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It's time to go

GM Chuck LaMar must be held accountable.

By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2002

They are looking, as you might expect, for somebody to blame.

They are looking, as you might expect, for somebody to blame.

This is what the Rays do at the end of each season. They count up the losses and decide how many jobs should be offered in punitive damages.

For two weeks, they have dropped hints about manager Hal McRae. Maybe he stays and maybe he goes. As if that is the solution to all that ails them.

Do you ever wonder why, when the time comes for heads to roll, the Rays always seem to aim low?

Here, then, is an alternative:

Maybe they have the wrong man in their sight.

Maybe, after five years and nearly 500 losses, the Rays need to thank Chuck LaMar for his hard work, assure him he will receive his $1.5-million worth of paychecks the next two years and ask him to find another place to frown.

This suggestion is not offered lightly. It is serious business to say a man is not up to the task. But, then again, LaMar knows this as well as anyone.

He has fired one manager and has acknowledged McRae's job status is iffy. In five years, the coaching staff has seen four hitting instructors, three pitching coaches and three third-base coaches. LaMar has tossed dozens of players overboard and threatened more this week in New York.

At what point does an overhaul become overkill? They have changed managers, players and coaches and yet nothing, really, has changed.

Either you're happy with the direction of the team or you're not. If you're not, then fire the guy leading the way.

Perhaps the problem is larger than the general manager. If you ever have worked for Vince Naimoli, you know this is probably true.

But that does not mean LaMar should not be expected to produce. Larry Rothschild was given an inferior collection of players and still was held accountable. McRae has been, too.

You can point at the payroll and say LaMar has not been given much to work with. You can point at the bleachers and say revenues are not what they should be. You can point to the owner's suite and say stability has no place there.

If you are so inclined, you can even point to the heavens and wonder about the justice in Tony Saunders' broken arm, the calamity in minor-leaguers being shot, the happenstance of Josh Hamilton's auto accident.

Yet that does not excuse the complete lack of progress on the field.

The Rays will tell you hope is on the way. They will say the youngsters are developing and, in a couple of years, the results will be clear.

That is fine. It may even be dandy. But it is not enough.

The general manager for a small-market team has to be creative finding undervalued players and cannot afford mistakes shopping for high-priced players. LaMar has not succeeded on either count.

The debacles are well known. He gambled on Wilson Alvarez and lost badly. The same is true for Greg Vaughn. Juan Guzman, Vinny Castilla, Paul Sorrento and Kevin Stocker also were disasters. Not just mistakes. Disasters.

Between Vaughn, Alvarez, Guzman, Castilla, Matt White and Bobby Seay, the Rays have spent more than $100-million with practically zero return.

Even when they have a player with value, they often don't realize it. John Burkett was invited to camp as a non-roster player in 2000 and was released. He made the All-Star team four months later with the Braves.

Herbert Perry is playing third base for the Rangers, Cory Lidle is in the rotation for the Athletics, Quinton McCracken is in the outfield for the Diamondbacks. As for Bobby Abreu? We won't even go there.

Still, we will allow mistakes are possible. They are even to be expected. But LaMar has not balanced the mistakes with enough triumphs.

Where is Luis Gonzalez? Or Alfonso Soriano? The player who comes out of nowhere to hit 50 home runs or challenge for an MVP?

Who on this roster was a tremendous acquisition? Whom do you point to and say the Rays outsmarted everybody getting to that guy? Most of the promise on this team has to do with draft choices, and recently departed scouting director Dan Jennings was responsible for a lot of that.

Granted, LaMar has not had an easy job. Being a general manager is difficult enough without being squeezed by both a budget and a mercurial boss.

It cannot be easy when your mistakes are on television every night and the results in the boxscore every morning.

That being said, LaMar has had more than five years to get this right. Dean Taylor was fired as the GM in Milwaukee last week with fewer than three years on the job. The man who replaced him, Doug Melvin, was fired in Texas last year even though the team had won three division titles in his seven seasons.

Is it fair to blame LaMar for all that is wrong with the Rays?

Definitely not.

But it was not fair to blame Rothschild or pitching coach Rick Williams or dozens of other former employees, either.

There have been enough fingers pointed in blame.

It's time for someone to accept responsibility.

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