tampabay.com

LaMar out as changes begin

By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 6, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - General manager Chuck LaMar and two top aides were dismissed Wednesday as Stuart Sternberg prepared to take over control of the Devil Rays from Vince Naimoli today.

LaMar, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, and player personnel director Cam Bonifay were told late Wednesday afternoon that they had been fired.

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.

The New York-based investor, who bought about 50 percent of the team in May 2004, today will unveil and outline his plans, which are likely to emphasize reconnecting with disenfranchised fans, sponsors and business leaders and could eventually include improvements to Tropicana Field and major changes such as rebranding, or even renaming, the team.

Rays employees were notified Wednesday via e-mail that there will be a staff meeting at 9 a.m. today at Tropicana Field, where they will be informed of the changes. A news conference is scheduled for noon at a downtown St. Petersburg hotel to announce Sternberg's takeover.

Sternberg, who has said little publicly since buying into the team, is expected to lay out his vision for the franchise. He will be joined by Matt Silverman, the team's vice president of planning and development, who is expected to assume a significant role in day-to-day operations. Naimoli is not expected to attend.

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. He bought into the team convinced it could be successful in Tampa Bay with proper management, but until now has not had final say in how it was run. 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.