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Cardenal finds what he needs with Rays

The team's first-base coach believes his check and respect go hand in hand.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- He may look laid-back behind those wraparound shades but know this: Jose Cardenal sees everything.

What he sees these days, he says, is R-E-S-P-E-C-T. As in M-O-N-E-Y.

That is the yardstick in sports these days. Cardenal believed he wasn't getting enough of one (and therefore both) as first-base coach of the Yankees, so he packed up his three World Series rings and looked elsewhere for a major-league job. He found it here. No other team offered him one. Not right away.

He is the Devil Rays' first-base and outfield coach, replacing Billy Hatcher at first. Hatcher moved to third when Greg Riddoch left after the 1999 season to become the Milwaukee Brewers' farm director.

According to the New York Times, Cardenal, 56, made about $500,000 in 1999, including World Series and licensing shares. Yet he traded in the Yankees' navy blue pinstripes for the spectrum that makes up the Rays' uniform.

All over $30,000. And what it represented.

"I just wanted them to treat me with respect and dignity," he said Wednesday before the Devil Rays trampled USF 13-0 in their spring training opener. "I wanted to be paid like other (Yankees) coaches."

His base salary was reportedly $120,000, the highest of any first-base coach in the majors. He wanted $150,000. To that end, he met with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

"I told him the situation," Cardenal said. "I said, "Listen, I know what the other coaches make. Thirty-eight years I've been in this game (as player, instructor and coach). I'm looking for respect. Just give me some consideration. I take care of first base, the outfield, help keep all the Latin players together (particularly pitcher Orlando Hernandez; El Duque considered Cardenal his closest friend on the Yankees). Have a little more respect for me. Make me feel like you want me.' "

Without the raise, Cardenal said, he would leave.

Cashman said he would talk to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "Two days later," Cardenal said, "he called me, told me no. I felt right there, "They don't have any respect for me. They don't really want me.' They told me, "Hey, Jose, we know you've been doing a great job,' but when they turned me down, I knew there was no sense for me to stay.

"Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed working in New York. George was nice to me and it's a great team, but sometimes this is business and if things don't work out and they don't show you that they really want you in the organization, it's time to make a move."

Cardenal wrote to seven major-league teams. Five responded, he said. Four offered a job in Triple A with the chance to move up to the majors in 2001. The Devil Rays offered the first-base job. He jumped at it.

The odds are, Cardenal won't be cashing a World Series check come November.

He shrugged. "When I was born, I was poor," he said. "When I die, I'm going to be poor, too. So sometimes money to me is nothing. It's more pride, your dignity. ... Sometimes you have to forget the money, forget the World Series. Sometimes you have to say, "They need to respect who I am.' "

So what does a first base-coach do for the kind of money Cardenal is banking -- besides telling the runner to stop or go?

"A lot," he said. "People look at us like the only thing we do at first base is pick up his helmet and pat him on the behind. We have to be sure he's got the sign, make sure he's got the proper lead, make sure he knows the outs and the count, tell him what he's expected to do in this situation or that one."

Cardenal gave a wicked smile. "When I was a player, nobody told me nothing," he said. "Now it's a new generation. You have to prepare them."

- Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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