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McGriff rolls on, but will it be with Rays?

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001


The song selection, Fred McGriff says, was not anything born of deep thought, just a casual suggestion from unofficial team DJ Gerald Williams. But every time McGriff steps to the plate and Destiny's Child's Survivor plays, the message is extremely clear.

McGriff, heading toward his 38th birthday and his 15th full season in the big leagues, is surviving.

And thriving.

McGriff went into the weekend sizzling, ranking sixth in the AL in batting at .339, having homered four times in his past six games, having reached base 11 of 12 times to the plate in the three-game sweep of Philadelphia, having hit .429 over the past 31/2 weeks.

A guy some people were trying to write off during a subpar 1998 Tampa Bay debut could be headed to a second straight All-Star Game and yet another 30-homer, 100-RBI season.

"I've had my moments," said McGriff, typically understated. "I got off to a slow start the first month, and I wasn't too happy, but the last month I thought I played well, real consistent. I'm always striving for that consistent part of it. For the last month, I was consistent."

If there were a word to describe McGriff's career, one that might include 500 home runs (he has 430) and serious consideration for the Hall of Fame, it probably would be consistent.

"It's been a good season for Freddie," Rays manager Hal McRae said. "He's picked it up of late, and he's playing better. I think he's going to have another good year, a McGriff-type year."

McGriff tends to play down his accomplishments, claiming that his personal success is tempered by the team's overall struggles. "Makes it kind of bittersweet," he said.

That posturing leads to another question: Does he want to stay with the Rays?

The Tampa native has a complete no-trade clause and may well guarantee a $6.75-million option for next season by making 550 plate appearances. (He went into play Saturday with 247.)

But it is possible the Rays, in an effort to field a younger and less expensive team, might ask him to waive that clause. McGriff, in turn, could get a chance he might not otherwise have to compete for another championship.

Would he consider such a move?

"I haven't thought about it," McGriff said. "A lot of things play into it. ... I just go play. ... I could retire. ... Nobody knows."

GIANTS, DODGERS AND D-BACKS, OH, MY: Word is that interleague play (finally) will have a different look next year, with the start of a rotation of opposing divisions.

Under the rumored plan, the Rays and the rest of the AL East would play NL West teams next season, the NL Central in 2003 and the NL East again in 2004.

That means the Rays next season would play two or three of the NL West teams at home and the other two or three on the road. They still would maintain one series with their "traditional" rivals, the Marlins.

G-FORCE: With Jason Tyner taking over in center, the Rays may be on the verge of parting ways with Williams.

Word around the league is, the Rays placed Williams on irrevocable waivers last week, though he apparently wasn't claimed. If the Rays can't work some kind of trade -- and it doesn't look good -- they are likely to release Williams. That also allows them to avoid having Williams make enough plate appearances to guarantee a $4-million option for next season but could lead to a nasty battle with the players union, which likely would file a grievance over the release.

The Rays, though, have a solid defense: Williams' .209 batting average.

THE GREAT INDOORS: Greg Vaughn likes playing leftfield, but he doesn't like playing it all that much at the Trop, where lights and catwalks and wires get in the way.

"I've probably dropped four balls my whole career, and three have been here because of this friggin' place," Vaughn said. "I don't know whoever said it was going to be good for baseball, but it's crazy. It's crazy out there. ... Great America. Six Flags. Every day, it's something."

HOO-RAYS: The team bused to south Florida ostensibly to make the weekend jaunt a family trip, but it should not be overlooked that there were significant cost savings over flying, perhaps as much as $50,000. ... The reorganization of the front office led to a reconfiguration of Tropicana Field suites and offices, with new COO John McHale Jr. getting space adjacent, and nearly equal, to that of managing general partner Vince Naimoli.

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