tampabay.com

LaMar accepts his share of the blame

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 17, 2005


TORONTO - Tuesday is the 10-year anniversary of general manager Chuck LaMar's hiring, but there is hardly cause for celebration.

With the Devil Rays headed for a team-record number of losses and their seventh last-place finish in eight major-league seasons while posting a major-league worst 480-742 record during that span, and with a takeover by a new ownership group looming, LaMar's future seems to be more in question than ever.

Criticism is coming from all sides, including frustrated fans, the usual stream of agents and officials with other teams complaining - justly or not - he is difficult to deal with, and the national media piling on.

Just in the last week, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci asked, "Has anybody kept his job this long without producing results?" and Sports Weekly's Bob Nightengale wrote, ". . .You try making a deal with Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar," reporting that Indians GM Mark Shapiro, "was so infuriated with LaMar ... that he actually sent word out for the Devil Rays to stop calling their offices."

LaMar, who has been given three contract extensions and made around $7-million over the 10 years, says he is trying to do the best he can under circumstances that are less than ideal.

He has a player payroll that in most years is ridiculously low compared with rivals, one boss (managing general partner Vince Naimoli) known to meddle in baseball decisions and another (general partner Stuart Sternberg) more concerned with the future, and a string of rotten luck in terms of players who have gotten hurt or played poorly when with the Rays.

LaMar, who has the fifth-longest tenure among current GMs, admits he deserves a share of the blame. He also says he has learned from his mistakes.

"There's no question I'm a better GM than when I took this job, and I think we're a better organization," LaMar said. "People are tired of losing, and I understand that. I've been the GM the whole time, and we're tired of losing. Everyone's tired of hearing my rhetoric about what's going to happen in the future, and I understand that completely. I wish I had some of the decisions we made early in those 10 years back. But you can't. You just hope you learn from them and go on. We think we have."

As for the 10 years?

"The first five went by so quickly they made up for the last five," he said. "In the first five we built what we thought was just an outstanding foundation for an expansion organization. We don't need to go into a lot of detail over what a struggle the last five have been. But I believe as strongly now as I ever have that there will be a winning team in Tampa Bay in the future.

"I think the nucleus of young players is there, I think the payroll will be increased in the future to the point to be competitive, and I think the fans will finally get what they deserve."

Maybe so. But the question is whether LaMar be around to, um, watch it happen.

MATTER OF RECORD: In response to a flurry of bad press stemming from Forbes magazine's report that they were among the most profitable teams in baseball, the Rays took their reply straight to season-ticket holders.

A recent letter from new sales and marketing vice president Kevin Terry included this paragraph:

"There have been media reports that profits have been distributed to the team's partners. Please be assured that the team's partners have never received a distribution of funds. All income from operations has been invested back into the organization to fund such things as major-league payroll, amateur player signings, our minor-league system and the operation of Tropicana Field."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: If commissioner Bud Selig meant what he said about awarding the All-Star Game "to cities and franchises that need some help," shouldn't the Rays be a lock for the 2008 event? Toronto, however, is planning a big push, and the Yankees may be interested. ... Naimoli couldn't have been happy to hear Selig say the Rays were a cause for concern and "There's no question they've been a disappointment." ... The Rays are considering a bid to host the March semifinals or final of the new World Baseball Classic.