The Washington Times - August 2, 2013, 07:34PM

MILWAUKEE — Twenty-seven years ago, Mike Rizzo was an area scout for the Chicago White Sox. He made $11,000 a year and wore the tires on his car down to nothing as he set out to mine the midwest for amateur talent. There was little glamour and a lot of time away from home.

Thursday, Rizzo signed a contract extension with the Washington Nationals that not only kept him in position as the general manager for the long-term, but also added President of Baseball Operations to his title. According to a team official, Rizzo is now “well within” the top five highest-paid general managers and presidents across the sport.

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“It’s humbling,” Rizzo said Friday afternoon from the dugout at Miller Park. “It’s very fulfilling for me. I started off as an area scout… Now I’m the president of the Washington Nationals. I feel good about it, and I feel proud of it.”

The Nationals and Rizzo had been in discussions on an extension for several months. They’d secured his immediate future by picking up the first option on his original contract, for 2014, but even back in April ownership told The Washington Times that their focus was on the future with Rizzo at their helm.

There was no specific reason for the timing of the deal coming now, Rizzo said, as the Nationals are in the midst of a disappointing follow-up to their 98-win season a year ago. It just so happened that the sides were finally able to come to an agreement. 

“It got some momentum,” Rizzo said. “It just happened when it happened because we reached an agreement that was agreeable to both sides. We didn’t really put a finite timetable on it. The conversations were always good and amicable. We were getting close the last couple of days… and it came to fruition.

“I’m not going to change the way I do my job. I’ve worked as an interim. I’ve worked with some guaranteed contracts, and I’ve worked on one-year contracts almost my whole career. I’m going to attack the job like I always have: with hard work and good decisions and hire good people and let them do their jobs so I can do my job better.”

There was perhaps one driving factor behind the timing of the deal. The Nationals will undergo a managerial search following the season, with Davey Johnson and the team announcing last offseason that this would be his final year in their dugout.

It was important, in that regard, for the leadership at the top of the organization to be in a stable place before that search began. 

“I think it helps in the process in choosing the manager,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s important for the manager to know who’s going to be his boss. I think it was a big part of the managerial decision. I think it’s important for the franchise as a whole to have stability and to have cohesiveness, not only at the president level and filtered down. That filters all the way to scouting, player development, the minor league coaches, trainers, all the way down the line.

“I’m responsible for a lot of jobs and a lot of people in this organization. Right now, with the extension that I signed and the title that I have now, I think that really makes us even more of a cohesiveness unit.”

Rizzo, who was not with the team the previous three days while they played in Detroit, joined them Friday in Milwaukee and accepted a lot of congratulatory handshakes and hugs from the Nationals’ coaches and players as he milled about the dugout during batting practice. 

“I’ve made no secret I think he’s an outstanding baseball man,” Johnson said. “I think he’s done a great job here and it was good to see that his bosses rewarded him. I’m very happy for him. Well deserved.”

Those in the organization spoke to the benefit of continuity. While all the details of Rizzo’s contract are not known, it has been made clear he signed a multi-year extension of considerable financial weight with a club option at the end. As one person familiar with the deal put it, Rizzo “is really happy to know he can finish what he started.” 

“It makes people comfortable,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is signed through at least 2019. “It makes people look at this organization from another team or as a free agent and they realize that if you come here and do good things they take care of people who do that. Professional sports, sometimes that’s hard to find.

“That goes to the ownership and what they’re willing to do because they’re the ones who obviously have to pay people and be able to back those contracts. But I think what Mike has done here is great. He’s put a good team on the field and five or six years ago we didn’t have much. We’ve come a long ways in a little bit. This year hasn’t worked out so far like we wanted it to but it’s a tribute to him and what we’ve done in a such a short period of time. I think he deserves it.”

Rizzo’s day-to-day responsibilities do not sound as though they will change much with the addition of the President of Baseball Operations to his title. The Nationals have not had a team president since Stan Kasten left the club following the 2010 season. It appears Rizzo will now have a bit more leeway to involve himself in all aspects of the organization wherever he sees fit.

“It means the buck stops with me,” Rizzo said. “There’s nobody above me. There’s nobody to look to above me. They’re my decisions. I’m going to run the baseball operations department in entirety. It’s the hiring and firing. The implementation of policies and philosophies.

“It was very humbling and gratifying to become the president of the team and to get the extension. I think it’s a statement that there’s continuity and consistency in the organization. I’m honored that the Lerner’s entrusted me with the goal of making this a championship-caliber franchise.”