by Paul C. Smith

ST. PETERSBURG – Ready to bring up more talented young players from the minors, the Devil Rays on Saturday designated veteran Fred McGriff for assignment. The Rays now have 10 days to trade,  release or ask waivers on McGriff.

"Fred McGriff has had one of the great careers in history," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "Not just in terms of home runs but he's also been involved with championship teams and in a class manner all the way."

"And I think we've handled this well,  professionally from the start. We gave him an opportunity.  And I thought Lou (Piniella) did a good job of getting him at-bats. We're a better organization for having him spend two tenures here." McGriff, an original Ray from 1998-2001, returned to the team this spring in hopes of proving he was over the injuries that caused him to miss much of the 2003 season with the Dodgers.

He was called up from Triple-AAA Durham by the Rays on May 28 and hit two home runs in his first three weeks with the team. That gave him 493 for his career and tied him with Lou Gehrig for 21st on the all-time list. But McGriff,  40,  has struggled in the month since then. He was hitting .181 overall.

"He had enough at-bats to give us a look to see if he would continue to be a part of this team,"  LaMar said. "We told everyone in Spring Training that he would have his hands full.  But I have to make my decisions based on (winning games).  And it was time to make moves that I thought would make our club stronger."

The Rays on Saturday also optioned utility man Damian Rolls to Durham,  called up infielder Jorge Cantu and recalled outfielder Joey Gathright. "This was not an easy situation," Piniella said. " I hope somebody will pick him up and give him the further opportunity. I was hoping things would be different here.  But the organization wanted to get younger and that's really what we're doing. This was not a fun day for me.  First and foremost,  Fred is a friend.  It's not an easy thing for me to talk about.  It was difficult for me to come to the ballpark today."

McGriff said when he rejoined the team that he already has accomplished most of his goals. "Growing up in Tampa,  I never dreamed of hitting 500 home runs," McGriff said. "I just dreamed about playing in the big leagues. I always tried to stay consistent. That was my goal."

And consistency has been McGriff's trademark. In the 16 seasons from 1987 to 2002, McGriff hit between 19 and 37 home runs. In 15 of those years, he drove in at least 81 runs. He helped the Atlanta Braves win their only World Series title, in 1995, and was the MVP of the 1994 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.

McGriff has hit home runs in a Major League-record 43 different ballparks. And he is one of three players in Major League history who has hit at least 200 home runs in both leagues (Frank Robinson and Mark McGwire are the others . "I knew if I worked hard, stayed healthy and was consistent,  good things would happen," McGriff said. "Consistency was my main goal."

McGriff leaves as the Rays' all-time leader in home runs (99),  RBIs (359),  runs scored (277),  at-bats (2,074), hits (603),  extra-base hits (202) and walks (305).  He has also played in a franchise-high 577 games. In addition, McGriff is 11th all-time among left-handed hitters and fourth among first basemen with his 493 homers.

In his career, McGriff has 8,757 at-bats in 2,460 games, 2,490 hits,  cored 1,349 runs, driven in 1,550 runs and walked 1,305 times. McGriff was drafted by the Yankees in 1981, then started his Major League career with the Blue Jays (1986-1990). He has played for the Padres (1991-93), Braves (1993-97), Rays (1998-2001), Cubs (2001-02) and Dodgers (2003).


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