Chuck LaMar

This article was written by Justin Krueger

Chuck LaMar (ATLANTA BRAVES)Chuck LaMar once commented, “I’m a baseball guy and my heart lies with the people out in the field. … I was one of those and I started out in professional baseball as an area scout and I drove 50,000 miles a year away from the wife and those kiddos as much as anybody so I can truly relate to those people out in the field.”1  

With a career in baseball that stretches over 40 years, another of his quotes that also appropriately describes his efforts is: “The guys who work the hardest have the chance to be the luckiest.”2

LaMar was born in Twin Falls, Idaho, on July 22, 1956. His family moved in 1964 to Houston, Texas, where he would became a multisport star at Madison High School. He played college baseball at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, part of the time as team captain. His younger brother, Danny, was a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1979 amateur draft. His father and grandfather played baseball in the minor leagues. LaMar’s father, Charles William LaMar, was an office manager at Alloys of Texas and his mother, Sarah Charlotte “Sally” LaMar, was employed at Texas State Optical.

After college LaMar began what became a lifetime of working in baseball. After graduating from TCU in 1978 he taught and coached at St. Thomas Catholic High School in Houston. Eventually he followed Texas Wesleyan University head baseball coach Larry Smith to his new post at the University of Indiana. LaMar was one of Smith’s assistant coaches.  In 1984 he made his way back to Texas when he was hired as the head baseball coach at Mary Hardin-Baylor University. In his one year there, LaMar proved a tireless recruiter and developer of young players. He recruited pitcher Buddy Groom, who later pitched 14 seasons in the major leagues. Another player on his team was future major leaguer Brett Gideon.3LaMar left Hardin-Baylor after one year, in January 1985, to become the scouting supervisor for the Cincinnati Reds. In 1988 he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates as the director of minor-league operations. Two years later he joined the Atlanta Braves as the director of scouting and player development. The Braves had the top minor-league organization in 1991, 1992, and 1993. LaMar quipped about his “real good timing” in heading these efforts.4 In 1993 he was promoted to assistant general manager of player personnel.

The perception of a gruff and/or aggressive personality and a lack of people skills began early in LaMar’s career and continued to follow him. Braves executive Scott Proefrock recalled their time together in the ’90s: “There’s no bull—- with him. He’s right to the point.”5 Not shockingly, some felt LaMar was too impersonal and cold. 

Still, LaMar was understood to be a true baseball man. He understood organizational operations, was a talented scout, and believed strongly in player development. LaMar’s collection of baseball experiences went hand-in-hand with his strong work ethic. 

His time in Atlanta coincided with an exceptional run of success by the Braves. Asked about the possibility of leaving to go to another organization, LaMar replied, “I wanted to do the best job I could with the job at hand. If someone wanted me they knew where I was. I was in no hurry to leave the Atlanta Braves.”6

In 1994 Lamar interviewed for GM positions with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. He did not get either job. However, it was not long until he was named GM of a major-league club. On July 19, 1995, LaMar was hired by Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli as the vice president of baseball operations and general manager of the expansion club. The hire brought high hopes.

Naimoli said, “I like the guys who have dirty fingernails, guys down in the trenches who work their way up. … Chuck has had every job on the ladder, high school, college, a scout. … He has been with three very successful organizations. He’s a very good scouting and development guy. That’s the way we want to build this franchise.”7

LaMar was chosen over 27 original candidates, including the other finalist Frank Wren, assistant GM of the Florida Marlins.8

LaMar referred to the GM position as “a dream job, to start from scratch with an expansion franchise, and doing it the right way.”9 The right way in his mind was following the examples of John Schuerholz in Atlanta and Pat Gillick in Toronto by building a top-notch scouting department and having a deep farm system. LaMar was a scout at his core, and believed player development was the way to build a winner in Tampa Bay.10

It was a full 2½ years before the Devil Rays would field their first major-league team but LaMar was busy building the organization. His hiring was widely lauded in baseball circles. Pirates GM Cam Bonifay commented, “He has tremendous instincts for the game and for people and for player evaluation and player movement. … It’s a perfect match.”11 Scott Proefrock said, “He leaves no stone unturned to make an organization better. … He’s always looking for ways to get better, to innovate, to beat the competition. Fire in the belly is a good way to describe that.” Similar comments were heard throughout the major leagues.

Early on in his tenure as GM, LaMar said, “We have a chance to build one of the finest organizations in baseball.”12And for the next decade LaMar tried hard to do so. There were definite successes. He built an organization from the ground up, streamlined their minor-league system, and pushed an organizational emphasis on player development.

