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In brother, Naimoli has lost his ballast

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 1999


Ray Naimoli, who died last week, handled some very important matters as the team's chief financial officer. But he did even more as the confidant to his older brother, managing general partner Vince Naimoli.

Ray could get the ear -- and occasionally bend the arm -- of the team's megalomaniacal leader. He was the counterbalance, and sometimes the alter ego. He had the chutzpah to tell the boss exactly what he thought, why and what should be done.

"He'd come in from time to time and he'd close the door," Vince Naimoli recalled, "and he would tell me, "I don't think this is right. I think things should be done this way. If you want to argue with me, fine. This is my opinion.' "

The team is fortunate, Naimoli said, that its other top executives -- John Higgins, Chuck LaMar, Mike Veeck, Rick Nafe and Rick Vaughn -- are men of conviction. But Ray, even in the throes of his long battle with cancer, was the one who was most direct.

"I don't think any of the other guys have any trepidation, but in his case, he for sure never had any," Naimoli said. "He could also say things a different way. If John or Rick Nafe says something, they're diplomatic by nature. Ray didn't pull any punches. The other guys may say something, but it took more words. He stripped right down to the bare essentials. He said it like a brother."

Strip away the bluster, and Vince needed Ray. He'll miss him more than you can imagine. And he'll work at trying to be a better man without him.

"I'll probably listen a little harder now, and I'll encourage the other guys to be a little blunter," he said.

Vince and Ray were close, more so than they let on. "When we were kids (in Paterson, N.J.), we had an attic bedroom and we slept in the same bed," Naimoli said. "We grew up together. He took over my paper route when I got to high school and started playing ball. He wound up going to Notre Dame as I did."

Ray Naimoli's funeral was Saturday. Eventually, someone will be appointed to take over his duties with the team. Something will be done, perhaps the renaming of a team training facility, in his honor. But it will take some time for Vince Naimoli to accept that his brother isn't there to help. "It's something I never thought about," he said. "We were the trustees for each other's will. I was looking in my file cabinets at some personal things the other night and I had always felt I didn't have to be 100 percent (organized) because when I pass away Ray will come in and sort it out. I'm going to have to make some adjustments."

BUBBA TROUBLE: OF Bubba Trammell has a lot going for him, but not necessarily timing. Hoping to put last season's slow start behind him and build off his strong finish, the last thing Trammell needed was a slow spring. But as the Rays try to sort a jumbled outfield, his .080 and 2-for-25 showing (through Friday) is harder to ignore. "I'm definitely not happy," Trammell said. "Am I concerned? No. I know I can hit. I know I will hit. I've always hit." Trammell may be a bit tired from his extensive off-season work and is lunging a bit at the ball. TRIMMING DOWN: Opening Day is 15 days away and the Rays still have 50 players on the roster, enough for two teams. Fifteen or so are likely to be cut by the end of this week, with another half-dozen headed to the disabled list. "Certainly in the last 10 days or so (of spring) we want to be at 30 or under," manager Larry Rothschild said. He actually would like to cut down to the final 25 but figures he can't because of competition for final spots, a need for extra pitching and the possibility of manipulating the roster for a trade.

AND SIZING UP: Until the roster is set, Rothschild won't know exactly what his starting lineup is. And until he experiments with some different lineups, he won't know what the composition of the roster will be. Under that Catch-22 scenario, Rothschild is ready to start playing his regulars on a somewhat regular basis. "I'm going to play different looks of what it could be," he said.

FOR STARTERS: If you count back, LHP Wilson Alvarez appears to be on schedule to start the April 5 curtain-raiser. But appearances apparently can be deceiving. "That's not necessarily true," Rothschild said. "It can easily be adjusted." Rolando Arrojo is the other choice.

HOO-RAYS: Sales and marketing VP Mike Veeck is host of a weekly TV program that debuts at 11 a.m. today on Ch. 44. Today's Off the Wall show includes segments with Jose Canseco and Bud Selig. ... OF Mike Kelly and wife Chris will be among the guests at tonight's Oscar Night Gala, an event at the WFTS-Ch. 28 studios that benefits the Ronald McDonald House. Call (813) 258-6430.

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