ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck LaMar makes it perfectly clear. He's a Phillie now. His job is to find holes in the team he helped build. But the man who was general manager for the Rays' first eight turbulent seasons had mixed feelings about being back at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.
"I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't have emotions your normal fan has," said LaMar, now the Phillies director of professional scouting. "It's great for this community, and I'll always be a Tampa Bay Ray. … I walk in here with great pride in the success they've had."
LaMar still lives in Clearwater. He built the organization from nothing in 1995, but his name will forever be linked to the suffering the franchise has endured. His exit was ugly after eight losing seasons. When he refers to his former team, he still has trouble dropping the "Devil." But his plan of building an organization through player development is a large part on why the Rays are playing in the World Series.
"There were a lot of lean years from a win-loss standpoint at the major-league level," LaMar said. "It's a thrill for me to have had a small part in putting together that staff, and now a lot of people around the country are seeing the benefit of that work."
LaMar, sitting in the Phillies dugout smiling, gives all the credit to the Rays' current guard — owner Stuart Sternberg, executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon — for the team's success.
"One of the great credits I give Stu and Andrew and Joe is that when they took over, they didn't immediately fall prisoner to thinking they had to show the fan base that we've got to win right now," LaMar said. "If they tried to do something prematurely and tried to win before they were ready, they would have fallen in the same trap we did back in '99-2000."
He said he was impressed with this Rays team in the spring, and he predicted then that the Rays would have their best season. But even LaMar couldn't have predicted this.
"It was just a matter of patience and money, and it had to be patience because we didn't have a lot of money," he said of his tenure. "I know that patience ran very thin sometimes, and it should have. If I was the fans, I would have been tired of it, too. We were tired of losing, too, but you had to keep the course."