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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Catching up with Rays president Silverman

Catching up with Rays president Silverman

Catching up with Rays president Silverman

Rays president Matt Silverman recently sat down with MLB.com's Richard Justice for a conversation about the elements that have turned the Rays into a model organization that wins on a consistent basis.

MLB.com: It seems remarkable that you guys have now owned the club as long as Vince Naimoli owned it. Does it feel like time has sailed past?

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Silverman: The last eight years have been a wonderful ride. We had two as the Devil Rays and the last six as the Rays, all winning seasons, four playoff appearances. I think almost every franchise in baseball would take those results over the last six years.

MLB.com: In 2005, when [owner] Stu [Sternberg] said, "Let's do this thing," what appealed to you to leave one industry and try another?

Silverman: For me, it actually started in 2003. Stu and I had worked together at Goldman Sachs. He was interested in looking at baseball teams. He, Andrew [Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations] and I got into this together, starting in 2003.

MLB.com: At that point, you guys had a plan.

Silverman: At that point, we had a plan. Stu actually bought into the Rays at the beginning of the '04 season. And so for 2004 and 2005, Andrew and I worked in the front office. At the end of the '05 season was when Stu became the control person for the team.

MLB.com: How has running a team been different than you thought it would? I'm sure you thought about it a lot. How has it been different?

Silverman: The public aspect has probably been the most difficult. I came from a line of work where all the ins and outs were kept private, and the media was not an angle that we had to consider. And we are such a public business now that that's been the biggest adjustment for me personally.

MLB.com: And every move would be dissected publicly.

Silverman: Yes, every move -- whether it's on the business side or the baseball side -- would be dissected to the point where when we changed personnel within the mascot suit, it made front-page news in the Tampa Bay Times.

MLB.com: Are you accustomed to that now? Have you learned to take advantage of it?

Silverman: It's become part of life, and after eight seasons, I've adjusted. I think the rest of our front office has adjusted to that. The scope of the team is so much larger than it was. The best indication of that is our TV ratings. Our TV ratings have quadrupled, at least, since 2005. We have such a large audience of Rays fans. That's the part that's most satisfying to us. We've grown that fan base, and we feel that support -- even when the stands aren't as full as we'd all like them to be.

MLB.com: When you started this adventure, what did you think was possible? This was a franchise that was as low as it could get. What did you think you could do?

Silverman: At the time, we wanted to be competitive. We set our sights at a winning record, and we set our sights on meaningful games in September. We thought if we could get to that point, [then] we put ourselves in position to win. What's been great is that we've been able to maintain that success, despite a structure in baseball that makes it very challenging for lower-revenue clubs. It's something we believe needs to be addressed as baseball continues to grow, especially from a competitive standpoint with the Draft and the international system.

MLB.com: How does it make you feel when people refer to the Rays as the smartest franchise in baseball, the most efficient, the best run. You must take enormous pride in the attention the team gets for being a well-oiled machine.

Silverman: We appreciate the compliments that are paid to us. But we try not to pay too much attention to them. We know that everyone in baseball is getting smarter every day, and it makes us hungrier to try to stay out in front. We've seen a lot of changes in the game the last several years, and it's going to get even more difficult as the years tick by.

MLB.com: You know what's amazing about you guys from the outside looking in is, for instance, when Carl Crawford left, there was such a calmness, a confidence within your organization. You guys seemed to have the attitude, "This is what we do. We move on. We have to see things others don't see." You never complain about it. I never hear you guys whining. You work within the system, and you succeed.

Silverman: We understand the system and know the limitations. We would certainly love to hold onto every one of our marquee players for as long as possible. And we try to do that. But we also won't compromise and do something that would not be wise for the long-term future of the franchise.

We could have signed Carl Crawford. We told Carl as much. The problem would have been fielding 24 other players around him that would be a competitive baseball team for many years [moving] forward. Players understand that. They want to be part of a winning team. We sort of knew that was going to happen with Carl many years back.

And that's our goal. Our goal is to take 25 guys and have a compelling, competitive product year in and year out -- with the kind of players that our fans want to root for. We have that, right now.

MLB.com: What is the most impressive thing about the job that Andrew and his baseball-operations staff have done?

Silverman: Everything that they've done is impressive. But I'd say the culture they've created here is unique, and it's the real difference-maker. Players want to be a part of this franchise. Players know they're going to be well utilized, well taken care of and that we'll get the most out of their talents here. That spirit is something that may be our little secret sauce and provide a slight edge for us.

You look back to the Devil Ray days, this wasn't a destination point. But now it is. And that's a big part of the success that we hope to be able to continue.