Building the Rays (formerly the Devil Rays) from the ground up was a monumental task. One reason LaMar put such a premium on scouting was to get a competitive edge over big-spending teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. There was no way the Devil Rays could compete financially with them. A year into the job, LaMar noted that he had hoped for a more hands-on approach in the scouting and development of players in the organization, but that the great number of responsibilities of a GM did not allow for the role he had first imagined for himself. In his new position, he learned about the need to delegate responsibilities. 

In the two-plus years from his appointment as GM to when the Devil Rays played their first game in 1998, LaMar was busy building the organization. He put together a geographically aligned minor-league system from rookie ball up through Triple-A. He also helped establish a minority internship program that was similar to the one he had overseen while with the Atlanta Braves.

It was a program that was at the center of a 1999 issue involving Hank Aaron and LaMar. The controversy centered on the Braves’ minority program when LaMar was still in their employ. Aaron said LaMar had taken credit for the minority initiative program with the Braves and remarked, “All of that is a lie. … I can’t sit here and have him take credit for it.”13 LaMar responded that he was merely the caretaker of the program, but that “there are four people who started this initiative within baseball operations … Rubye Lucas, Henry Aaron, John Schuerholz, and Stan Kasten.”14 LaMar noted that he used the Braves’ program as an exemplar for a similar program he started with the Devil Rays.

After the 1997 season LaMar was given a new five-year contract. Naimoli commented, “He’s done a great job. … He knows exactly what he wants to get done and he implements the plan. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. He’s so precisely organized. And he’s got an answer to everything. He’s been there and done that. He knows all the nuances.”15

Prior to the Devil Rays inaugural play on the field, LaMar commented, “Our dress rehearsal has been very good … but we’re fixing to get to the dance.”16 To be sure, there were grand dreams that the Devil Rays would mirror the success of two of LaMar’s mentors, Pat Gillick in Toronto and John Schuerholz in Atlanta.

But, as LaMar also noted, “We are going to enter a period starting in 1998 and beyond where there are going to be some questions asked. There is going to be some criticism laid toward us. There are going to be some ups and downs that every major-league organization goes through.”17

As it turned out, the game on the field proved infinitely more difficult as the Devil Rays struggled to be competitive. 

The desire to be competitive from the beginning required the successful melding of veterans, young players, and other teams’ castoffs. LaMar’s initial foray into signing major-league veterans included Wilson Alvarez, Dave Martinez, and Roberto Hernandez. Inaugural game starter Alvarez posted a 17-26 record in three seasons with a 4.62 ERA. In a little more than two seasons before being traded to the Chicago Cubs, Martinez batted .272 and hit 10 home runs with 98 RBIs. Hernandez had a 3.43 ERA and 101 saves in his years. Wade Boggs also returned to his hometown and finished out the last two seasons of his Hall of Fame career. He got his 3,000th hit with the Devil Rays in 1999. Fred McGriff also added much needed offense during the early seasons. Despite the moves, things did not go according to plan and the Devil Rays remained cellar dwellers.

The Devil Rays began with three straight last-place finishes in the American League East. In their inaugural season of 1998 they were 63-99 and finished 51 games behind the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees. The 1999 season saw a six-game improvement to 69-93. In both seasons they ranked near the bottom in runs scored.

LaMar’s best effort to generate more offense in Tampa Bay was “The Hit Show” of McGriff, Jose Canseco, Greg Vaughn, and Vinny Castilla during the 2000 season. At the time, LaMar commented, “You go Canseco, McGriff, Vaughn, Castilla, in whatever order from 3 to 6. If you look at the averages, the hits, the RBIs, the homers, it’s comparable to anyone in baseball.”18 If healthy, maybe so. But that was never the case as injuries and downturns in production took their toll on the aging sluggers. In 2000 the Devil Rays finished 69-92, last again.

After three straight last-place finishes, it was believed that manager Larry Rothschild would likely be fired. To the surprise of many, Rothschild kept his job until 14 games into the 2001 season when he was finally sacked. At the time the Devil Rays’ record was 4-10. Asked about the timing of firing Rothschild, LaMar remarked, “It was a feeling in my gut,” and that “the true sadness for me is not in making the decision. That was tough. But it’s the knowledge that some of the personnel decisions I made handcuffed the organization and his ability.”19 Hal McRae took over as manager and finished with a record of 58-90. The Devil Rays tied the Pittsburgh Pirates for the season’s worst record at 62-100. The 2002 season was even worse. They finished at 55-106, tying the Detroit Tigers for the worst record (the Milwaukee Brewers finished a half-game better at 56-106). When McRae was fired after the season, LaMar noted, “I’m not making him a scapegoat. … I’m responsible for the personnel. I think he could’ve won more games with better talent.”20

In the offseason LaMar hired the hometown candidate, Lou Piniella. Piniella had asked out of the final year of his contract managing the Seattle Mariners, a team he led to 116 victories in 2001, to come to Tampa Bay. Despite the Devil Rays’ losing nearly 300 games over the previous three years, there was optimism in the organization. Through the continued losing, Naimoli still held fast to LaMar’s vision for the Devil Rays. Nevertheless, the 2003 season, even with a new manager, turned out similar to the previous seasons. With a record of 63-99, the Rays finished last in the American League East for the sixth season in a row.

