Normally I wait to the middle or the end of the week to post a column on this website. But after I read the blurb at the end of Robert Trigaux's column in today's St. Pete Times, the one about the "possible public resurrection of Vince Naimoli" by the Rays, I couldn't wait several days to let the world know I how feel about this.
The NDRO has done some amazing things since taking over ownership of the Rays from Namoli in October 2005. Despite fielding on of the worst teams in franchise history, and that's saying a lot given this franchise's history, attendance was up last season. The NDRO made people forget how dumpy the Trop is, diverting the fans' attention from another losing season with free parking, touch tanks, and an overall better experience at the ballpark. One of the main reasons why the experience was so fun for fans was the knowledge that their hard-earned money wasn't entirely going into the pockets of Naimoli. Trying to publicly bring back a shinier, redesigned Naimoli may in fact undo much of what the NDRO has done in 18 months of hard work.
I don't have to list all of the reprehensible things Naimoli did to turn a once-fertile baseball market into a wasteland before Stuart Sternberg took over. Naimoli's actions are well documented, and they are now joked about since he's no longer calling the shots. He still works for the Rays, and that's all good and fine. He doesn't however need to be a public face for the team after he royally screwed things up being THE public face, voice, and scourge of the team for ten years.
Now some of our more compassionate readers maybe saying, "Awwwwww come on Matt! Everyone deserves a second chance!" Sure, most everyone does, and even I have learned recently that some of the people I despised in the past were the first to offer help when I became a budget casualty at Clear Channel. I applaud the Rays for even considering trying to make Naimoli look like less of a bad guy, but why should the Rays revisit the past after so triumphantly turning the page when Naimoli was kicked to the curb?
There's no doubt Naimoli still needs to be thanked for bringing the Rays here in the first place, after getting shafted by Major League Baseball in 1992 when his purchase of the San Francisco Giants was mysteriously negated. Without Naimoli picking up where Frank Morsani's group left off, and the ensuing lawsuits after the Giants fiasco, we would still be pining for big league baseball here. On behalf of local Rays fans, I say to Naimoli, "Thanks for bringing us baseball. Now please stay out of our lives."
As I like to do, let's compare this to our other local sports teams that have turned from chumps to champs. Art Williams not only saved the Lightning from going bankrupt, and possibly going to another city when he purchased the team in 1998, he took a financial beating in the one year he owned the team. Art Williams was also a moron though, calling Vinny Lecavalier the "Michael Jordan of hockey" when he was drafted before passing out "I'm a Stud!" t-shirts to a group of players who were simply there to collect a paycheck. When the Stanley Cup was being paraded on the ice and in the streets of Tampa in 2004, Williams wasn't there. Even though he was an important part of the transition of the Lightning organization from league-wide joke to champions, Williams SHOULDN'T have been there for any thank you speeches or acknowledgement that the team was finally full of studs.
The same can be said for the Buccaneers. The stories of how cheap and inept of an NFL owner Hugh Culverhouse was are legendary. Hugh kicked the bucket in 1994, several months before Malcolm Glazer bought the team and eight years before the Bucs finally won the Super Bowl. But if I recall correctly, the parading of the Vince Lombardi trophy was not done in a solemn ceremony at Culverhouse's gravesite while people tearfully remembered the day the NFL came to Tampa Bay. Instead, the party was held in front of a packed house at Raymond James Stadium while thousands of fans finally had the chance to forget the many seasons of 3-13 football teams lead by Craig Erickson or Steve DeBerg.
If the Rays really want to make Naimoli look like a hero, they should continue to keep him out of the spotlight. Then, they should work a little harder on improving the product on the field instead of building warm and fuzzy human interest stories. Finally, hopefully sooner than later, when the team is parading the World Series trophy around Tropicana Field, Matt Silverman can step up to the podium and say, "We wouldn't have this opportunity had Vincent J. Naimoli not brought baseball to Tampa Bay!"
Until then, it's best to keep the former owner of the Rays just that-- the former owner who has nothing to do with the attempt to make this team a winner.
A few non-Naimoli thoughts:
* Why is it so hard for the Rays to name a closer? Any team in MLB can name a closer, then change who is closing if the designated closer doesn't get the job done. If Joe Maddon wants to prove he is a big league manager, he needs to prove he can make a decision like big league managers do. Pick a closer, if he doesn't succeed, pick someone else. Is that so hard?
* Speaking of the bullpen, last Monday I did a call-in with 810 WHB's Soren Petro in Kansas City previewing the AL East. He asked who was the Rays' closer in case fantasy baseball geeks wanted to go with that guy. I said since it could be Seth McClung, Brian Stokes, or Dan Miceli closing, it's hard to tell who was the closer. What I didn't tell him was anyone actually selecting a Rays reliever for his or her fantasy closer probably shouldn't be playing fantasy baseball.
* The Rays will likely name the fifth starter in the rotation today and I'm rooting for Edwin Jackson. I think Jackson was unfairly jerked around between starting and relieving in both the majors and minors last season. Much like the unnamed closer, the Rays need to pick what Jackson's role is and see if he can accomplish it. As for J.P. Howell, the kid has upside but he also has an 83-mph fastball. A little work in Durham will hopefully add some velocity and variety to Howell's pitches.
* Finally I find it humorous and sad at the same time that the NBA, a league that recently held its All-Star game in Las Vegas in all the glitz and glamour Sin City has to offer, is upset Gilbert Arenas made $10 bets with fans during a recent game against Portland.
"Hello pot? My name is kettle..."