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
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.