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ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays moved into a new era on Thursday with the announcement shortly after noon that Stuart Sternberg had assumed control of the team from managing general partner Vince Naimoli.
Speaking at a press conference at the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel, Sternberg laid out his plans for the team that has been one of the worst in Major League Baseball on and off the field since its inception in 1995.
"I'm extremely excited," Sternberg said. "I'm looking forward to getting started on what is going to be a great, great ride for everybody here."
The first official moves of the Sternberg regime came Wednesday afternoon when general manager Chuck LaMar and two top aides, player personnel director Cam Bonifay and assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, were dismissed.
The 46-year-old New York based investor bought about 50 percent of the team in May 2004 but until now has not had final say in running the team.
He announced that there will be free parking at all Devil Rays home games next season and named Matt Silverman the organization's new president.
Naimoli did not attend the press conference but issued a statement saying: "At age 69, it's time for me to give up day-to-day operations of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays so I can focus more attention on my family.
"Now I'll have the opportunity to watch and enjoy the Devil Rays games without the stress of day-to-day management decisions."
Naimoli led the battle to win the franchise in 1995, but his reign was marked by controversy and conflict and struggles on the field, as the Rays have finished last in seven of their eight major-league seasons, and at the gate, where they have been last in the American League in attendance for the past five years.
Naimoli, who led the effort to bring the franchise to Tampa Bay in 1995, has run the team as managing general partner since its inception. He is expected to retain a title, an office and his 15 percent ownership stake in the team, but Sternberg clearly will be in charge.
Rays employees were informed of the changes at a staff meeting this morning at Tropicana Field.
Matt Silverman, the team's vice president of planning and development, is expected to assume a significant role in day-to-day operations.
The transition has been expected for more than a month. The Times reported Aug. 31 that an agreement had been reached for Naimoli to relinquish control to Sternberg shortly after the end of the season, that LaMar was expected to be fired and that manager Lou Piniella was not expected to return.
More changes are expected as Sternberg implements his business philosophies and practices throughout the organization. The original deal included provisions for a transfer of power in January 2007, but Sternberg was willing to pay Naimoli - perhaps millions - to accelerate the timetable.
Sternberg, 46, will have a lot to do. The Rays will need to replace LaMar, though another Sternberg associate, director of baseball development Andrew Friedman, is expected to assume a prominent role in the restructured front office.
LaMar had been on the job since July 1995, the fourth-longest tenure among baseball general managers, but his firing was expected as the Rays have struggled mightily under his leadership.
They went 518-775 in their eight major-league seasons under LaMar, finishing last seven times and never winning more than 70 games in a season. Their schedule for building the franchise changed repeatedly, many of LaMar's high-profile player acquisitions flopped, some of their top draft picks didn't develop and several of their trades turned out to be bad deals. LaMar is often criticized in the national media and has a reputation among some other officials as being difficult to deal with.
Proefrock also joined the Rays in July 1995 and had been assistant general manager since January 1997, handling many of the administrative tasks. Bonifay joined the Rays in November 2001 after an eight-year stint as general manager of the Pirates and was responsible for overseeing the player development and scouting departments.
Bart Braun, LaMar's other assistant general manager, will stay with the team. Foxsports.com said there was "industry speculation" that John Hart, who resigned Tuesday as Rangers general manager, could be a candidate to join the Rays and work with Friedman.
The Rays also need to hire a replacement for Piniella, who negotiated a deal to get out of the last year of his contract, and at least some of the coaches.
Major-league owners will have to vote on the transfer of control, probably at a November meeting, but approval is considered a formality.