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Vince Naimoli, original Tampa Bay Rays owner, dies


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.”

Nationals’ major leaguers to continue offering financial assistance to minor leaguers

Sean Doolittle
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On Sunday, we learned that while the Nationals would continue to pay their minor leaguers throughout the month of June, their weekly stipend would be lowered by 25 percent, from $400 to $300. In an incredible act of solidarity, Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle and his teammates put out a statement, saying they would be covering the missing $100 from the stipends.

After receiving some criticism, the Nationals reversed course, agreeing to pay their minor leaguers their full $400 weekly stipend.

Doolittle and co. have not withdrawn their generosity. On Wednesday, Doolittle released another statement, saying that he and his major league teammates would continue to offer financial assistance to Nationals minor leaguers through the non-profit organization More Than Baseball.

The full statement:

Washington Nationals players were excited to learn that our minor leaguers will continue receiving their full stipends. We are grateful that efforts have been made to restore their pay during these challenging times.

We remain committed to supporting them. Nationals players are partnering with More Than Baseball to contribute funds that will offer further assistance and financial support to any minor leaguers who were in the Nationals organization as of March 1.

We’ll continue to stand with them as we look forward to resuming our 2020 MLB season.

Kudos to Doolittle and the other Nationals continuing to offer a helping hand in a trying time. The players shouldn’t have to subsidize their employers’ labor expenses, but that is the world we live in today.