- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

JUPITER, Fla. — If you were surprised by Endy Chavez’s demotion to the minors Tuesday, you don’t know interim general manager Jim Bowden’s history very well.

The decision to ship the struggling Chavez to Class AAA New Orleans might have been a jolt to the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse. But it was nothing compared to the day in 2003 when Bowden, then GM of a Cincinnati Reds team that had opened the season 5-12, made seven roster moves between games of a doubleheader in Puerto Rico.

Talk about sending a message.

?There were a lot of stunned people in the clubhouse,? Bowden recalled this week. “There were guys that were really comfortable, and when that day was over, they look in the dugout and they don’t even have enough players to play the game. It kind of woke them up a little bit.”

For the record, the Reds went on to win 16 of their next 23 games to surpass the .500 mark.

The long-term effect of Tuesday’s move remains to be seen. The Nationals continued to struggle offensively yesterday in a 3-1 exhibition loss to the Florida Marlins and now have scored 19 runs over the last nine games.

Successful or not, Chavez’s demotion was classic Bowden. This is a man who never has been afraid to do something dramatic, whether trading for Ken Griffey Jr. less than a week before the start of spring training in 2000 or leaving the Nationals without a true leadoff hitter less than a week before the start of the season.

Bowden lives for those kind of days.

“Yeah, I think there are times when it’s good to shake it up,” he said. “People get comfortable in life, and sometimes it’s good to say, ‘If it’s not working, we’re going to fix it. So you better not get too comfortable.’…

“When we’re sitting there scoring two runs for the last eight days, yeah, I want the message there that spring training or not, we’re not going to watch it. So get it done. We want you here, but if you can’t do it, we’re going to get someone who can get it done.”

Since leaving his regular gig as an analyst on ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza” in November to take on the Nationals’ operation, Bowden has done his best to put his personal stamp on the organization.

He went out this winter and traded for right fielder Jose Guillen, one of his favorite players from his time in Cincinnati. He signed free agents Vinny Castilla, Cristian Guzman and Esteban Loaiza, all players he has admired for a while who also could fit into his strict $50million budget. And he took a chance on a couple of underachieving prospects he had his eye on: outfielder J.J. Davis and infielder Tony Blanco.

The end result? When the Nationals head north tomorrow, their 25-man roster is expected to include nine players acquired by Bowden this offseason: Guillen, Castilla, Guzman, Loaiza, Davis and Blanco, plus reliever Antonio Osuna, first baseman Wil Cordero and catcher Gary Bennett.

Bowden insists he has not built a team in his image alone, and rattles off the names of his predecessors and others, all who played a role in developing the roster.

“This team has still got some Jim Beattie in it; it’s got [predecessor] Omar Minaya in it; it’s got [manager] Frank Robinson in it; it’s got [assistant GM] Tony Siegle in it. It’s got so many people,” Bowden said. “I’m just doing my little part, that’s all. I’m just trying to help out piecemeal and carry the torch to Washington. It’s never one person. GMs and managers are overrated. It’s about the organization, not the individual.”

Still, it’s hard to ignore the influence Bowden has had on this franchise. In addition to the players he added, he also brought in several of his closest companions from his 10-plus years in Cincinnati to join his staff: Bob Boone, Barry Larkin, Jose Cardenal and Jose Rijo.

Bowden’s front office staff, along with Robinson and his coaching staff, have met endlessly this spring to discuss individual players and overall strategies. Bowden approached Robinson earlier this week, told him they needed to talk about Chavez and the two came to a consensus that the center fielder needed to be sent down.

Though the two come from far different backgrounds and have far different personalities, Bowden and Robinson believe they make a good working team.

“We’ve been on the same page,” Robinson said. “I have a say, he has a say, and we come to a conclusion. I’ve had my opinion about situations, he’s had his feelings on it. I’m not saying he’s out and out making the decisions. We both make the decision by what we say. I’ll say, ‘Well, I agree with you.’ And he’s said to me, ‘I really don’t agree with you, but if that’s what you want, fine.’”

Bowden believes the Nationals’ roster on the eve of Opening Day is significantly improved from the one he inherited five months ago. He doesn’t know exactly how much improved, but he figures to have a better idea beginning Monday, when the Nationals open the season in Philadelphia.

“You really haven’t seen this team together yet, whether it’s because of injuries or the way people have played,” Bowden said. “On Monday, we’ll see it as a group. Like television, when that red light goes on, that’s all that matters. What you do practicing beforehand doesn’t matter. When Monday hits, then let’s evaluate the team.”

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