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Rothschild cuts staff in half

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 2000


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ST. PETERSBURG -- He needs a stronger voice in the locker room, more flexibility and, quite frankly, a team not at the bottom of the American League in eight batting categories. So Larry Rothschild, manager of the Devil Rays for a fourth season, cleaned half the house Monday.

Out: bench coach Bill Russell, bullpen coach Orlando Gomez and batting coach Leon Roberts.

Staying: pitching coach Bill Fischer (an April 12 replacement for Rick Williams), third-base coach Billy Hatcher and first-base coach Jose Cardenal -- who may not be at first base next year but will remain as running and outfield coach.

While general manager Chuck LaMar called the shots as far as retaining Rothschild, it was Rothschild who made the calls on his staff. "I talked to the coaches myself," Rothschild said. "Chuck and I talked it over and he knew where I stood and I knew where he stood, but ultimately it was my decision."

He said he knew changes had to be made before he met with LaMar. "I think everybody worked hard to get it done, but it just didn't happen," Rothschild said. "When you go through a growing period, you're going to go through some staff numbers. ... Nobody likes to have to deal with it, but we need to get things right.

"If you can't get through to the players and get them to understand what has to get done, then you're not capable of doing your job. It's not easy at this level with the players you deal with, with the experience they have and, very honestly, with the money they make. But good coaches get it done."

Rothschild was vague about dismissing Gomez. "I think Orlando did about everything he could do, but there were some changes that had to be made as far as what we need to get it done here. He's a quality guy, very loyal, a good, solid person. But (not renewing his contract) allows me space to make decisions in different ways and (Gomez's successor) may not be your typical bullpen coach. It gives me leeway to hire other people."

Gomez said Rothschild told him "they needed to make some moves and I was one of the guys they had to make the move with."

Gomez's departure did not sit well with some Devil Rays players -- Albie Lopez, who went from the bullpen to become arguably the best starter in the rotation, and catcher John Flaherty, whose numbers (as well as fellow catcher Mike DiFelice's) throwing out runners declined this season.

"He's the best catching guy that I've ever been around," said Flaherty, a nine-year veteran, "and I think our numbers the first two years under him speak for themselves. Obviously our numbers this year throwing out runners haven't been what they were, but the last two years are tough to duplicate.

"That being said, I feel particularly responsible for him being (dismissed) if my performance had something to do with it. I wish they'd have given a reason. ... It would have been nice to have heard that."

Lopez, whose complete games (four) and earned-run average (4.13) were among the AL leaders, said he didn't think the way Gomez did his job "had anything to do whether we played good or bad. He goes out and works the catchers. He keeps the bullpen guys where they need to be. He helped me out a lot." Part of Russell's problem apparently was that he was too much like Rothschild, who said he needed a stronger presence. "Bill's a good baseball guy ... everything I'd asked for," he said. "But I think in that situation I need something in the clubhouse that goes beyond (that), and Bill's kind of quiet, like I am. We're very similar. So I may be looking for something that's a little different than the way I am."

Roberts had to go because the Rays were last in the AL in batting average, slugging average, on-base percentage, runs, hits, RBI, total bases and doubles (and 12th in home runs). "Hitting-wise, it speaks for itself," Rothschild said.

"We struggled. We didn't always have good at-bats and I'm not sure it was always Leon's fault because it's easy to point the finger at the coach and say that. But it was at times frustrating to watch our guys hit, and so there's no other way around that except to make a change."

Things beyond Roberts' control contributed to the poor offense. Jose Canseco and Vinny Castilla were hurt much of the season and Bobby Smith and Greg Vaughn part of it. "Hopefully everybody will stay healthy and (Rothschild) can ride a bunch of healthy horses," Roberts said.

-- Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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