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Sternberg takes over Rays, fires GM LaMar

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- New York investor Stuart Sternberg
took control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from founding owner Vince
Naimoli on Thursday, promising better days ahead for a franchise
that's finished last in seven of its eight seasons.

The first order of business was to fire general manager Chuck
LaMar, who had been with the franchise since its inception.
Assistant GM Scott Proefrock and player personnel director Cam
Bonifay also were dismissed.

"The time has come for dramatic change for this organization,"
Sternberg said, vowing to make the necessary corrections, on and
off the field, to improve the team.

Sternberg, who becomes principal owner, appointed Matthew
Silverman team president.

The moves follow the departure of manager Lou Piniella, who
sought a buyout with one season remaining on his contract after
criticizing the ownership group led by Sternberg for being more
concerned about the future than trying to win now.

The ouster of Naimoli, who retains 15 percent ownership and
becomes chairman, and LaMar had been expected for weeks. Sternberg
did not announce a timetable for hiring a new manager and general
manager.

"The timing is not as important as getting the right people,"
Sternberg said.

The club announced a buyout with Piniella before last weekend's
season-ending series against Baltimore, and LaMar began cleaning
out his office at Tropicana Field well before Sunday's finale.

Naimoli led a determined campaign that wound up with Tampa Bay
being awarded an expansion franchise in 1995, however his stint as
managing general partner was marred by numerous public relations
blunders and he quickly became the man most associated with the
Devil Rays' futility.

Still, most of the responsibility for the team's difficulties on
the field rested with LaMar, the only GM the club has had.

Even though the team had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball
for much of his tenure, LaMar did not do a good job of spending on
the occasions Naimoli did loosen the purse strings to acquire
talent.

Wilson Alvarez, Greg Vaughn, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla and
Robbie Alomar were among the high-profile players LaMar brought in,
but none had the impact that the general manager envisioned.

"I apologize to the ... fans for not producing the championship
team that they deserve and take full responsibility for this
organization's not achieving that goal," LaMar said.

In eight seasons under LaMar, Tampa Bay went 518-775 and
finished last in the AL East seven times. The Devil Rays were 67-95
this season, a year after winning a franchise-best 70.

Sternberg headed a group that acquired about 50 percent of the
Devil Rays in May 2004. He originally had an agreement to take
control from Naimoli in January 2007 but was willing to pay the
managing general partner to step aside early.

"I can't speak to the arrangement I have with Mr. Naimoli,"
Sternberg said when asked about a report that the former managing
general partner may have received an extra $4 million to $6 million
to accelerate the timetable.

The Devil Rays began the 2005 season with a payroll of just over
$29 million. After a horrible first half, the team went 39-34 after
the All-Star break with a young lineup that figures to get better
with more experience.

Sternberg said the payroll will increase, but would not
speculate on how much.

"There are teams that spend quite a bit of money and don't have
much success," he said. "There are teams that spend a bit less
and have a lot of success. We just want to have success."

The new owner promised to evaluate the organization from "head
to toe" and waste no time making improvements. The Devil Rays were
last in the majors in attendance this season, and making the club
more fan-friendly and community-oriented are goals.

"We will spend time, we will spend money, we will spend
energy," to create a better atmosphere for fans, players and
employees, Sternberg said.

Parking at Tropicana Field will be free during the 2006 season,
and the owner plans to spread his message to fans and community
organizations through an advertising campaign based on the team's
"Under Construction" slogan.

"It's not good enough any more -- and maybe it was 20, 30, 40
years ago -- to say: 'Hey we're a baseball team, come out and see us
play.' ... You've got to give people a reason to come,' Sternberg
said. "And most importantly, you've got to give them a reason to
come back."