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Players' focus remains on field

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001


DETROIT -- News that the front office was being reorganized and the franchise might be sold traveled quickly to Detroit. But manager Hal McRae and Rays players say the issues won't cause them any -- or, at least, any more -- problems.

"We've got enough distractions trying to win games," pitcher Albie Lopez said.

Some players heard the news from wives and friends in Florida. Others read the team news release. McRae got a call from general manager Chuck LaMar.

Everyone seemed to know something about what was going on. No one seemed real concerned that it would affect them much at all.

"We can't worry about it because we have no control over it," designated hitter Greg Vaughn said. "We've got to control what's going on in the clubhouse. We've got to control what we do on the field and find a way to get wins on a consistent basis. We have nothing to do with that stuff and we won't be involved in the decisions, so it would sort of be a waste of energy for us to be distracted by it."

Catcher John Flaherty said: "We're trying to take care of what we can take care of in this clubhouse. Sure, there are things that we hear about. But we've got problems in here. If there are problems in the front office and with ownership, we don't know enough about it to concern ourselves with it. We've got to take care of what we can take care of in this clubhouse."

McRae said he sensed no concern and heard no talk about the developments among the players, and he expected everyone who was wearing a uniform to be focused on the games.

"I've got one job, and that's to win ballgames," McRae said. "We're struggling with our end of the bargain. The players are playing better and they know they're better than they've played, and I'm a losing manager and I think we can win more games. ... We've got problems we're trying to solve."

LaMar, who attended the news conference in St. Petersburg, said he was confident the ownership changes would not be an issue for the players or the baseball operations department. But he acknowledged that he didn't know what the impact would be of having a chief operating officer installed as essentially his new boss.

"What has transpired with Vince (Naimoli) becoming chairman of the board and everything else that transpired today will not affect what we're trying to do on the field at the major-league level," LaMar said by telephone. "Our players are extremely professional and they know their jobs are to win as many games as they possibly can. From my standpoint as general manager, the hiring of a COO is yet to be determined how it will affect the job that I have to do."

Several players said it was premature to say what impact the hiring of a COO would have until they know who it is and what his responsibilities are.

"We just have to wait and see how things change," said Lopez, whose pending free agency is likely to be one of the first issues for the new boss. "I'm hoping I'm around to see it."

Lopez, one of the seven original Rays still playing in the organization, said he was concerned for Naimoli too.

"As a person, you feel bad for Vince because he was one of the people who brought baseball to Tampa Bay and for him to step down, I'm sure it's a saddening feeling for him," Lopez said. "I feel bad for him because this is what he wanted to do."

Said Flaherty: "I know Vince was saying he's putting in a lot of time and a lot of hours and eventually that's going to catch up with anybody. He has to look out for what's best for him health-wise."

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