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Rays deny report about looming money crisis

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays denied a story in today's New York Times saying they may not have enough money to pay players and employees in the coming weeks.

"Completely untrue," senior vice president John Higgins said late Friday night.

The New York Times reported today that the conflict between the general partners and Vince Naimoli has erupted again and has threatened the team's ability to meet payroll.

Attributing its information to "a person close to Major League Baseball's hierarchy," the New York Times said the five general partners "have told Major League Baseball they will provide money for the payroll only if Naimoli is cut off completely from the team. The partners, who collectively own 80 percent of the team, apparently do not want Naimoli, who owns about 15 percent, to even have an office at Tropicana Field." Further, the New York Times said "even if the Devil Rays were able to make their payroll for their players and their other employees next Tuesday, "it looks like they'll miss it at the end of the month.' " Higgins, who also is the team's general counsel and chief financial officer, said the team will have no problems making payroll and that the New York Times report was incorrect on virtually every point.

"It is filled with completely erroneous information," Higgins said. "Rumor and innuendo with no one's name attached to it. It is completely erroneous information that is being spread around, for whatever reason."

The Rays, like other teams, pay players on the 15th and 30th of each regular-season month. The team has a payroll of about $56-million, though with about $12-million deferred it pays out about $3.67-million in each of 12 pay periods.

Higgins said there is "absolutely no question" employees will be paid as scheduled Tuesday, and that future payroll obligations also will be met. "Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false," he said. "This shouldn't be an issue."

The New York Times story also said "among new reasons for the partners' animosity toward Naimoli was the discovery in a financial review of more than $5-million that will be needed for expenses. The partners told officials Naimoli had not disclosed the discrepancy to them." It also said the review was incomplete and the discrepancy could be closer to $10-million.

Higgins said that also was incorrect.

The New York Times went on to say that baseball officials and the five partners have negotiated all week, but have been unable to reach an understanding.

The newspaper's source said of the renewed conflict: "It's a mess. It's getting worse and there's no end in sight."

The partners and Naimoli appeared to reach an agreement last month when it was announced that Naimoli would become chairman, and a chief operating officer would be hired to run the team, but there apparently has been some internal disagreement about what the deal actually means. It has been widely reported locally and nationally that Naimoli was stripped of his power, but Naimoli repeatedly has told people he remains in charge.

Naimoli told the New York Times the report of any discrepancy was absolutely false. He also denied every other aspect of the reports of problems between him and his partners or that he had been removed from his position as managing general partner.

The New York Times said two of the partners, R. Mark Bostick and Robert Basham, did not return calls seeking comment. The other general partners are Chris Sullivan, Daniel Doyle and the Griffin Family Trust.

While MLB previously has arranged financial assistance for troubled teams, there have been no reports of teams missing payrolls in recent years. If a team were to have such severe financial problems, MLB could monitor or even take over team operations, the newspaper said.

The ownership issues have also led to a stall in talks with John McHale Jr. about the chief operating officer position.

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