Piniella wants owners to answer for D-Rays struggles

Updated: June 13, 2005, 10:44 AM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, wearying after a recent run of blowout losses and embarrassing performances, ripped the last-place team's ownership Sunday for not caring about winning now.

Piniella said the New York-based owners who bought a controlling share of the perennially poor-performing franchise a year ago don't seem to care about Tampa Bay's current on-field product.

"They're not interested in the present, they're interested in the future. And that's their right," he said. "But when other teams are getting better presently, you're going to get your butts beat and that's exactly what's happening."

Piniella's remarks came barely 12 hours after an 18-2 loss to the Pirates, the sixth time since May 29 the Devil Rays have allowed 10 or more runs in a loss. They were outscored 25-4 in the first two games of the interleague series in Pittsburgh and had given up a remarkable 50 runs in their previous four games.

The former Yankees, Reds and Mariners manager suggested he is tiring of constantly giving excuses for the Devil Rays' poor play. They beat Pittsburgh 7-5 in 13 innings Sunday, but still went 2-10 on a road trip that saw them lose four consecutive games they led by three runs or more.

"I'm not going to take responsibility for this," Piniella said in pregame remarks to reporters. "If I had been given a $40 million or $45 million payroll, I'd stand up like a man and say it's my fault. Well, I'm not going to do it. So if you want answers about what's going on here, you call the new ownership group and let them give them to you."

The Devil Rays began the season with a $29,893,567 payroll that was about $7 million lower than any other major league team. Only the Pirates ($38.1 million) and Royals ($36.88 million) had payrolls below $40 million.

A group headed by New York investor Stuart Sternberg bought 48 percent of the team just over a year ago. Former owner Vince Naimoli owns about 15 percent of the team and remains as the managing general partner. Limited partners who have no say in running the team own the remaining 37 percent.

At the time he bought into the team, Sternberg said a major emphasis would be retaining a core of young players and player development.

Naimoli, who attended the series in Pittsburgh, wouldn't comment on Piniella's remarks. Asked about the state of the team, he said Piniella should answer any such questions.

"When I came here three years ago, we talked about a situation where we wanted to win now and we were interested in winning now," Piniella said. "And you know what? With a small payroll we [improved] from 55 [victories] to 63 and then to 70. This was supposed to be a breakout year. The problem is we've got a new ownership group here that's changed the direction of where we're headed."

Piniella, who left Seattle for the chance to manage his hometown team, clearly doesn't like that direction. It's a major turnaround from Seattle, which won a combined 300 games in his final three seasons there from 2000-02, including 116 victories in 2001.

The Devil Rays lost eight of their first nine games in June, despite playing all games against teams .500 or below. Their 5-28 road record is one of the five worst in the majors at this stage of a season since 1900.

The 1998 expansion franchise finished last in the AL East every season until last year, when it finished ahead of Toronto.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press