We have been begging for a baseball team in Washington for 33 years now, so the preposterous fashion in which it appears to be arriving shouldn’t be a surprise.
Decisions about what office equipment to bring from Montreal seemed to have a higher priority than who will put together the roster fans will pay to see at RFK Stadium in April.
Each day that passes, players are filing for free agency, and agents are talking to general managers.
Soon there will be deals to be made and — even as handicapped as this franchise is — bargains to be had once the big spenders blow their budgets on superstars like Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran.
But the Washington club didn’t get a general manager until Tuesday, when it was announced former Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden agreed to take the job. So the Washington franchise, in its infancy, is taking on an identity: Home of Dysfunctional General Managers. Dan Duquette and Bowden — these were the candidates for the Washington job? Heck, why not Syd Thrift?
One high-ranking baseball official declared vice president of on-field operations for MLB Bob Watson “already on the payroll” as Washington’s GM, but he turned down the job last week.
Bud Selig and his sidekick, Bob DuPuy, scrambled to find someone willing to run this zombified franchise temporarily — with no promise of security once baseball turns it over to its new owners, whoever they may be.
So they found someone who wouldn’t say no in Bowden, who has been eating cold pizza — literally, as a contributor to the ESPN2 morning show of that name — since he was fired as the Reds GM in July 2003.
Bowden had a controversial and colorful 11-year tenure in Cincinnati. He pulled off a number of bold deals, producing a division title in 1995 and a trip to the National League Championship Series. But he also was seen as a loose cannon who often found himself at the center of turmoil.
And, let’s remember, it turns out he was the loser in the trade that brought Ken Griffey Jr. to the Reds.
Washington could have had a winner. There was a chance to give instant credibility to a franchise sorely in need of it after being run by Major League Baseball the past three years.
MLB had a chance to hire Pat Gillick as the Expos’ general manager. If it did not seriously consider Gillick, as it appears, it is the final insult of a mountain of insults piled on fans here since the expansion Senators left for Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season.
To have a chance to hire someone like Gillick — arguably the best general manager of his time — for a job as unattractive as this one and to pass it up is unthinkable.
Gillick told The Washington Times last month that even under the conditions of the job — working for MLB — he still wanted it.
“I love the game,” he said. “Any way I could help, I probably would. I’ve been around this game for a long time. If somebody asked me to do it and put things together and get things on an even keel for a while, I probably would. … I am always interested in a challenge.”
Gillick, of course, took the expansion Toronto Blue Jays to five American League East titles and World Series championships in 1992 and 1993.
More recently, Gillick was the executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager for the Seattle Mariners. He helped the Mariners to 393 wins from 2000 through 2003, more than any team in the majors. Seattle reached the ALCS twice and in 2001 tied a league record with 116 wins — all after trading Griffey, who has been a disaster for the Reds.
Local fans remember him as the man who ran the Orioles’ front office when they went to the ALCS in 1996 and 1997. He wanted to work here. He wanted the job that the guy who was “already on the payroll” didn’t want. He wanted the job Jim Bowden needs.
With all the negative attention focused on this Washington franchise now — the ongoing political fallout resulting from the city council ballpark legislation — there was a desperate need to bring in a man who could create some excitement. That need was even greater because of the uncertainty about who will own the team and questions about how much money baseball will commit to the 2005 roster.
MLB had a chance to breath life into this carcass of a franchise. Instead, it opted for more hot air.