Even so, prior to the 2004 season LaMar was given a two-year contract extension. Owner Naimoli commented, “If you look at the design of the team, the fact that we have the fruition of our farm system coming, which is Chuck’s doing, as well as his very skilled blending of veteran players at reasonable prices this year, operating within a payroll we can afford, I think it’s been great work, frankly.”21 In 2004 the Devil Rays climbed out of the AL East cellar for the first time, finishing in fourth place at 70-91, three games up on the Toronto Blue Jays. 

In 2005 the Devil Rays fell back to 67-95 and finished last in the American League East for the seventh time in eight years. There was also a switch in Devil Rays ownership from Vince Naimoli to new principal owner Stuart Sternberg. The change spelled the end of LaMar’s tenure in Tampa Bay. He was relieved of his duties in October 2005 (as was manager Lou Piniella).

The Devil Rays compiled a record of 518-775 with LaMar as GM. Despite his best efforts, LaMar and the Devil Rays were not able to re-create the magic of the Atlanta Braves under GM John Schuerholz. LaMar’s time in Tampa Bay was ultimately marked by the failure to win enough games.  

After his firing, LaMar said, “I take full responsibility for this organization not winning during the eight major-league seasons that I’ve been here. … It’s the general manager’s responsibility, no matter what the circumstances are, to find a way to put a winning product on the field.”22 

LaMar also said, “I don’t think this organization has ever been stronger on the field. It’s obvious to everybody. I’ve been saying it for years and years. It’s finally good to actually see the wins instead of my rhetoric.”23 The Rays had finished the second half of the 2005 season at 39-34, their first-ever winning half.24

Another time he said, “I was one of the first employees they ever hired and was there 10 years, which is an awfully long run in today’s baseball. … I gave my heart and soul to them.”25

His tenure in Tampa Bay might be best remembered for the number of veterans the Devil Rays brought in during the tail-end of their careers. Some worked out well on team-friendly deals, including Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez, Jose Canseco, and Greg Vaughn. Other signings that did not work out so well included Wilson Alvarez and Vinny Castilla. Juan Guzman was a particularly bad signing. Guzman signed for $6 million and gave the Devil Rays one start of 1⅔ innings. He allowed seven hits and eight runs. It was the last time he pitched in the major leagues.

There were other moves that turned out shockingly bad. The signing of the elite high-school pitcher Matt White to a $10.2 million contract did not pay dividends as White suffered shoulder problems that led to three surgeries. He never played in the major leagues. The trading of Bobby Abreu for Kevin Stocker was a straight stinker. Abreu went on to hit 288 home runs in the major leagues, while Stocker played parts of three seasons with the Devil Rays, hitting .250 with 9 home runs and 60 RBIs. The third pick of the 2000 draft, right-handed starting pitcher Dewon Brazelton, was bad; the pitcher out of Middle Tennessee State University compiled a won-lost record of 8-23 with the Devil Rays and a 5.98 ERA before being shipped to the San Diego Padres. The $34 million contract to Greg Vaughn was not a complete loss, but did not pay the dividends the cash-strapped organization had hoped for. In his first two seasons with the team, 2001 and 2001, he hit a total of 52 home runs and drove in 156 runs. His last season in Tampa Bay included 69 games played, 8 home runs, and 29 RBIs. 

The strength of the Devil Rays minor-league system under LaMar’s leadership was evident in the drafting and development of prospects such as Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, and Josh Hamilton.

In 2007 LaMar was a special assistant to Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden. He worked as a national cross-checker for draft prospects. After the 2007 season LaMar joined the Philadelphia Phillies as their director of professional scouting. It was a position the team created just for him and his skill set.

Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. expressed his pleasure with the hiring of LaMar: “To have that kind of experience, to have his knowledge base, to have that kind of baseball person in our organization is a tremendous addition.” Fellow assistant GM Mike Arbuckle added, “He’s an excellent evaluator … and that’s at any level.”26

Asked during spring training in 2008, about his time with the Devil Rays, LaMar said, “I think this year and next year people in baseball are going to realize what a good job of scouting we did.”27 His comments proved correct as the newly named Rays finished in first place in the American League East with a record of 97-65. Under the leadership of senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker and general manager Andrew Friedman, the Rays made the playoffs and reached the World Series for the first time in their history.