MLB.com: When you see Joe Maddon do his thing day to day, what do you like most about the way he does his job?

Silverman: Consistency and positivity. He believes that we're going to win. He believes his players are going to perform. And he believes that the team can achieve more than the sum of the individual parts. It's that sincere belief that has really fueled this team.

MLB.com: He's a guy that likes people, is good with people. That's a big part of it, beyond the analytics.

Silverman: He appreciates people. He appreciates the diversity of people. He's someone that can bring together a diverse group of people, united toward a goal. I don't know what it's like in other clubhouses. I haven't had that experience. I certainly saw some Devil Ray clubhouses many years back.

I only know now harmony and camaraderie within a clubhouse. And Joe Maddon and the coaches are key to that whole thing.

MLB.com: Red Sox CEO/president Larry Lucchino said that for years baseball front offices had silos, walls. Everyone protected their own territory. This is mine. That's yours. Don't cross that line. He said the tearing down of those walls was a big part of this season's success. It seems you guys have such a great collaboration among the three of you, between Andrew and Joe. How did you create that spirit where everybody wants to help everybody else?

Silverman: There was a trust from the beginning -- especially given the longstanding relationships that Andrew, Stu and I had before we started with the Rays. That certainly helped. There is a no-credit atmosphere within the Rays. No one's raising their hand, saying, "I did this" or "I did that."

We have championed throughout our entire organization people who've made incredible contributions. You probably don't know their names. But they know what they've done, and I think it's that spirit that has helped us maintain the continuity that we've had.

You don't have the egos. You don't have the silos. Everyone is trying to help the organization win this year, and win in future years.

MLB.com: How is that possible? There's human nature, ego.

Silverman: It starts with Stu. He's the most down-to-earth owner that I've ever met. He's someone who respects and trusts everyone in the entire organization. When you have that at the top, you have no choice but for it to be infused throughout the whole organization.

MLB.com: Communication, I would guess, is a big part of it.

Silverman: Communication and trust. We provide everyone in the organization with the opportunity to make mistakes. Joe says it in terms of players on the field. He's not afraid of players making mistakes. We're not afraid to try things and make mistakes. You have to learn from your mistakes.

You don't want fear to be a motivation or a factor in the decisions that we make. Stu has provided an atmosphere where fear is absent from the decision-making.

MLB.com: Off the field, you've tried to be a good citizen of the community. What are you proud of in that realm?

Silverman: I'm proud of the connection that our fans have with the organization. When we weren't winning back in 2006 and 2007, during our rebuilding years, we were hard at work making those connections within the community.

I challenge you to find a non-profit in Tampa Bay that we're not a part of, that doesn't feel like the Rays are their partner. That work is always going on. And the winning just amplifies the good feelings and the relationships we've been able to form, dating back to 2005.

MLB.com: People look at the attendance and say, "OK, here's a franchise that has done everything right, and there are still not many people going to the games." What do you think of the market, the area, as a baseball city?

Silverman: Twenty-thousand people going to a baseball game night in and night out is a lot of people. The challenge is to shrink the gap between that 20,000 and what the rest of the league is able to generate in attendance. The fan base is strong. The love for the team is strong. It's our job to continue to provide a great atmosphere at Tropicana Field, and get as many people to come out and celebrate Rays baseball live and in person.

MLB.com: Do you dream of a day in which the Rays will have a new ballpark and you'll be on more equal footing with other teams?

Silverman: Just like the players, I dream of packed houses. I would love for that to happen at Tropicana Field. If it doesn't happen at Tropicana Field, I'd love for it to happen at the next stadium. There's nothing more rewarding than having 35,000-40,000 of your own fans cheering for the team night in and night out. It's a real difference-maker for the players and for the entire organization.

MLB.com: What strikes you as unique about this year's team?

Silverman: There's a calmness to this team that [has] built up over the last several years. Even during tough stretches, there wasn't panic. Players understood that the talent was there, and the pieces just needed to fall into place. You saw that in the three elimination games, of sorts, that we played [against the Blue Jays, Rangers and Indians]. That calmness is what allows teams to make it through a very difficult schedule.

MLB.com: Has this part of your career been what you hoped it would be?

Silverman: It's been better than we could ever have imagined. We think our best years are still ahead of us.

MLB.com: You've taken a brand that didn't mean very much. Now, that brand symbolizes -- I don't know how to say it -- excellence.

Silverman: There's a sunburst in the R of the Rays, and that's the light and the glow that we want all of our fans to feel and to rally around. That was Stu's vision for that sunburst. You see it growing very brightly these days.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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