- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

Jim Bowden has a wide-ranging reputation as a baseball general manager, and part of that is being a gambler.

Well, he picked the right horse in the Washington Nationals’ ownership race, and it paid off yesterday when team president Stan Kasten announced that Bowden will remain general manager when he and the Lerner family take over the franchise shortly.

And it is no interim tag or short-term deal, though Kasten did not reveal the details of the agreement with Bowden, who will help shape the future of the Nationals franchise.

I guess all those hot dogs Bowden gobbled with Mark Lerner in Viera, Fla., last spring paid off.

Bowden and Kasten seem like oil and water, but then maybe it’s because Kasten really worked with only one baseball general manager, John Schuerholz in Atlanta. Maybe Bowden didn’t seem like Kasten’s kind of guy because there was only one previous model available.

But Kasten said he liked what he knew about Bowden before he and the Lerners won the nod to be the new owners and has grown to know him better recently, enough apparently to entrust the player development system that Kasten insists will be the plan for this organization.

“I was a fan of Jim before I got here, for a lot of reasons,” Kasten said. “And not only has nothing changed my mind. I’ve become a bigger fan of him since I’ve worked with him. … He’s very smart, and by smart I mean analytical. I also think he’s very resourceful. You have to give him that.”

There are questions whether or not Bowden can work without chaos around him — whether he can succeed in a stable situation and make the most of the rich resources that should be available to him in Washington.

Bowden thrived at times in the storm of the Cincinnati Reds under controversial and cheap owner Marge Schott. His teams had four winning records in the 10 years he was with the Reds. But he developed a reputation as a loose cannon, and some of his critics questioned his credibility.

The bluster often would cloud his baseball work. The current version of the Reds — the one battling for the National League Central title — was built by Bowden through player development and trading for young prospects. So he can do it. He has done it.

The question is, can he do it without doing or saying something really stupid?

Stan Kasten must think so. I say the jury is still out.

Given the candidates that could have been available — such as Gerry Hunsicker, the former Houston Astros general manager with a reputation as one of the smartest baseball men in the industry and now a senior vice president of baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — sticking with Bowden is a gamble.

Bowden had seemed to learn his lesson from his 10 years with the Reds, for the most part. He was professional and in control, though at times the Bowden who couldn’t resist the witty comment would still show himself.

By the way, I love that Bowden. Someone who knows him said he heard I had an agenda against Bowden but, as a columnist, the only agenda I have about Jim Bowden is that he is here for a long time. He is smart, funny, and, as we say in the business, good copy.

That doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea for Kasten and Lerner to keep him as the general manager.

Bowden is still facing a DUI charge from the incident earlier this year in Miami Beach, where he and his fiancee were stopped twice in 10 minutes by Miami Beach police. He spent several hours in jail, and when he finally faced reporters to talk about it, Bowden cracked, “There were some pretty good athletes in there. If they get out, we might be able to work a couple out.”

See, that’s the Bowden I love. But if I owned the team, I wouldn’t be particularly crazy about that guy.

Even if Bowden is eventually cleared of the charge, it was an embarrassment for the organization. And I think if you are the owner of the Washington Nationals, you have to be at least a little worried that sooner or later there will be another Bowden fire to put out that has nothing to do with baseball.

Bowden called Kasten’s decision a dream come true and predicted the Nationals will compete with the elite franchises in baseball.

“We’re going to be able to compete with the Yankees, the Braves, the Red Sox, everybody,” he said. “We’re going to be able to do it right. I’ve never had that opportunity in my career. I’ve dreamed about it.”

He has his dream job. Maybe that finally will be enough to keep Jim Bowden from self-destructing.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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