TAMPA, Fla. — Original Tampa Bay Rays owner Vince Naimoli has died at 81.
The team said Monday that he died Sunday nearly five years after being diagnosed with an uncommon brain disorder.
The Tampa businessman had been part of unsuccessful bids to purchase and relocate the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants. But he landed an American League expansion franchise in 1995 that began play as the Devil Rays in 1998.
Naimoli ended the Tampa Bay region’s two-decade-long pursuit to join Major League Baseball. He sold the club to a group led by current Rays principal Stuart Sternberg in 2004 and relinquished control after the 2005 season.
“Vince believed deeply in the market and overcame significant obstacles to secure a Major League franchise. The Rays’ many winning seasons under Stu Sternberg would not have been possible without Vince’s longstanding devotion to this cause,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
“Vince was also a generous figure who cared deeply about his community and education, including his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, and universities in the Tampa area and his native New Jersey. On behalf of all of us at Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Vince’s wife Lenda and their entire family.”
Naimoli was often at odds with local business and civic leaders and fueled a perception he was more interested in making money than winning. The club never won more than 70 games during his time there. It made an improbable run to the 2008 World Series.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.