By JOHN ROMANO and MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2001
His trip to Florida was brief -- less than 24 hours -- but Tigers president John McHale Jr. may be back soon.
And he could stick around a while.
McHale met with key members of the Rays ownership group on Friday to discuss the team's new position of chief operating officer. All indications are that the interview session, which included talk about parameters of a contract, went very well and the deal could be concluded by the middle of next week.
McHale, 52, is believed to have met with Rays chairman Vince Naimoli and Auburndale-based general partner Mark Bostick, who is likely to assume a larger role in the running of the team.
McHale headed back to Detroit on Friday afternoon to prepare for his daughter's first communion today.
Interviewed at the Orlando airport before his flight, McHale said he was not allowed to discuss Friday's meeting or the overall situation.
"The other side does not want me talking about this, so I really can't say anything," McHale said. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can tell you."
The ownership group has been secretive about the process; some high-ranking team officials did not know there was a meeting Friday.
About all the Rays would say came in a statement from Naimoli that they had identified five candidates for the job and will follow Major League Baseball protocol regarding requiring permission to proceed with interviews.
"When we have an announcement to make we'll make it at that time," team vice president Rick Vaughn said.
While the Rays may consider talking with other candidates -- retiring Cleveland general manager John Hart said Friday he had not been contacted -- McHale is the only one interviewed and is believed to be the top choice for the job.
McHale, 52, is in his seventh season as president and CEO of the Tigers, but there have been indications his relationship with owner Mike Ilitch is deteriorating.
He previously worked as executive vice president of the Colorado Rockies. His father, John McHale, was a long-time baseball executive.