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[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Larry Rothschild wasn't sure if he would have a job today -- others on his staff don't.

Rays hold on to Rothschild

In a last-minute decision, general manager Chuck LaMar gives his manager another chance.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Larry Rothschild did not have a good Sunday night. There were phones calls "from people telling me I'd be fired Monday," and a long talk with his wife, Jane, over the very real possibility he would be, and how they'd tell the kids if he was.

The morning papers didn't help. As Rothschild drove to Tropicana Field for a 9 a.m. meeting with general manager Chuck LaMar, he wasn't totally sure, but he had an idea about what was going to happen. It wasn't a comforting thought. "I didn't have a good feeling coming to the park today," Rothschild said. "The easiest path for Chuck to take was to fire me."

But a few minutes into the meeting, LaMar asked Rothschild if he thought they could get the job done. By the time Rothschild finished talking, LaMar decided to finalize the conclusion he had come to just that morning, retaining Rothschild as the only manager the Devil Rays have had.

"It was just the right thing to do, a gut feeling," LaMar said. "I know in my heart Larry Rothschild is still the right man for this job. ... The pros outweigh the cons tremendously."

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There will be some changes, however. Bench coach Bill Russell, hitting coach Leon Roberts and bullpen coach Orlando Gomez, a player favorite, were told they would not be rehired. Jose Cardenal, Bill Fischer and Billy Hatcher will be back.

The developments drew some mixed reaction from Rays players, many of whom had been wondering what moves would be made.

"I don't determine who stays and who goes, I just work there," outfielder Greg Vaughn said from California. "I guess they know what they're doing or something. Evidently, they've got a plan."

Pitcher Albie Lopez said, "To me, it doesn't matter who the manager is. I go out and give 100 percent."

There were plenty of reasons LaMar could have fired Rothschild, including the team's three-year record of 201-284, grumbling from some veteran players and LaMar's assessments that the team took a "step backward" in its third year and was "the classic example of a team that underachieved."

But ultimately -- and somewhat agonizingly -- LaMar decided Rothschild was not solely to blame for the injuries and inconsistent performances by the key players, and that the Rays, as some other teams do, were not going to make a change just to change the perception of the team.

"I could not look Larry Rothschild in the eye and say, "I don't think you did a good job,' " LaMar said. "We discussed a lot of things today, some things I think he needs to get better and some things I've got to get better at, too. But there was no way I could look him in the eye and say the 69 wins or the direction of this organization have been affected by negative managing on his part."

Rothschild, obviously, appreciated LaMar's refusal to take the easy way out. "He didn't take your typical route, and my job is to make sure the organization is rewarded for this," Rothschild said.

Essentially, it made just as much sense to LaMar to keep Rothschild as it did when he made the somewhat bold move to first hire his long-time acquaintance in November 1997, even though he'd never managed a game at any level. An extension last September put Rothschild under contract through the 2001 season, with a reported salary of $400,000. There was no real talk Monday of adding to the pact, with both sides saying it would take care of itself if things work out as they hope.

"I've got a heck of a guy as manager," LaMar said. "If you wanted to list the criteria of a major-league manager, what would they be? Communication skills, knowledge of the game, work ethic, loyalty, competitiveness, the ability to make tough decisions, I could go on and on.

"Larry fit that criteria better than anyone I knew in this game when I hired him, and he still fits that criteria."

LaMar took a long time to make the decision, and he acknowledged the uncertainly made it tough on Rothschild and "probably put a little burden" on the team in September.

But he was committed to wait until the season was complete, and he wanted to look at the situation from the perspective of ownership, players and fans. He said the 10-game losing streak at the start of September was not a factor, nor was the 7-1 finish.

He kept his distance from the media and from Rothschild, creating at least the perception of a strained relationship, but said he did so for a reason -- he didn't know what he was going to do.

It turned out, LaMar said, to be the toughest decision in his five-plus years on the job. He woke Monday and called managing general partner Vince Naimoli to tell him he was leaning toward keeping Rothschild, and said Naimoli told him to follow his instincts.

LaMar went into the meeting thinking that way, but not sure.

"Before I made up my mind completely I wanted to sit in the same room with Larry and I wanted to discuss the future of this organization, and I was in a position, very candidly, that if my instincts told me from what Larry said that it was time to make a change, I was every bit prepared to make that decision this morning."

Rothschild said it wasn't a matter of pleading his case, more a "no-holds barred" discussion how they wanted to go at the challenge. "It was more to do with what we have to do to get things right here, and make sure that we go forward in the right way," Rothschild said.

They wouldn't divulge specifics, but Rothschild said they realized "the common ground wasn't very far apart."

LaMar said it was even better than that: "There was no question once we started talking about the future of this organization and his feelings on this year and future years and what we need to do to get better that this team is in the right hands."

Rothschild's reaction?

"I didn't collapse or hug him and kiss him or anything," he said. "I'm glad to be here, and I plan on getting the job done here."

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