The man who brought baseball to Tampa Bay, Vince Naimoli, died on Sunday night at 81, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
The original owner of the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Naimoli has been largely out of the public eye since 2014, when he was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy. He is survived by his wife, Lenda, their four daughters and several grandchildren.
Controversial in his nature and handling of his expansion franchise, Naimoli was a notable figure for his fight to bring a major league team to his home city. Before landing an expansion team in 1995, he attempted to relocate the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants out east in 1991 and 1992.
A statement regarding the passing of former owner and CEO, Vince Naimoli. pic.twitter.com/so1sg2iLed— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) August 26, 2019
Naimoli ran the team from its first season in 1998 until 2005, when he stepped down as managing partner. He sold his controlling interest of the Devil Rays to a group led by Stuart Sternberg in May 2004.
Although the Rays are one of the most successful small-market teams today, they never quite found their footing under Naimoli. During his eight years at the helm, they topped out at 70 wins and only once finished outside of the AL East basement.
A large part of their struggles can be attributed to Naimoli’s penny-pinching ways. Tampa Bay's opening-season payroll of $27.4 million was 23rd in baseball, and that ballooned up to $62.8 million (10th) in 2000. But after years of finding no success, Naimoli slashed payroll down to a league-low $34.4 million, where it stayed at the lowest in the league for seven straight seasons.
Naimoli’s frugality dates back to how he made his fortune: slashing costs for big businesses. As the Times’ Marc Topkins details, he went from business to business, slashing jobs and costs in the name of saving anything possible.
That trickled over to his handling of the Rays with appalling stories of charging a high school band admission to play the national anthem, berating fans for bringing food into the stadium, refusing to do business with companies who didn’t buy season tickets and avoiding worthy fundraisers that weren’t held at Tropicana Field.
Naimoli was also very hands-on when it came to personnel decisions and refused to hire a team president for years. When he finally hired baseball lifer John McHale Jr. in 2001, that partnership lasted less than a year before Naimoli wrestled back power.
Following his departure from the franchise, the team dropped the “Devil” moniker from its name, seemingly exorcising past demons, and made its first World Series in 2008. Since then, they have crossed the 90-win threshold six times and are on pace to do so again this season, thanks to a better front office acumen and analytics.
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