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Vince Naimoli, original Tampa Bay Rays owner, dies

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Vince Naimoli, the man who brought Major League Baseball to the Gulf Coast of Florida as the founding owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, has died after a long illness. He was 81.

Naimoli deserves credit for many years of working to get baseball to the Tampa Bay area, first with the near-purchase of the San Francisco Giants, which he planned to move to Florida in the early 1990s. When that deal was rejected by Major League Baseball Naimoli was awarded with the expansion Rays in 1995 and the team began play in 1998.

While Naimoli was successful in getting a team, he was unfortunately not successful in running it. The Devil Rays, later renamed the Rays, were bad even for an expansion team during his tenure as owner, winning 70 games only once and, more significantly, doing very little to build the fan base or goodwill in the local community, primarily because of decisions Naimoli made as an owner. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has a thorough accounting of that — including the time he Naimoli invited a high school marching band to play the National Anthem only to have them back out when he expected each member of the pan to pay admission to the game. Or how his employees did not have Internet access as late as 2003. Yes, 2003.

He was equally lacking on the baseball side, often attracting talented people like Lou Piniella but refusing to step aside and run the club and taking on an owner/operator role that (a) has not been successful in baseball for many, many decades; and (b) was not a role Naimoli was suited for. History is history, though, and eventually Naimoli sold his controlling interest in the team to Stuart Sternberg who, unlike Naimoli, has put together an excellent baseball operations department that has often overcome the inherent structural issues facing that particular team in that particular stadium in that particular location.

Naimoli is survived by his wife, four daughters and several grandchildren.

UPDATE: Rob Manfred has issued a statement about Naimoli’s passing:

“Vince Naimoli was the driving force behind the efforts that brought a Major League Club to the Tampa Bay region. Vince believed deeply in the market and overcame significant obstacles to secure a Major League franchise. The Rays’ many winning seasons under Stu Sternberg would not have been possible without Vince’s longstanding devotion to this cause leading up to a successful expansion bid in 1995.

“Vince was also a generous figure who cared deeply about his community and education, including his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, and universities in the Tampa area and his native New Jersey. On behalf of all of us at Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Vince’s wife Lenda and their entire family.”

On a night full of letdowns, Yankees’ defense let them down the most

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Game 4 of the ALCS was a gigantic letdown for the Yankees for myriad reasons. They lost, first and foremost, 8-3 to the Astros to fall behind three games to one. Their fans continued to act boorishly. CC Sabathia exited with an injury, likely the final time he’ll pitch in his career. The offense went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

The biggest letdown of the night, though, was the Yankees’ defense. They committed four errors, their highest total in a postseason game since committing five errors in Game 2 of the 1976 ALCS.

Make no mistake: the two three-run home runs hit by George Springer and Carlos Correa, given up by Masahiro and Chad Green respectively, were the big blows in the game. But the errors contributed to the loss and were downright demoralizing.

The first error came at the start of the top of the sixth inning, when Alex Bregman hit a cue shot to first baseman DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu couldn’t read the bounce and the ball clanked off of his knee, allowing Bregman to reach safely. He would score later in the inning on Correa’s blast.

The Yankees committed two errors in the top of the eighth, leading to a run. Yuli Gurriel hit another grounder to LeMahieu, which he couldn’t handle. That not only allowed Gurriel to reach safely, but Bregman — who led off with a double — moved to third base. He would score when second baseman Gleyber Torres couldn’t handle a Yordan Álvarez grounder.

Error number four occurred when Altuve hit a grounder to Torres to lead off the top of the ninth. The ball skipped right under his glove. Facing Michael Brantley, Jonathan Loaisiga uncorked a wild pitch which advanced Altuve to second base. Brantley followed up with a line drive single to left field, plating Altuve for another run. Loaisiga would throw another wild pitch facing Bregman but that one didn’t come back to haunt him.

The Yankees can’t control injuries, the behavior of their fans, or how good the Astros’ pitching is on any given night. They can control the quality of their defense. On Thursday, it was a farce, and now they’re staring down the barrel of having to win three consecutive games against the Astros to stave off elimination.