Jim Bowden would be something of a throwback baseball figure if he wasn’t also such a putz. He’s kind of colorful and has a highly flawed, human-seeming persona in a field increasingly populated by dullish young data-heads and their crusty, resolutely backwards human antitheses. But if the quotable, outsized GM was at least different than those guys, he was also quite apparently an impossible human being — with some really awful, really irresponsible habits — and not quite a good enough GM to make his personality excesses excusable. And the FBI is investigating him in what Gerard insists on calling a “bung scandal,” which the internet confirms is indeed a Britishism for the sort of skimmage for which Bowden is being investigated by the FBI but which just sounds kind of gross to me and remind me of a bad Chinatown experience I had. That’s also generally considered to be not-good. The FBI investigation, but presumably the pork bung, too.
And yet, while he’s proven himself more hard-drinking screw-off than delightful throwback, Bowden has continued to avoid getting fired by the Nationals, the screwed-up franchise he’s run since 2005. Today, in an ingenious new trick, he did so by quitting as the Nats GM. In the Washington Post, Thomas Boswell — who also found a sunny side to the near-universally loathed ex-commish Bowie Kuhn — gives Bowden about as much credit as anyone could — “He was useful. He worked like a dog. He sold the game. He was colorful and controversial. He took tiny budgets and, sometimes, made something of them.” — before laying into the outgoing GM’s media-lambasting last stand.
Stan Kasten, team president, enjoys a good rant, and media persecution is a favorite. He’s been beating this drum in private lately. So the manner of Bowden’s departure has Kasten’s blessing, if not his fingerprints. Such an eminent personage deserves a full and detailed response.
So, here is mine: Oh, please. Kill some other messenger.
Bowden’s team lost 102 games last year. That can get any GM fired, especially one with a .480 career record.
The entire Dominican operation that Bowden oversaw, delegating the day-to-day operations to Jose Rijo, had to be razed Thursday when the team fired almost everybody associated with the stinking thing. What Fortune 500 company would retain an executive who was ultimately responsible for a large and important unit of the company that had to be completely dismantled amid scandal?
Also, it was Bowden’s personal lobbying that led the Nats to sign their $1.4-million Player to be Named Later in ’06. The Nats doubled the next-highest bid for a 16-year-old who turned out to be a 20-year-old with a completely different name.
There is, of course, one decent benefit to the way Bowden left. If he comes out of the ongoing federal and MLB investigations into potentially illegal activities in Latin America with his reputation intact, then he may be able to resume his career as an executive. For his hard work, the Nats didn’t want to fire him, which would mean specifying his deficiencies. Quitting solves that.
…Bowden is entitled to his view and his pain. However, it is difficult to believe, bordering on inconceivable, that the Lerner family and Kasten would let their GM resign (or that as tough a cuss as Bowden would quit) just because the mean old media was jumping up and down.