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Naimoli's reign

Vince Naimoli did some good things during as reign as managing general partner of the Devil Rays, starting with his efforts to win the franchise. But mostly he will be remembered for the confrontations and conflicts that took place on more than an occasional basis during his tenure, as well as the team's numbing lack of success. Here are some of the things he'll be most remembered for:

By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 7, 2005


IF WE ONLY KNEW THEN WHAT WE KNOW NOW

Three years after an effort to buy and move the Giants to St. Petersburg was thwarted, Naimoli ends the Tampa Bay area's 20-year quest for a team with the March 9, 1995, award of the Devil Rays franchise. "I think," Naimoli said, "this is the greatest day in Tampa Bay history."

SIGNS OF TROUBLE

Things didn't stay great for long.

In April 1997, area companies complained that Naimoli would not do business with them unless they bought season tickets. In August 1997, the Rays demanded $750,000 to allow the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to use the team logo and photos on the cover of its visitors guide. In February 1998, Naimoli explained the decision to have former baseball stars throw out first pitches for the inaugural game rather than civic leaders who worked on the effort for years such as Jack Lake or Rick Dodge by saying: "There is no one but me who got the team." In March 1998, Dillard's department stores canceled orders for Rays merchandise after a spat with Naimoli over their unauthorized use of the team logo in an ad.

OPENING LINE

Naimoli beamed when the Rays played their first game on March 31, 1998, telling the crowd gathered at the stadium rotunda: "Our fans are our customers. Without our customers, we don't have a business. I can assure you, we want to love you as much as you want to love us." The Rays lost to Detroit 11-6, the crowd of 45,369 was their only sellout for more than six years, and the love didn't last.

PLAYING HARDBALL

The Rays weren't winning many games, but they were seeking victories elsewhere.

In February 1999, they sued Danka Business Systems claiming it owed sponsorship fees and suite payments. In December they sued the Pinellas County property appraiser over a $38,571 tax bill. In April 2000, Naimoli reacted to a Times spoof of the team by ordering copies of the newspaper removed from Tropicana Field and threatening legal action.

In June 2000, he ordered the team to shun a fundraiser for the medically needy because it was held at the St. Petersburg Coliseum instead of the Trop. Further soiling their reputation, a mix-up led the St. Petersburg High School band to cancel an appearance to perform the national anthem because band members are told they will have to pay admission. In a March 2001 speech, Naimoli chastised members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce for not supporting the team and singled out the host hotel for canceling its season tickets.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

On April 27, 2001, after rumors of financial problems and reports that his partners wanted him out, Naimoli, wearing a casual Hawaiian shirt, announces he will step back and relinquish power as managing general partner to spend time skiing and traveling and that a chief operating officer would be hired. "This is one of the happier days of my life," Naimoli said. Less than a month later, the Rays hired well-respected John McHale Jr. as COO. But Naimoli also announced he would reassume his duties as managing general partner and chief executive officer. McHale left nine months later.

DID YOU HEAR THE ONE . . .

Naimoli's assurances that he was committed to winning were a primary reason for Lou Piniella to take the job as the Rays' third manager on Oct. 28, 2002. "I wanted to know the commitment," Piniella said. "And basically Vince told me he was tired of losing. That made an impression on me." But after three seasons of having the lowest payroll in the majors, going 200-285 and finishing last twice and fourth once, Piniella had enough. Having already shared his frustrations to no avail, he gave up $2.2-million in salary to get out of the final year of his contract.

A RAY OF HOPE

After years of rumors of discord and potential sale attempts, New York-based investor Stuart Sternberg in May 2004 bought out the other general partners and got 48 percent of the team, which was the beginning of the end of Naimoli's reign. "It will be a gradual transition that will take some number of years," Sternberg said. But barely more than a year later, Sternberg, too, had had enough and made a deal to take control earlier than scheduled. paying heavily for the privilege of ousting Naimoli.

THERE'S ONLY ONE THAT WE KNOW OF

When his wife, Lenda, is stopped near Tropicana Field in July 2004 for running a red light, Naimoli resorted to bullying tactics and threw what St. Petersburg police officer Scott Newell described as "quite a temper tantrum." Among other things, Naimoli said: "Do you know who I am? I'm Vincent Joseph Naimoli, owner of the Devil Rays."

YANKEES AND RED SOX AND RACCOONS, OH MY!

You'd think having the worst team in the majors would give someone enough to worry about, but Naimoli wrote a "personal and confidential" letter to Hillsborough County officials complaining that a "pesky raccoon was intimidating" his wife and daughter at their plush Avila home in May 2004. "What I'd like to know is why - when I reportedly pay the highest or one of the highest property taxes in Hillsborough County and probably one of the largest supporters (mostly anonymous) of charities in our area - I can't get equal treatment on Raccoon Rabies Protection."

FLUSHED OUT

Some say Naimoli ran the team like he was king. He certainly defended his throne. When a Mets scout made a seemingly innocent mistake of using the private bathroom in Naimoli's suite before an April 2005 game, Naimoli loudly had him ejected from the stadium and told him he was banned for life. Naimoli was similarly, um, peeved two years ago when a visiting Japanese journalist did the same thing and was told he really had to go. Naimoli has also had run-ins with fans at road games and at least one in the parking lot of Tropicana Field, as well as with area writers in the press box. And then there was the April 2004 game when he threatened to take the media credentials of a Baltimore writer who had the audacity to bring a pizza, which he bought at the concession stand, into the press box.

Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.