They lost the Series to the Phillies in five games. At the time, LaMar was the Phillies assistant GM of player development and scouting. Before the Series, LaMar reflected on his role with the Devil Rays:

“Sitting here, to have had some impact on both teams in the Series, it’s really overwhelming. When you look at the group of players, not only still with this team tonight, but all the players that they traded to get the pieces that they needed, you’re talking about a very significant group. But I take much more pride in the big picture of having started this organization on a foundation of scouting and player development, and the staff that was hired then.”28

 

LaMar resigned as Phillies assistant GM of player development and scouting in September 2011. It was reported that he was dissatisfied with how the Phillies organization was investing in the amateur draft and player development. The sustained success of the Phillies brought with it lower draft picks which in turn had taken a toll on the quality of their farm system. It amounted to more difficulty in developing players.29 Two months later LaMar joined the Toronto Blue Jays as a special-assignment amateur scout. Andrew Tinnish, the Blue Jays director of amateur scouting, declared, “[W]ith over 25 years of experience, we welcome Chuck’s insight and expertise.”30

In 2018 LaMar took a position as a scout with the San Diego Padres.

Last revised: February 11, 2021

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, information was gathered from LaMar’s Hall of Fame clippings file, Baseball-Reference.com. Baseball-Almanac.com, and Retrosheet.org.

 

Notes

1 Marc Topkin, “Baseball Team, Baseball Man,” St. Petersburg Times, July 20, 1995.

2 Bill Chastain, “LaMar Talking Brave; The Devil Rays GM Will Follow Atlanta’s Recipe for Success in the Draft,” Tampa Tribune, June 2, 1996.

3 Jerry Prickett, “Take Him Out to the Ballgame: Former UMHB Coach Has Ties to Rays, Phillies,” Temple (Texas) Daily Telegram, October 22, 2008. tdtnews.com/archive/article_aa235ab0-4586-526b-8553-2b398d2df4e2.html

4 Prickett.

5 Topkin, 1995.

6 Topkin, 1995.

7 Rod Beaton, “Devil Rays Hire LaMar as First GM,” USA Today, July 20, 1995.

8 Hubert Mizell, “GM Choice Gives Fans Ray of Hope,” St. Petersburg Times, July 20, 1995.

9 Mizell.

10 Chastain.

11 Topkin, 1995.

12 Topkin, 1995

13 Roger Mills, “Aaron Criticizes LaMar,” St. Petersburg Times, December 16, 1999.

14 Mills.

15 Marc Topkin, “Rays Reward LaMar,” St. Petersburg Times, January 14, 1998.

16 Chastain.

17 Topkin, 1998.

18 Associated Press, “Vaughn Boosts D-Rays’ Power,” ESPN Baseball, December 13, 1999. a.espncdn.com/mlb/news/1999/1213/231875.html.

19 Gary Shelton, “LaMar’s Gut Check: Firing Rothschild,” St. Petersburg Times, April 19, 2001.

20 Associated Press, “Baseball Roundup; Devil Rays Fire McRae; Tigers Dismiss Pujols,” New York Times, October 1, 2002. nytimes.com/2002/10/01/sports/baseball-roundup-devil-rays-fire-mcrae-tigers-dismiss-pujols.html.

21 Marc Topkin, “LaMar Gets Contract Extension,” St. Petersburg Times, March 29, 2004.

22 Damian Cristodero, Dave Scheiber, and Marc Topkin, “LaMar Issues Apology to Fans,” St. Petersburg Times, October 7, 2005.

23 Scott Carter, “Several Moves Backfired on Rays’ Only GM,” Tampa Bay Online, October 6, 2005. Newspaper clipping found in LaMar’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

24 Carter.

25 David Murphy, “Phillies Scout LaMar Knows Tampa Bay Rays Well,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 6, 2008. inquirer.com/philly/hp/sports/20080306_Phillies_scout_LaMar_knows_Tampa_Bay_Rays_well.html.

26 Murphy.

27 Murphy.

28 Tyler Kepner, “Now With the Phillies, an Ex-General Manager Left His Mark on the Rays,” New York Times, October 23, 2008. nytimes.com/2008/10/24/sports/baseball/24lamar.html.

29 Craig Calcaterra, “Report: Chuck LaMar Quit Because He Questioned the Phillies’ Commitment to Player Development,” NBC Sports.com, September 9, 2011. mlb.nbcsports.com/2011/09/09/report-chuck-lamar-quit-because-he-questioned-the-phillies-commitment-to-player-development/.

30 Associated Press, “Blue Jays Add Chuck LaMar,” MLB.com, November 4, 2011. toronto.bluejays.mlb.com/content/printer_friendly/tor/y2011/m11/d04/c25899142.jsp.

Full Name

Charles Grant Lamar

Born

July 22, 1956 at Twin Falls, ID (US)

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