- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So Jim Bowden claims to know nothing in the matter of Smiley Gonzalez. That makes him the know-nothing Sgt. Schultz of baseball general managers.

A good number of Nationals supporters would second the motion.

The use of legalese is appropriate, given the federal investigation into the funny business enveloping Bowden and the Dominican Republic baseball pipeline.

The funny business involves the fictitious Smiley, his franchise-record $1.4 million signing bonus, the bird dogs/de facto player agents who ply their craft out of the West Indies nation and a bonus-skimming trail that goes back to 1994, when Bowden was general manager of the Reds.

Bowden says he is innocent, says he does not know what is what, says that is all he has to say for now.

If Bowden is to be taken at his word, then he already has indicted his acumen as a general manager.

He has been dipping his toes in the Dominican Republic talent pool since 1994. Yet he had no idea the Dominicans play by different rules from Americans. He had no idea that falsifying ages is a rite of passage among those desperate to leave the poverty of their Third World nation. He had no idea that throwing millions around those who have nothing might lead to questionable financial dealings.

How is that so? How is it that someone who has been working the Dominican system for so long could be so completely oblivious to how it works?

If that is his defense - and the head-in-the-sand contention is plausible - Bowden is dismissing his baseball instincts.

You could start with the fictitious Smiley, who, as it turns out, was four years older than his stated age at the time of his signing bonus on July 2, 2006.

Bowden said at the time the signing was an indication of the organization’s “pledge to become an industry leader in scouting and player development.”

Except Smiley’s 9-21-89 birth date was as phony as his name.

Does a Latin player who goes by the nickname of Smiley not send out a tiny alarm? How about if his name were Smiley Face Gonzalez? Would that have elicited suspicion from Bowden?

Smiley might as well have been named Sunshine, considering the dubious vetting process that allowed him to scam baseball. Oh, yes, we are supposed to be sympathetic to the plight of Dominican youngsters. We are supposed to take the position that they mean no real harm.

Yet that position is not fair to all the American youths dreaming of becoming Major League Baseball players but cursed by birth certificates that remain hard-and-fast.

Just think of the number of 20-year-old Americans who could benefit from four years being shaved from their birth certificates. The benefit could be enough to prompt a team to award a youth a $1.4 million signing bonus.

And the four-year difference in the 16 to 20 age group is vast. It is as vast as a junior in high school competing against a junior in college.

But Bowden knows nothing about how baseball business is conducted in Latin America; knows nothing about the allegations that are engulfing the Reds, White Sox and Nationals, linked as they are all by Jorge Oquendo, Jose Rijo and David Wilder.

Rijo has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Nationals, Oquendo is singing to the feds and Wilder is out of baseball, just chilling in Puerto Rico.

Bowden, meanwhile, is in Viera, Fla., evaluating the prospects of a team that lost 102 games last season, drew a disappointing 2.3 million to its new ballpark and elected not to fix that which is broken in the offseason.

In a positive development, the Nationals have the No. 1 pick in the draft in June.

Fans of the Nationals are left to hope the team resists the urge to draft Danny Almonte, the infamous pitcher from the Dominican who drove to the Little League World Series in 2001.

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