tampabay.com

LaMar issues apology to fans

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, DAVE SCHEIBER and MARC TOPKIN
Published October 7, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Chuck LaMar believes he owes Devil Rays fans an apology - and the team's former general manager, fired after 10 years with the organization, sent that message Thursday.

"I take full responsibility for this organization not winning during the eight major-league seasons that I've been here," he said on a conference call. "It's the general manager's responsibility, no matter what the circumstances are, to find a way to put a winning product on the field."

But LaMar also said he believes he and his staff left the team in position to contend in 2007. "I believe this organization has one of the finest young group of players in baseball," he said. "By the 2007 season, the young players we have will get better, the next group of players will be performing at the major-league level and for the first time since 1999-2000, the organization will be in the financial situation to put a significant amount of money into the club."

LaMar was talking about the nearly $10-million in deferred payments the Rays owe players and former manager Lou Piniella next season. Once paid, the organization will have cleared its books.

As for his firing, LaMar said he did not agree with it, and he told principal owner Stuart Sternberg that at their meeting Wednesday.

"He handled it very professionally, as I hope I did as well," LaMar said. "He felt a change needed to be made at the top, and I told him I didn't agree with the decision but I understood his decision completely.

"I just wanted to spend every chance I could to try to make this organization better till the end. I'd love to stay in the game. I feel I can contribute to a baseball organization."

COMINGS AND GOINGS: There will be considerable attention on who the Rays might be hiring, but there could be some key employees leaving. The Marlins requested and received permission to interview coaches Tom Foley and Billy Hatcher for their vacant managerial job. The Orioles requested and received permission to interview Tim Wilken, who was a special assistant to LaMar in charge of scouting. ... In addition to LaMar, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock and player personnel director Cam Bonifay, pro scout Rudy Santin was also dismissed.

FISHING GAME ON: The head of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation said that despite LaMar's dismissal, he will continue to serve as chairman of next month's Chuck LaMar Mercury Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament.

The event, scheduled for Nov.11-13 out of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, boasts sports and entertainment celebrities and has raised more than $1-million for the PCF.

"While he may no longer be with the baseball team," said Barbara Rebold, executive director of PCF, "Chuck and his wife Cheryl are committed to continuing to support our team - the foundation and the kids - and to helping fund research to eliminate childhood cancer worldwide."

For more information contact the PCF at 813 269-0955, or visit www.pcfusa.org

OUT OF BUSINESS: Bob Andelman,curator of emailtherays.com, promised he would shut down the antimanagement Web site if Vince Naimoli and LaMar left the organization. With the news that Naimoli had stepped aside and LaMar had been fired, Andelman kept his word.

In an e-mail to his readers, Andelman signed off with "I'm done! The site is done! You've all been great for years. Good night, Gracie!"

Another site, oustnaimoli.com, posted a banner headline "Mission Accomplished" on its home page and declared Oct.6 as Rays "Independence Day."

TIME TO GO: Naimoli had gone down this road before, but this time he followed through and relinquished control of the team to spend more time relaxing.

"At age 68, it's time for me to give up day-to-day operations ... so that I can focus more attention on my family," Naimoli said in a statement. "Now I'll have the opportunity to watch and enjoy the Devil Rays games without the stress of day-to-day management decisions."

Commissioner Bud Selig, complimentary but geographically challenged, lauded Naimoli for bringing a team to North Florida.

"He has invested all of his energies and resources to developing the Devil Rays into a competitive franchise," Selig said in a statement. "I am pleased that Vince will continue to be an active resource for the franchise and look forward to him reaping the benefits of his hard work in the near future."

Sternberg's takeover has to be approved by the other owners, which is fully expected at a November meeting, and Selig granted him authority to run the team during the transitional period.

STORM WATCH: Just a coincidence? With Tropical Storm Tammy on its way out of business, and no names starting with the letter "U" on the list, the next named storm this season will have a familiar ring to it.

Vince.