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Flaherty takes flak for good of the team

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002


CHICAGO -- Last time, John Flaherty and was young and dumb.

Twenty-six and trying to stick in the major leagues, he admittedly wasn't too concerned with the issues leading up to the 1994-95 players' strike.

But this time, Flaherty has an important role: player representative to the union for the youngest team in the game. It has not been a fun task, not with the frequent conference calls, the torrent of complicated information to disseminate, the steady stream of questions from inquiring -- but not always informed -- media minds and a growing chorus of abuse from the fans.

It has not, however, been all drudgery.

"For me, it's been rewarding in the fact that I can keep these guys informed on all issues and try and explain it in layman terms so everyone can understand," Flaherty said. "The public part of being a rep, having to deal with the media and all that stuff, obviously when you set a strike date you kind of look like public enemy No. 1. But the way I look at it, I'd rather I'd be put in that situation than somebody else on the club, that I can handle it a little better than somebody else might be able to."

The hardest part can be dealing with the "what ifs," the hypothetical questions that have players wondering about their unique personal situations.

Flaherty knows about that, too. A few days before the 1994 strike, the Tigers threw him an unexpected curve, sending him back to Triple A.

"I was the third catcher on that team and I wasn't playing, and Sparky Anderson called me in and said he wanted me to go down there and play for two weeks," Flaherty said.

"So basically, technically, I wasn't on strike until those two weeks were over. I went the whole offseason and the whole spring training and all that on strike with everybody else, but for those two weeks I was still playing in Triple A. And, in reality, it changed my career.

"I was able to work with (minor-league hitting coach) Larry Parrish and work on my swing and had a great two weeks. It turned out they gave me the (starting) job the next year because of what I did down there. It was a crazy turn of events."

STEADY COURSE: Director of player personnel Cam Bonifay might juggle a few people, such as expanding the player development duties of Mitch Lukevics and hiring an administrator, but doesn't plan to change the Rays' scouting philosophy.

"Our philosophy was brought here by Chuck LaMar, who was recognized as probably one of the better if not the best scouting and player development men in the game at the time he was hired here, and that's why he was hired here, to build an organization from the ground up," Bonifay said. "I think the organization was built upon the philosophy that you sign the best player possible that has a chance to impact the game at the major-league level.

"You will usually find that athletes who can run and throw and who have power do impact the game at the major-league level. Like Carl Crawford, like Rocco Baldelli will, like Josh Hamilton will, those type of players. You hope you sign as many of those players as you can."

FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT: If there is anyone who knows how good Paul Wilson has been, it's Mike Hargrove, whose Orioles have lost to Wilson four times.

Most impressive is the way Wilson makes do with whatever he has working each night.

"That's a very good trait to have," Hargrove said. "He knows how to pitch. To me, he's a lot like (Boston veteran) John Burkett."

ROCCO-MANIA: ESPN.com minor-league analyst John Sickels, an occasional critic of the Rays, sounds almost ready to hop on the Baldelli bandwagon:

"Baldelli still needs to improve his strike zone judgment, but his swing is much stronger and more consistent than it was last year, and the game of baseball seems to have finally clicked for him. I think he'll need a year of Triple A before being ready for the majors, and it's possible he'll fall back somewhat next season.

"But he's done enough this year to establish himself as one of the top outfield prospects in baseball."

HOO-RAYS: Following MLB orders to prepare for a Friday strike, the Rays gave players meal money only through Thursday. They also are arranging to pay them through the 29th, rather than the 31st. ... With a window to change minor-league affiliations open, the Rays will consider moving their advanced Class A team back east from Bakersfield, Calif., perhaps to the Carolina League.


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