By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001
BOSTON -- Last season was not a lot of fun for any of the Rays. Especially not for Larry Rothschild. The manager found himself the subject of harsh criticism over the team's disappointing season, and speculation was so intense that he'd be fired, he began to believe it himself.
Having survived, Rothschild thinks he'll be better for the experience.
"I learned a lot, some things I'll talk about and some I won't," he said. "Any time you go through the rough times, if they don't kill you, they'll make you better.
"I learned a lot about myself and the perspective I need to have and how I've got to separate things. You've got to separate your desires from your goals. Your goals are what you do each and every day to function and try to get things better. Your desires are what you'd like to happen. They're completely separate entities, and it really stops you from forcing issues to try and make them happen and control them when you can't."
Entering his fourth season, Rothschild said he has a much better idea of what he wants to do and how he wants to do things on and off the field. His decision to bench Gerald Williams, apparently the result of a dugout confrontation, would seem to be a prime example. "You do what you think is right," Rothschild said. "It's a learning curve, definitely. It's not so much the strategy of the game, it's the other stuff."
CUBAN CONTROVERSY: A new book, The Duke of Havana, makes some interesting observations and accusations regarding the Rays' 1997 signing of Cuban defector Rolando Arrojo and the actions of scout Rudy Santin and agent Joe Cubas.
While acknowledging some of their evidence is hearsay and potentially part of a disagreement between now-estranged parties, investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez write that the Rays cut a pre-emptive $7-million deal to sign Arrojo that rendered the official bidding process a sham, that the Rays gave Cubas a $500,000 under-the-table "bribe" for delivering Arrojo, and that Cubas then gave Santin -- his "original silent partner" -- a kickback. In support, they quote Yankees executive Gordon Blakely as saying Cubas "took money from Tampa Bay. ... It was $500,000 to Cubas and $50,000 to Rudy."
Rays general manager Chuck LaMar is quoted as saying there was no prearranged deal and no payments to Cubas "under the table, over the table, or any kind of table." LaMar reiterated that position to the Times on Friday.
Santin doesn't come across well. He claims to be the mastermind of what became Cubas' plan to help Cuban players defect, gain free-agent status by establishing residency in a foreign country and sign huge contracts. Santin worked for the Yankees at the time, but acknowledges conspiring with Cubas, figuring George Steinbrenner would gladly pay top dollar for the Cubans. Santin, though, lost his job in the Yankees' post-1995 season purge and followed boss Bill Livesey to the Rays, for whom he serves as director of Latin American operations. "My whole plan went down the drain," Santin said.
BASIC MATH: Attempting to maintain, if not reduce, payroll, LaMar has worked hard to get creative. He committed about $600,000 at the end of spring training to try to upgrade the bullpen, spending $300,000 to sign Ariel Prieto and giving the Dodgers $100,000 to acquire Mike Judd, who makes $208,000. So it probably was no coincidence LaMar saved about $750,000 in designating Kenny Kelly for assignment and trading him to Seattle, eliminating Kelly's $400,000 salary and receiving $350,000 cash in the deal.
IT'S ELEMENTARY: Tuesday's opening announced crowd of 41,546 reflects, per league policy, the number of tickets sold, not the actual number of people in the building. What it also didn't indicate was that more than 10,000 of those tickets were purchased at a discounted rate by team sponsors and distributed free to Pinellas and Hillsborough students. Rays marketing execs suggested the idea to their sponsors, team spokesman Rick Vaughn said, to "make a big night bigger." It also sounds, however, they wanted to make sure the big-night crowd wasn't smaller.
JUST WONDERING: We understand the $1 clearance price for the Jose Canseco stuffed bears at the Tropicana Field Kid's Korner souvenir booth since he is no longer with the team, but who decided to put the Vinny Castilla bears on sale for $2? ... Did you know that had the Rays won Game 2 on Wednesday, it would have been the latest into a season they had ever been in first place?