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McHale can save Rays, if they let him

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The thousands of words spoken at last week's announcement of John McHale Jr.'s hiring as chief operating officer left few doubts about his experience, his credentials, his appetite for challenges, his ability to handle the task of saving the Rays.

But the biggest, and most important, question, can't be answered yet:

Will he be allowed to do his job?

More specifically, will Vince Naimoli and his invisible bickering partners allow McHale to do his job?

At this point, everyone says yes.

McHale says so, Naimoli says so, team officials say so. (We don't know what the other general partners say because they, apparently, don't say anything, at least not in public).

But there are some, including some insiders at the Trop, who wonder whether Naimoli really will let go.

What happens the first time McHale wants to do something his way, or to spend money for something he thinks is important, or to change a policy?

Will Naimoli will let him do so?

Even at Tuesday's news conference, there were a couple of times when McHale was asked a question and Naimoli insisted on answering.

For McHale, who received a four-year contract, to be effective, he must have the authority and the opportunity to make important decisions. If he does, and if he can do things the way he would like to, it should be a good thing for the Rays.

McHale delivered an eloquent soliloquy on the place a baseball franchise occupies in a community (the text appears on page 2C), and that wasn't the only interesting thing he had to say.

Though some local media types and fans have bought into rumors that the Rays could be folded as part of a contraction of Major League Baseball, McHale made a salient point: If he thought it might happen, he would not have taken the job. And given that his hiring was arranged, if not ordered, by the commissioner's office, he should know.

McHale said his primary concern is making sure that people understand how long it takes to win, that organizations usually are successful because they have productive minor-league systems and that it can take 7-10 years to build one.

He talked about fan-friendly things like a stadium staff that "provides a clear, unequivocal welcome," courteous ticket-sales staffers who are "prepared to go the extra mile," a front-office organization "that reflects the diversity of the community."

He plans to go into the community for healing, saying "if there are misunderstandings, or fissures that have occurred, as a result of anything that has been done or not been done," he'll address them.

At one point, McHale was asked why, considering all the problems, he would take the job.

The short answer: He likes the challenge.

"This is a market and a franchise which is important to Major League Baseball," he said. "It was a market determined to have extraordinarily promising characteristics during the expansion process. ... There are an intriguing set of challenges and opportunities here. And I think that that mix of challenges and opportunities appealed to me to help fill some of the void I felt after the completion of Comerica Park."

DRAFT BREEZE: With the draft nine days away, the Rays have narrowed their focus to five candidates for the No. 3 pick: Southern Cal pitcher Mark Prior, Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira, Minnesota prep catcher Joe Mauer, Middle Tennessee State pitcher Dewon Brazelton and Baltimore-area prep pitcher Gavin Floyd. Prior and Teixeira are the top talents, but financial issues could affect the draft order.

GOING NOWHERE: With Wilson Alvarez agreeing to defer $2-million in salary again next season, there has been some ESPN chatter that the left-hander is more attractive to teams, such as the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Cardinals, that are monitoring his comeback from shoulder surgery. One problem: Alvarez has a complete no-trade clause and says there has been no talk about waiving it. "No one has said anything to me," Alvarez said. "I just want to pitch."

COMPUTER CRASH: The stadium's cyber cafe, where fans could surf the Internet and check e-mail, has been closed at least temporarily. It may be re-opened later in the season under new sponsorship.

HOO-RAYS: The Washington Post says an unnamed northern Virginia group has interest in the Rays. ... Congrats to assistant general manager Scott Proefrock and his wife, K.K., on the birth of their son, John.

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