By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- The hiring of John McHale Jr. seems as if it were weeks overdue. In fact, it may have been years overdue.
Managing general partner Vince Naimoli acknowledged Tuesday that the Devil Rays probably would be in better shape today if a chief operating officer had been hired in 1995.
"Should we have hired a COO a long time ago? Yes," Naimoli said. "Would it have made my life easier, would the organization have benefited? Absolutely."
Naimoli said it always had been in his plans to hire a COO but circumstances had not been right.
"I could never get the right guy," Naimoli said.
The right guy, he said, has always been McHale. Naimoli said he was immediately impressed upon meeting McHale when McHale was the Rockies' executive vice president. Tampa Bay had not been awarded a franchise, and Naimoli said he did not violate anti-tampering rules by talking to McHale in early 1995. When McHale left soon afterward to join the Tigers, Naimoli said he "nearly fell out of my chair."
The benefit of having a COO like McHale is twofold, Naimoli said. No. 1, McHale can handle the day-to-day affairs, leaving Naimoli to look at big picture issues. No. 2, McHale has ample major-league experience, something Naimoli did not have.
The Rays have made numerous community gaffes, including a spat with Dillard's department store and a misunderstanding with a high school band that was supposed to play the national anthem, and Naimoli said they might have been avoided had McHale been in charge.
"We got beaten up on the Dillard's thing. We were right on Dillard's. We were protecting our trademark. Had we had more time, would we have done it a different way? Yeah, probably," Naimoli said. "The whole thing with the St. Petersburg High School band? It wasn't as it was portrayed. Had we had more time, would we have done it a little differently, calmed the waters differently? Probably so.
"But when you have a limited amount of time, it is difficult. John is a guy who has encountered these situations before. A lot of things we've done here, it's been the first time for us."
As for reports of squabbling among the ownership group and cash flow problems within the franchise, Naimoli maintains the rumors are untrue. He pointed out that no one has gone on record with the accusations.
"There are people out there with personal agendas," Naimoli said. "I'm not arguing that a person is saying those things. I'm arguing what their agenda is."
When asked why the five general partners have made no public statements denying the rumored infighting, Naimoli said Major League Baseball prefers only one person speak for a franchise.
"We're all united; that's all I can tell you," he said. "To have each one stand up and take an oath saying we're united? That's not the way it works."