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Trade him. Dump him. Do it NOW.

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


Say good night, Vinny.

Better yet, say goodbye.

The time has come for the front office to say the time has passed for the third baseman. It is time for someone to pack the bags of Vinny Castilla, and time for someone else to open the door, and time for someone else to drive him to the airport. If the Rays are interested, volunteers are available.

It takes something for a player to embarrass this team, but Castilla has managed it. We have another disappointed manager, another battlefield demotion and another episode of Castilla not getting it.

When does it stop? When do the Rays say enough? When does management stop wishing for the right set of circumstances to occur so some team, any team, might take part of Castilla's contract off its hands and allow it to salvage something from this horrible trade?

Frankly, now sounds like a good idea.

The latest evidence, as if any more were necessary, came Tuesday night. The Rays were tied at 3 against the Orioles. Fred McGriff was on second base with nobody out in the sixth.

In other words, the game was at a point beyond statistics and personal goals. Nothing should have mattered to Castilla except getting home that potential winning run. Hit to the right side, and even a ground ball gets McGriff to third, where even a fly ball scores him, and the Rays would be nine outs from winning.

And Castilla never tried. He swung at the first pitch, trying to drive it to the moon, and grounded to shortstop. Manager Hal McRae pointed to the bench, and bully for him for doing so. At least someone was motivated by trying to win the game.

For whatever reason, however, Castilla has been unable to see that. After the game, amazingly, he angrily suggested McRae's move was "ridiculous." Of course. Otherwise, he might have to face his own shortcomings.

This is the same Castilla who, earlier in the year, suggested management was showing him no respect. This is the same Castilla who suggested he was benched the first time because he was a scapegoat. This is the same Castilla who is hitting for a pitcher's average (.215) with a shortstop's power (two home runs). What does he want? For his manager to salute and his base coaches to curtsy?

Here's what Castilla should have said: "Thank goodness we won the game. I messed up. I don't blame Hal. I blame me. I have to be better than that." It is only when a player refuses to accept blame that the world feels inclined to dump it on him.

We have learned this about McRae. He's into the team concept. Wednesday, he talked about how losing is about being selfish, how winning is about being unselfish. He also said, "A player determines his own destiny." Castilla should pay attention.

Look, it isn't McRae who has embarrassed Castilla, it's the other way around. If you'll remember, it was McRae who fished Castilla out of the trash heap where he had been tossed by former manager Larry Rothschild, who grew weary of waiting for Castilla's bat to speed up.

It has been obvious for some time that Castilla is not going to be the comeback player of the year, no matter how hard people in the front office wish for it. Now, it appears there will be nothing to salvage from this mistake, either. It is time to add whatever seasoning is available and swallow the contract.

That was the hope, really. He came in talking of stardom, but by the end, the Rays would have accepted mediocrity from Castilla. If he could have hit .250 with 10 home runs then the thinking was that the Rays could move Castilla and fetch a little something back. At one time, they hoped for a prospect. Now, they'd take a prospector. What else are you going to do? Give another team a good player so they'll take the contract of a bad one?

Watch Castilla, and it's hard to believe this was the guy making All-Star Games when he played for the Rockies. Back then, he was considered one of the finest fastball hitters in the league. The theory is that the Colorado air flattened out breaking balls just enough so he could hit those, too, and because of it, Castilla put up numbers to make an ordinary third baseman drool.

Here, he has been another guy with a glove. His bat has been slow. Still, he seems to think the team should put him at third base, then check back with him in September to see how he's feeling.

You can count on a few things with bad players. They're going to point out how good they were somewhere else, and fans are going to point out how much money they are making. That's a universal truth of the game. Great players make you forget their paychecks; lousy ones might as well scream it. In two seasons, Castilla never has given us one number to make us forget the $13-million disappointment he has been. He has made managers look dumb for playing him, a general manager look suspect for trading for him and an ownership look inept for paying him. When it comes to playing poorly, that's the triple crown.

Castilla suggests that, around here, he is under a microscope. That's another dodge from blame. There is nowhere in the big leagues Castilla's numbers aren't a reason to blush. Most places, there would be more fan scrutiny (more fans, you see), not less.

Frankly, it's time the Rays give up the ghost. He is a bad idea who gets worse over time. He is the Alvin Harper, the Gerard Gallant of the franchise. And he is never going to look good until we can view him from a distance.

It is time for Castilla to go long.

The Rays can finish fifth without him.

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