Vince Naimoli, who ran the Tampa Bay Devil Rays until October 2005, addresses his perceived media-distorted image in a new book

ST. PETERSBURG — During his time running the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Vince Naimoli was called a lot of things, as even he acknowledges: "I've been labeled cheap, called a tyrant and branded a loser."

Now Naimoli has responded with a few thousand words of his own by writing a book, Business, Baseball & Beyond, in which he challenges what he says are misperceptions about him, tells his version of several controversial events in team history and, more than once, lobbies for his share of the credit for the team's recent success.

"When we do win our first World Series championship, I'll be bursting with pride," Naimoli writes. "And curious: Will people remember how it all began? How I helped make their dream come true?

"Let's hope the truth will be known."

The book is divided into sections — telling his life story (including how he met his wife when she was a flight attendant), recounting "the baseball years," and a series of glorifying quotes and endorsements, including a preface by Gov. Charlie Crist. Naimoli's book was published by a private firm and printed in Korea. He is donating all proceeds from sales ($24.99) to charity (see vincenaimoli.com for details and outlets).

Naimoli, who led the effort to acquire the franchise in 1995 and ran it until ceding control to Stuart Sternberg's group in October 2005, spends considerable time addressing his image, which he says was badly distorted by the media through "horrific" stories and "blatant" lies.

He writes of his own courage, determination, grit, willpower, problem-solving skills and doggedness, and how he is tough and tenacious and doesn't back away.

"I'm a hard-hitter," Naimoli writes, "but I think I'm good-hearted, kind of like Clint Eastwood's movie characters."

He scolds the media on several occasions and disputes two of the most oft-told stories of his reign:

• Then-Mets scout Howie Freiling wasn't kicked out of Tropicana Field before an April 2005 game for using the private bathroom near the owner's suite off the press box, Naimoli says. Actually it was because "I saw a guy rummaging through my desk just prior to the amateur draft" (two months later) and "it was a dead giveaway that he was trespassing."

"Totally inaccurate," Freiling, now a scout for the Phillies, said Thursday from the Dominican Republic. "His portrayal of the situation is completely inaccurate."

• Naimoli says he never yelled, "Do you know who I am?" nor did he bully or throw a temper tantrum at the St. Petersburg police officer who pulled over his wife, Lenda, for a 2004 traffic violation.

"Here's the real story as I recall it," Naimoli writes. "After Lenda was pulled over by a police officer, I tried to find out what happened. There was no bullying and no taunting and I believe there is a video taken from the police car to prove it, but the media apparently disregarded the tape of the incident which was in the police car."

The police video contains no audio, but according to the St. Petersburg Times' Aug. 4. 2004 report, Officer Scott Newell described Naimoli throwing "quite a temper tantrum" and yelling, " 'Do you know who I am? I'm Vincent Joseph Naimoli, owner of the Devil Rays. That's my wife!' "

Naimoli also has some harsh words for his former investment partners, saying he had to spend $30 million of his own money to keep the team from bankruptcy. That was because his partners (that included Outback co-founders Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham, and Sarasota businessman Bill Griffin) "reneged on their promise" to cover the payroll increase for the ill-fated 2000 "Hit Show" addition of high-priced sluggers Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughn. Worse, Naimoli wrote, he knew it was a bad idea at the time, saying he had a "premonition of disaster" and felt "scalded" by how it turned out.

"So I anted up the money, about $30 million, to save the team," he wrote. "I didn't go public with that tidbit (it was a private matter). If I had, it might have changed some perceptions about me. But if I hadn't put in the money, the team would have gone bankrupt."

Naimoli said he ran the team with "no renumeration," still owns his stock and believes Sternberg and his group are the right people to run it now.

"When I think about the baseball years, I laugh. And I cry," Naimoli wrote. "And I think it's time for my side of the story, to clear up a few falsehoods."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Vince Naimoli, who ran the Tampa Bay Devil Rays until October 2005, addresses his perceived media-distorted image in a new book 11/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 20, 2009 10:05am]

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