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Large portion of Devil Rays sold

A Wall Street investor has agreed to purchase a large interest in the Devil Rays but Vince Naimoli will continue to run the team.

Stuart Sternberg has an agreement in principle to buy out five of the six general partners _ Chris Sullivan, Bob Basham, Mark Bostick, Bill Griffin and Dan Doyle _ and will end up with about 77 percent of the general partnership but only about 45 percent of the overall team.

The agreement was first reported late Wednesday by the New York Times.

Sternberg, 44, first approached the Rays a few months ago and the deal is heading toward the final stages of completion. The purchase price is not known.

Naimoli, 66, will retain his shares of the team (about 16 percent overall, 23 percent of the general partnership) and continue to serve as managing general partner, running the team on a day-to-day basis. Sternberg, under terms of this deal, does not have an option to buy out Naimoli or replace him.

While Devil Rays officials kept the sale quiet, it is not a surprise. There have been rumors for years about discord among the general partners, including a failed attempt several years ago to oust Naimoli. But Naimoli would usually insist they were happy and the partners would steadfastly refuse to be quoted.

Sullivan, however, has made several recent public comments hinting at his unhappiness.

At a speech in November, when he was introduced as a part-owner of the team, Sullivan said: "I can't wait to get rid of that last line. Anybody want to be Vince's partner?"

Last week, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, he talked of sports successes in the area but said of the Rays: "I am not so positive on that outcome."

The sale could be good for the team if Sternberg and the members of his group have deep pockets and are willing to invest their money in payroll. In recent years the general partners have been rumored to be reluctant to increase the payroll or spend any additional money.

After spending about $10-million this offseason, the Rays are projected to spend about $21-million on their opening-day payroll, which will again be the lowest in the major leagues.

Sternberg, according to the New York Times, is a former executive with the options trading firm of Spear, Leeds and Kellogg, which was purchased by Goldman Sachs in 2000.

According to the New York Times, "baseball officials and investment experts questioned (Sternberg's) decision to assume a majority share of the club but allow Naimoli to continue to operate the Devil Rays."

The six general partners own about 62.5 percent of the team; limited partners own the other 37.5 percent.

Sullivan and Basham, the co-founders of the Outback Steakhouse chain and other restaurants, have not been visible at Devil Rays game for several years. Bostick, who lives in Winter Haven and runs a trucking company, made a few appearances. Griffin and Doyle have kept low profiles.

Sternberg, who lives in New York, could not be reached for comment by the New York Times.