Vince Naimoli, the original Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner who led the effort to bring Major League Baseball to the Tampa Bay region, died Sunday night at the age of 81.
Naimoli is a key figure in Tampa Bay baseball history, leading the effort that brought the area its first MLB franchise. He was initially involved as an investor in a failed attempt to buy and move the Seattle Mariners, then led a 1992 effort to purchase and relocate the San Francisco Giants. That attempt fell just short of success, but Naimoli persisted until MLB awarded an expansion franchise in 1995 that ultimately began play at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field in 1998.
His tenure as owner was not without controversy, and he would step down from his day-to-day role with the organization in 2005–after selling a large stake in the team to a group led by current owner Stuart Sternberg in 2004. (Under Sternberg, the franchise was rebranded as the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2008 season). Still, he left a significant legacy with his successful effort to bring MLB to Tampa Bay. More from the Tampa Bay Times:
“I recall him with great fondness,” former MLB commissioner Bud Selig told the Tampa Bay Times recently. “He was so proud and so happy. He was trying to do the right thing and he brought Tampa (Bay) that franchise. People should always remember, and I hope they will always remember, that he brought them a big- league franchise.
“It didn’t work out at the end I guess, like he wanted it to, and I understand that. But he played quite an interesting and historical role in Tampa (Bay) baseball.”
Naimoli was diagnosed in fall 2014 with a brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, and his health has been in decline since. He has spent the last several years in an assisted living facility in Tampa, making few public appearances. He threw out the first pitch at the 2015 Rays season opener.
Naimoli deserved to be lauded for his tireless effort in securing the franchise, succeeding where several other area leaders had failed. But his bottom-line mentality, tempestuous manner and short fuse in operating the team often resulted in controversy and acrimony.
Naimoli is survived by his wife, four daughters, and several grandchildren.