ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays took Jeff Niemann with the fourth pick in last week's draft for a lot of reasons - they like his talent and temperament, they think he has huge upside, they feel good about getting him signed.
They didn't take him, general manager Chuck LaMar said, because new general partner Stuart Sternberg or manager Lou Piniella ordered them to - a theory in baseball circles that made its way into print, suggesting the scouting staff favored high school shortstop Chris Nelson.
"Anyone that would publish that our ownership group or our major-league manager had an influence on who we drafted in the first round is completely off base and inaccurate," LaMar said. "All that ownership - Vince Naimoli and Stuart Sternberg - gave us was confidence and permission to select who we thought was the best player available when we picked, and they couldn't have been better to work with.
"Vince has been great through every draft and now Stu was on board in the decisionmaking this year and there was no hesitation. From the very start they told me as GM to select whoever we thought would have the most impact on our major-league club. Who is the best player? No timeline, no who gets there quicker, no high school versus college. It's our responsibility to pull the name of the best player available, and that's what we felt like we did."
As for Piniella? LaMar said the only time they talked about the draft was when he informed Piniella he would be on the road scouting a lot and not at many Rays games.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: It should be noted that commissioner Bud Selig said the Rays eventually will need a new stadium about 15 minutes before the start of the first game he'd ever seen at Tropicana Field. ... Barry Bonds signed some autographs for fans but declined to sign memorabilia for Rays players, a common courtesy among most players. ... The small, cheap-looking signs on the Trop back wall are a disservice to the players and coaches who bought about 8,000 tickets for the Let's Play ... For The Kids program. ... In the latest issue of Little League Magazine, Rocco Baldelli reveals his first uniform number was 23 and he was "really excited to wear it because it was Don Mattingly's number." ... In retrospect, Selig still thinks he made the right call in not allowing the Giants to move to St. Petersburg in 1992: "Whatever abuse I took then, it was the right decision and I think it was the right decision for all parties." ... LaMar's daughter Emily, who attends Arizona State, will sing the national anthem before Friday's game in Phoenix. ... Multiyear contract offers could soon be in the works for Baldelli and Carl Crawford.
WASTED: It seems increasingly less likely Josh Hamilton will overcome his extensive drug problems and make use of his immense baseball talent.
The article in the June 21 issue of ESPN the Magazine, written before he left his latest rehab stint, presents a somewhat sympathetic view of the troubled 23-year-old. It includes details of how he got involved with cocaine at a Bradenton area tattoo parlor and how one day he took four cigarettes and repeatedly burned the skin between his left thumb and forefinger in an attempt to control his anger.
The accompanying photos aren't comforting - Hamilton is in a white tank top to show off his tattoos, his hat on backward and appears to be mugging for the camera, looking a bit like bad-boy rapper Eminem.
OH, REALLY?: Phillies manager Larry Bowa would seem to have more important things to worry about, but he's concerned that the Marlins have a big edge because they have interleague games against the Rays.
"The way it's set up is not right," Bowa told Philadelphia writers. "Nothing against Tampa Bay, but the Marlins have six games with them while we have to play Boston."