Naimoli denies discord within ownership
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- An offseason of change is getting even more interesting for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The team declined comment Thursday on reports that a New York investor agreed to buy a large portion of the team's shares. It does not appear the sale will change the status of Vince Naimoli, the managing general partner who runs the franchise.
Stuart Sternberg's intention to buy out five of Naimoli's investors in the general partnership was first reported by The New York Times. The St. Petersburg Times reported Thursday that the Wall Street investor will acquire about 77 percent of the general partner shares, about 45 percent of the team overall, and those figures was confirmed Thursday by a baseball official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Naimoli, meanwhile, would continue to run the club, which has never finished higher than last place. He owns the other 23 percent of the general partnership, and about 16 percent of the franchise overall, and is considered to be the person in charge of the team by the commissioner's office. His status cannot change without baseball's approval.
Naimoli and John Higgins, the Devil Rays' general counsel, were both out of town and unavailable for comment.
"When we have something to announce, we will," club spokesman Chris Costello said.
Sternberg, 44, is a former executive of the options-trading firm of Spear, Leeds and Kellogg. The shares his group is purchasing are owned by Chris Sullivan, Bob Basham, Mark Bostick, Bill Griffin and Dan Doyle, limited partners who do not operate the team.
Naimoli's partners have maintained a low profile throughout the team's six-year history, despite rumors of infighting and an unsuccessful attempt to oust the managing general partner in 2001.
Naimoli has repeatedly denied any discord between him and the rest of the group. Former Detroit Tigers executive John McHale Jr. was hired to help stabilize the franchise three years ago, but left to become an executive vice president of major league baseball after just 10 months.
The Devil Rays have finished in last place in the AL East for all six years of their existence, going 63-99 last season.
Their attendance has dropped each year and their payroll was the lowest in the majors in 2003.
Although the club has spent about $10 million to upgrade its talent this winter, the Devil Rays are projected to field the least expensive roster -- about $21 million -- on opening day.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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