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Grateful team praises Flaherty's hard work

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

ARLINGTON, Texas -- They probably won't throw him a party or present him with a gift certificate or plaque. But John Flaherty's teammates certainly will not let his work as the club's player representative this season go unnoticed or unappreciated.

"He took a lot of time out to keep us informed and I think we're all grateful for that," shortstop Chris Gomez said. "He's got a family at home with kids. Being a catcher and dealing with the pitchers and then trying to hit on top of dealing with all the labor issues, he handled it very professionally like he handles everything."

"I think he did a fantastic job," pitcher Joe Kennedy said.

Last week was by far the most trying for Flaherty as he juggled playing against the Angels with participating in daily conference calls with union officials, then keeping the Rays informed as Friday's strike deadline approached.

While negotiators for both sides met all day Thursday and into Friday morning before coming to an agreement, Flaherty kept abreast of the situation by cell phone.

He called for an update before Thursday's game, immediately after and when the team landed in Texas on Friday morning. All told, he got about an hour of sleep before heading to the Ballpark in Arlington for Friday's game.

"You couldn't ask for a more diplomatic approach than what John has taken," managing general partner Vince Naimoli said.

Though Flaherty, 34, might leave the team as a free agent after the season, he knows his work contributed to a resolution that will help teammates at least until the new labor agreement expires in 2006.

"I never was a player rep at all before this season," he said. "Not that I avoided it, but it was something that I just didn't want to jump into. But I've felt very comfortable. With the status of this club being so young, I felt like I could maybe explain things or relate to the younger players on the issues a little bit. It's been very rewarding."

HISTORY LESSON: The last time the Rays had money to spend was in a 2000 free-agent market considered one of the weakest in recent years.

They signed some of the best players available -- Greg Vaughn, Gerald Williams, Juan Guzman and Steve Trachsel -- and traded for Vinny Castilla, but still are paying for their shortcomings.

The labor agreement will provide additional funds through increased revenue sharing and the implementation of a luxury tax. That said, the Rays vow to spend any new money more judiciously.

"Whatever money it is that we have, we have to make sure we use it (wisely)," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "Whether it's for arbitration cases or helping the club in two to three years, those decisions have yet to be determined."

Tampa Bay would like to add a middle infielder, a closer type, a No. 1 starter and a complementary bat by 2004 or 2005.

OLYMPIC WEIGH-IN: Last week the International Olympic Committee considered recommendations to cut baseball, softball and other sports to downsize the Games.

That news didn't sit well with one Ray.

"I wouldn't be able to figure out how they could justify having some sports as Olympic sports and not baseball or softball," said second baseman Brent Abernathy, who played on the 2000 U.S. team that won gold in Australia. "I think all sports, whether it be golf or whatever, should be Olympic sports."

Abernathy's argument is that baseball's popularity is worldwide.

"Our games were packed and that's in a country that really doesn't do a whole lot of playing baseball," he said. "They're big cricket fans instead of baseball over in Australia.

"Especially with us winning in 2000, there's going to be some rivalries going on within the baseball competition. So I wouldn't be able to understand that."

MORE STRIKE FALLOUT: The threat of a strike slowed activity around the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, but now that there's an agreement, the Rays front office can get back to business as usual.

"If there had been a strike we would've looked at how to use our staff the rest of the year until it was settled," LaMar said. "Now we can go into the offseason as expected and do business as usual."

ODDS AND ENDS: Outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who began the season at Class A and now is at Triple-A Durham, remains a possibility to be called up in the final weeks of the season. ... Through Wednesday, 45.9 percent of the Rays' hits had come with two outs, highest in the majors. They were followed by the Expos (44.4), Dodgers (41.1), Reds (40.6) and Padres (39.4).

-- Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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  • Grateful team praises Flaherty's hard work

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