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A new man is in charge

John McHale Jr. joins Rays, says he's responsible for rebuilding on, off field.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- There still are questions about the team's chances for success on the field, concerns about the viability of the Tampa Bay area as a major-league market, and issues regarding Vince Naimoli's power and rumored battles within the ownership group.

But in John McHale Jr.'s first hours on the job as chief operating officer Tuesday, he made it clear there was no doubt about who was running the Rays and that it would be done in his fan-friendly manner.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]

Meet John McHale Jr.

AGE: 52.


FAMILY: Wife, Sally; children, Duncan, William, Frances.

EDUCATION: English degree from Notre Dame, where he played linebacker and defensive end; law degrees from Boston College Law School and Georgetown University Law Center.

BASEBALL BACKGROUND: Grew up around the game as his father, John, spent more than 30 years as a top executive with Tigers, Braves, Expos and Major League Baseball.

BASEBALL EXPERIENCE: Chairman of the board of directors of the Denver stadium board that directed the development of Coors Field. Executive vice president of the Rockies from October 1991-January 1995. President/CEO of the Tigers from January 1995 until Tuesday. Member of Commissioner's Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics.

"I would like to try to project the impression today that from a fan standpoint, from a sponsor standpoint, from the standpoint of someone who's interested in the future of this franchise in this community, that they should look to me," said McHale, 52. "From a day-to-day standpoint, I accept that as my responsibility."

The Rays, completing a nearly monthlong negotiation, hired McHale from the Tigers and made him their first chief operating officer, a position some team officials acknowledge they should have filled years ago.

At the same time, Naimoli made it clear that he, too, will continue to be heavily involved with the team.

Naimoli said he will re-assume his titles of managing general partner and chief executive officer because people mistakenly took the April 27 announcement that he would become chairman to mean he was stepping aside, a move widely reported to be a deal brokered by Major League Baseball officials in an attempt to resolve conflict between Naimoli and his partners.

Recent unattributed reports have said the conflict has been rekindled, and some suggestion has been made that McHale's hiring may signal only a truce rather than resolution. Naimoli, however, said Tuesday that the partners have no disputes or problems and that his role has not changed.

"It is (the same), with the added benefit of having a guy to take care of the day-to-day operations," Naimoli said.

Now the Rays will have both men on the job, though McHale acknowledged that the specifics of who does what have to be worked out. "I think it depends on how Vince settles into this role," he said. "Obviously, I'm willing to take everything that's available."

As McHale makes the transition over the next couple of weeks, he will study and analyze the entire organization, from the backgrounds of the minor-leaguers to specifics of ticket sales to details of the broadcast agreements.

McHale said he will have a "huge hand" in baseball matters and plans to meet extensively with general manager Chuck LaMar.

Because of the Rays' on-field struggles, there has been criticism of LaMar's moves and speculation about his future, even though he is signed through the 2004 season.

"I would expect to take an appropriate amount of time to look at the performance of all of the senior executives," McHale said. "All of us at the Tigers -- and I think everybody in baseball -- has been impressed with the job of minor-league development that the Devil Rays have done, and I think we all attribute that to Chuck's skills and his background in that particular area. If that's any kind of an indicator, I think he's performed very well on that side of the ledger.

"But everyone is going to be subjected to a get-to-know-you process and an evaluation of style and a sense of how their business principles fit with mine, and then we'll see where that takes us."

Naimoli said he has long admired McHale, a fellow Notre Dame alum who spent 31/2 years as an executive vice president of the Rockies and the past 61/2 as president and CEO of the Tigers.

But though Naimoli said he made the decision to pursue McHale, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch said commissioner Bud Selig was heavily involved. "(Selig) wanted to know if I could do him a favor," Ilitch said. "He said, "I'd like to have John help the league out.' "

Indeed, Selig told the Detroit Free Press, "I'm the one that called and told (Ilitch) the problems in Tampa Bay and said I really felt John McHale was the perfect guy to send there."

In a statement, Selig said MLB "has worked closely with the Tampa Bay ownership to help forge a solution to the issues facing the franchise" and the hiring would provide the Rays with "strength and stability."

McHale said he wouldn't have uprooted his family and left the job in his native Detroit unless he had the confidence -- and believed he had the necessary cooperation -- to be successful.

Much of McHale's duties in Colorado and Detroit had to do with building ballparks, but he made it clear that was not the reason he came here.

His task will be to build -- or more appropriately, rebuild -- an organization.

He talked about how it takes a franchise seven to 10 years to be truly successful, spoke of the importance of scouting and player development, and mentioned more than once the importance of the special relationship between a franchise and its fans.

"While I am here, this organization will be built as a winner," McHale said. "We will respect the game. We will honor our fans. We will operate in a businesslike manner, and we will be a force for good in this community.

"We also intend to have a little fun."

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