-million) after revenue sharing.

"What we have to do is make some changes. We are making those changes," Godfrey said. "I think the step-by-step process that we're going through may mean that we have to take a step backward. I really believe that we are going in the right direction."

The Blue Jays, who finished 80-82 in 2001, began this season with a modest $71-million payroll and have busied themselves by trying to decrease it since. General manager J.P. Ricciardi has traded Dan Plesac, Pedro Borbon and Brad Fullmer and has the youngest team in the majors (22.66).

They're calling it rebuilding.

But Carlos Delgado is only in the second year of a four-year, $68-million deal. Raul Mondesi will make a base salary of $11-million this season and $13-million next.

"When I look out on the field and see some of the things we've done, I'm pretty excited to see Eric Hinske, Felipe Lopez and Vernon Wells and Cliff Politte and Tom Wilson and the guys that we've brought over here," Ricciardi said during the news conference to announce the hiring of Carlos Tosca as manager.

"While wins and losses may not be the ultimate success here as far as the overall picture, I think when we have the opportunity to win we need to take advantage of it."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

MOTIVATING FACTOR: Houston rightfielder Richard Hildago was outraged when Astros manager Jimy Williams benched him against the Cardinals on May 29.

He exited a meeting with Williams and promptly threw a chair, some clothes and bats about the clubhouse then refused to take infield and batting practice.

"Richard has to get his act together, like a lot of different players on this team," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "And he has to realize that. I don't think we're in a situation where people can have their names penciled in the lineup every day."

Back in the lineup May 31, Hidalgo went on a seven-game hitting streak, batting .556 with 4 homers, 3 doubles, 1 triple and 7 RBIs.

"I guess it woke him up," bench coach John Tamargo said.

PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES: Of the more than 1,000 players selected in the amateur draft, about 65 percent will play in a major-league game.

But how many will enjoy Hall of Fame careers?

Not many.

According to Bill Arnold's Beyond the Boxscore, 11 of the 51,173 players drafted since 1965 are enshrined in Cooperstown. They are: Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, Carlton Fisk, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Dave Winfield, Robin Yount, Kirby Puckett and Ozzie Smith. Seven of those were drafted in the first round, two in the second and one each in the fourth and 10th rounds.

INTERLEAGUE ODDS AND ENDS: The Twins play every team in the National League East except Montreal. ... The Rockies are the only club that plays the six division champions from 2001. ... If his right hamstring is healthy, the Reds series against the Mariners at Cinergy Field on June 18-20 will mark the first time Ken Griffey faces his first team. ... When it comes to the wild card, interleague play could benefit teams in the NL East. That division is paired with the one-team-over-.500 AL Central.

THE LAST WORD: "I haven't picked up a bat since high school, so the thought of having to hit against Randy (Johnson) has crossed my mind a few times. I think I'll go up and close my eyes. When I hear the umpire say 'Strike 3,' I'll go back to the dugout." -- Detroit pitcher Mike Maroth, recalled from Triple-A Toledo on Friday, about his possible matchup against the Diamondbacks ace this week.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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