By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Rays hire John McHale Jr. as chief operating officer, as it appears they will by the middle of this week, they will get a man of knowledge, of experience, of substance.
They will get a man who has been around the game his entire life, a man who spent many spring days in Lakeland and other Florida ballparks, a man whose father was a player for five years and a highly respected executive for 30 with the Tigers, Braves, Expos and Major League Baseball.
They will get a man who played football and earned an English degree at Notre Dame, who briefly taught high school English, who has law degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University, who passed the Florida Bar, who practiced law for 10 years in Denver, who claimed to have "the most unusual good fortune" to get into baseball himself.
They will get a man who chaired the Denver stadium board that directed the development of Coors Field, who spent three-plus years as Rockies executive vice president, who went home to Detroit and has been president and CEO of the Tigers for more than six years, who was instrumental in getting Comerica Park built.
They will get a man who sits on the commissioner's Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics (with Rays chairman Vince Naimoli), who also is on the operations committee and the salary arbitration committee, who comes with the endorsement of MLB officials and past employers.
They will get a man who says that as team president his role in key baseball personnel decisions is simply to "have a voice, have an opinion, to be influential but not always persuasive."
They will get a man who says, refreshingly, that the two most important elements in his management style are "authority and responsibility," that "people have to know what's expected of them and they have to be given tools to do what is expected of them," that you can't give people duties "and then sit on their shoulder and tell them how to move their paper clips and how sharp to make their pencils and how to answer the phones," that "you've got to give people some running room. That's the way they grow."
They will get a man who works incredibly hard and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, who cherishes his family and values his friends, who has time to be involved with a number of charities, who is smart and savvy and personable, who is straightforward, who admits he doesn't know all the answers.
Most important of all, they will get a man who knows what he is doing, and who knows how to do it.
McRAY'S NAVY: Veteran players have been very positive in their initial assessment of Hal McRae's managerial reign, and GM Chuck LaMar is pretty pleased with what he has seen so far as well.
"I like Hal McRae as our manager," LaMar said. "If you had to make a decision as we did during the course of the season, this organization was very fortunate to have someone from within capable of doing the job Hal McRae is doing.
"I like everything about the way he's handled every situation, and I think I speak for the players in the clubhouse when I say Hal McRae is the right guy for the job at our stage of development. I just wish I could help him personnel-wise."
WE'RE NO. 4!: ESPN.com voters ranked the worst ballparks in the majors and, relatively speaking, the good news was that the Trop ranked only fourth worst, ahead of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, Minnesota's Metrodome and Montreal's Olympic Stadium. (Credibility alert: Boston's Fenway Park, considered by some a baseball cathedral, was ranked seventh worst.)
The ESPN.com staff ranked the Trop third worst, saying: "Nothing like being forced to go inside to watch baseball on a beautiful, sunny day in St. Pete." No mention, however, of those 100 or so rainy days we have each summer.
JUST WONDERING: Why has Cardinals super-scout Bob Gebhard been following the Rays for most of two weeks? ... How soon until pitching-starved Texas makes a bid for Albie Lopez? ... How long will the Rays keep Aubrey Huff around if he only plays once a week while going without a true backup shortstop?
HOO-RAYS: The Rays wives group today will conduct its second Baby Goods Drive, benefiting the Tampa Alpha House, which helps pregnant women in crisis. Fans who bring diapers, formula, baby clothing or other such items will receive a voucher for a free general admission ticket to a future game. ... Greg Vaughn will visit the Southside Boys and Girls Club (1011 22nd St. S, St. Petersburg) at 5 p.m. Monday.