Jim Bowden, the only general manager in the Washington Nationals’ five-year history, resigned Sunday morning in the wake of growing scrutiny over his role in the teams practices in the Dominican Republic.
It was presumably the final step in a scandal that had been brewing since Feb. 18, when the team acknowledged that Esmailyn Gonzalez, the Dominican shortstop it signed for $1.4 million in 2006, was actually Carlos David Alvarez Lugo and four years older than the team thought.
Players were notified in a team meeting with Bowden, team president Stan Kasten , Assistant General Managers Mike Rizzo and Bob Boone, and Manager Manny Acta.
While Bowden maintained his innocence and blamed the firestorm on “false allegations contained in the press,” he acknowledged his presence was diverting focus away from a team trying to rebound from a 59-win season.
“It saddens me, but I feel its in the best interest of two of the things I love the most, and thats the Washington Nationals and baseball,” said Bowden, who did not take questions. “Ive become a distraction, and unless youre Manny Ramirez, theres no place for distractions in baseball.”
Kasten did not name an immediate successor, and said he would not comment on “next steps” until later in the week. Rizzo would be the most logical replacement for Bowden, at least on an interim basis.
Kasten called it “gracious and professional that Jim recognized what was swirling around wasn’t a good thing.
“He did something, as he said, in the best interests of the franchise,” Kasten said. “I know none of us are perfect and none of us bats 1.000, and certainly any mistakes he made here during his tenure are well chronicled. But I think there’s been an abundance of piling on during his time. You really all should take account of the things he did while he was here under very difficult conditions.”
Questions about the signing of Alvarez, who was thought to be 16 in 2006 but was actually 20, surfaced shortly after the deal but became public last summer with reports of a federal investigation into MLB practices in the Dominican Republic. Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo were both named in those reports. Rijo was fired a week after news first broke of Alvarezs real identity.
Neither Bowden nor Rijo has been charged with a crime, but the Nationals disbanded their Dominican operation at Rijo’s baseball academy last week and will likely field just one team in the Dominican Summer League this year, instead of their usual two.
The move caps Bowden’s rocky tenure with the Nationals, which began before MLB approved the Montreal Expos move to the District in December 2004. Signing a handful of veterans, he pieced together a team that led the National League East at the All-Star break in 2005. But the team collapsed in the second half of the season, finishing 81-81, and never managed more than 73 wins in another season under Bowden.
Things bottomed out last season; the Nationals went 59-102, and three of Bowdens acquisitions Paul Lo Duca, Felipe Lopez and Johnny Estrada were all released after the July 31 trade deadline passed. Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena and Dmitri Young, all Bowden pickups, struggled through injury-plagued and ineffective years.
Rumors also swirled about Bowden’s relationships with Kasten and Acta, though both men spoke positively about their working relationship with Bowden.
“I thought it was a good, professional relationship,” Acta said. “If it would have been as bad as some people think, he wouldnt have kept me around here for three years.”
Rizzo, who stood on the side of the media room during Bowden’s press conference, is his presumed successor. Toronto assistant GM Tony LaCava’s name has surfaced in rumors, though he had not spoken to the Nationals as of last week.
“We’re not planning on missing a beat. Our staff has a meeting tomorrow morning, first thing,” Kasten said. “I think you’d all be unwise to speculate or guess about what’s going on.”