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Veterans struggle for answers

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- It was late after Wednesday's loss, a fitting finale to a frustrating road trip. Fred McGriff usually doesn't say much, but the disgust, and the disappointment, was obvious.

"It's not just one road trip," McGriff said. "We've played bad all year. We're going backward. Instead of going forward, we're going backward."

It wasn't supposed to be like this at the end of Year 3. The Rays were going to be admiring what they'd done, or at least be building toward something.

"We've got a lot of questions," McGriff said. "A lot of questions. And it's not just one area where you can say, okay. We've got to start from ground zero, and go from there."

McGriff isn't the only one disillusioned. Greg Vaughn, as you may have heard, has been just a wee bit unhappy, too. Embarrassed and horses--- were two of the words he used last weekend in discussing the team's performance. Others feel the same, but without Vaughn's stature and the security of a four-year, $32-million contract, they are reluctant to put their name to their words.

Clearly, there is something wrong.

Maybe it's the players. The coaches. The manager. The general manager. The owner. The stadium. The team name. Penance from the baseball gods for trying to steal teams from other cities.

Something.

"I've played on bad teams before, but I don't ever remember feeling this way before," Vaughn said.

The specific problem is hard to pinpoint, Vaughn said. Part has to do with attitude, part atmosphere.

Vaughn talks of, but won't name, teammates who he says are more concerned with their individual performance than team success. He questions their priorities, their will to win. Too many, he said, are in that "just happy to be here" mode.

After a rough loss, he surveys the clubhouse with disdain. "Business as usual," he said. "I can handle losing because I've lost before. I can't handle people who are content with losing."

He says there is too much negativism -- and not enough levity -- in the clubhouse air. Essentially, he said, it's depressing to come to work even with what he considers the greatest job in the world.

"Walk around, go to lunch, everything's fine," Vaughn said. "Then you walk through that door and it's like, boom. It's just the atmosphere. The atmosphere and the attitude. The team atmosphere and the team attitude. I feel like I (need) Prozac or something when I walk through that door."

Ask Vaughn what should be done and he shrugs. Sure there have been injuries and there have been inconsistent performances, including his subpar season. But who in January or February or March thought they'd be struggling for 70 wins?

"Maybe it's my fault being the team leader. I was counted on to do a lot, and I haven't. But I can look myself in the mirror," he said. "Maybe I'm the problem. Ship my a-- out and maybe they'll go on and win the pennant."

NEWS FLASH: Managing general partner Vince Naimoli, who hasn't spoken to local media virtually all season, is happy with the work of general manager Chuck LaMar and manager Larry Rothschild, according to Fox-Sports.com's Dave Van Dyck.

"I have great confidence in them and I have great confidence in some of the team leaders in not letting (the team quit)," Naimoli said. "We had a five-year plan. If we made a mistake, it's that we deviated from it this year. The last month of the season should be a prelude to next season where we're hoping for some good things."

CLASS IS IN: Instructional League starts Monday at the Ray Naimoli training complex, with about 50 of the Rays' top prospects -- including Josh Hamilton, Rocco Baldelli, Jesus Colome and Carl Crawford -- working on various skills and playing games.

"There's a lot of individualized instruction going on," farm director Tom Foley said. "This is an opportunity to speed up development and maybe make that jump from one level to the next, or maybe further than that."

HOO-RAYS: Steve Cox will participate in an online chat at 3 p.m. Monday on the team Web site, www.devilray.com. ... Hamilton was named to the Howe Sports Bureau's elite all-prospects team. ... The search for a Class A affiliate to replace St. Petersburg may lead to the California League. ... Double-A pitching coach Ray Searage is joining the Marlins.

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