By Marc Topkin
March 6, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG–John McHale Jr., hired to provide–in the exact words of commissioner Bud Selig–”strength and stability” to the Devil Rays franchise as chief operating officer, is leaving after less than a year on the job.
McHale is expected to be named to a high-level post in the commissioner's office–reportedly executive vice president of administration, making him one of the top five executives in Major League Baseball.
McHale, MLB and Devil Rays officials declined to comment.
McHale's hiring last May to take over the day-to-day operations from managing general partner Vince Naimoli was hailed as a major plus for the floundering Tampa Bay organization.
McHale was an experienced and well-respected baseball man who planned to repair relationships with business and community leaders, develop and implement a long-term strategy for financial and on-field success and honor what he considered a special relationship with the fans.
It is clear from listening to Devil Rays employees, Major League Baseball officials and area business leaders that McHale had made an impact.
“In the dealings I had with him I was immensely impressed,” St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce president Russ Sloan said. “He was an immense benefit to the franchise. Our loss is the commissioner's office gain.”
What is not clear is what McHale's departure means for the franchise.
Indications Tuesday were that Naimoli would not necessarily reassume day-to-day control of the team, that someone could be hired, probably from outside the organization, to take a post similar to what McHale held.
Some would suggest that McHale's departure is a bad sign for the Devil Rays organization, that he is leaving because he knows the franchise is in trouble, perhaps even targeted for contraction after this season. Another possibility is that McHale was not happy that Naimoli was still heavily involved and is leaving because he did have the autonomy he expected.
At the least, McHale's departure means the loss of an effective buffer between management and ownership and, based on the reduction in public sniping, between members of the ownership group and Naimoli.
Others would suggest that McHale's departure is a good sign, that it means he did so well in getting the Devil Rays organized and headed in the right direction that Selig was comfortable tapping him for a higher calling.
Two weeks ago, MLB vice president Sandy Alderson said the Devil Rays appeared to have steered onto a path toward long-term viability and were not a candidate for contraction because of the strength of their local revenues. It could also be considered a good thing for the Devil Rays to now have a friend in high places.
In an interview last month, McHale said the Devil Rays were in “healthy” financial shape and should be able to retain their middle-of-the-pack standing in terms of local revenues generated.
McHale's departure, which is keyed to Paul Beeston leaving the commissioner's office, was not considered a surprise. Despite a generous multi-year contract, he was living in a rental unit and commuting weekly to Michigan, where his wife and children were still living.
Asked last month if he was committed to the job and the team long-term, McHale said: “I'm happy to be here and proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far and I think that we're on the right road, however, you never know what the future holds.
“I don't think the good things that have happened here or the good things that will happen in the future are necessarily attributable to me or dependent on my involvement.”