Rather than ponder the injustice that has a mere two players from the MLB-best Tampa Rays named to the American League All-Star team, let’s instead consider who deserves praise for the Rays’ startling transformation. Manager Joe Maddon? How about VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman? Former Astros/Mets executive Gerry Hunsicker, perhaps? In the view of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury, however, we should spare a thought for former Rays GM Chuck LaMar (above)
He was the Rays’ first general manager, from the organization’s inception in 1995 through 2005. LaMar and his staff brought in a good chunk of the talent that has led the Rays to the top of the American League East. Other contributors arrived in trades involving players that LaMar and his staff had drafted and developed. And a look at the preseason prospect list in the Rays’ farm system – rated No. 1 in the game by Baseball America – shows that seven of the organization’s top 10 prospects were drafted by LaMar and his people.
“I’m proud of what we left behind, both players and staff,” he said. “In the last 10 or 15 years, you can’t think of a better scenario for a new owner and GM to take over. The team had only one way to go – up – and they inherited a group of young players capable of doing it.”
LaMar’s influence on the roster is significant. Starting pitchers James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine were drafted when he was in charge, and he traded for lefty Scott Kazmir in a fleecing of the Mets. Righthander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett came last winter in a trade for Delmon Young, who was drafted by the LaMar regime.
Key position players B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford were also drafted by LaMar and his charges, as was outfielder Rocco Baldelli, a star in the making until injuries got in the way.
Some observers say it was only a matter of time before the Rays got good, that all that losing resulted in a bunch of high draft picks. While that’s true, it’s worth noting that Sonnanstine came in the 13th round, Shields the 16th and Wheeler (originally drafted by the Rays) the 34th.
Camp Tiger Claw of Walkoff Walk isn’t nearly so quick to congratulate Tampa’s former architect of misery, writing, “LaMar’s economic stimulus package would consist of burning down the stock exchange. He was the GM for 10 years. The majority of his “prospects” are out of baseball by now.”
LaMar also goes on to say he’s happy for Vince Naimoli and “the original ownership group” because they “brought baseball to Tampa.” Yes, thanks Vince, for bringing a team to play in a concrete warehouse that was obsolete the second it was built. Thanks for stifling any hint of progress during your penny pinching reign of mediocrity. But mostly, the people of Tampa thank you for getting the hell out of the picture.
You have my word that I will to keep my eye out for any former old school Rays hanger ons trying to skim some credit for this success. The recent run of good news and good play is well deserved by the people in this organization. Currently. Not the ones that helped set the model for futility by a sports franchise. I’m looking at you, Boggs.