- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

— 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 team’s 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, a Dominican shortstop it signed for $1.4 million in 2006, was actually Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo and four years older than the team thought.

While Mr. Bowden maintained his innocence and blamed the firestorm on “false allegations contained in the press,” he acknowledged his presence was diverting focus from a team trying to rebound from a 59-win season.

“It saddens me, but I feel it’s in the best interest of two of the things I love the most, and that’s the Washington Nationals and baseball,” Mr. Bowden said. “I’ve become a distraction and, unless you’re Manny Ramirez, there’s no place for distractions in baseball.”

Team President Stan Kasten did not name an immediate successor and said he would not comment on “next steps” until later in the week. But several club sources said they think assistant general manager Mike Rizzo will get the job, at least on an interim basis.

Mr. 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,” Mr. Kasten said. “I know none of us are perfect and none of us bats a thousand, 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.”

Mr. Bowden notified the team in an 8:45 a.m. meeting before he and Mr. Kasten met with reporters. A team spokesman said no one from the Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, would comment on Mr. Bowden’s resignation.

“The news just caught me by surprise,” manager Manny Acta said. “Me as a manager, I appreciate what he did if he felt like he was being a distraction here. I did interview with five clubs, and he was the one who gave me my first opportunity to manage. Few are brighter, few work harder than him. Regardless of where this goes from here, I will always be grateful to him.”

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 league practices in the Dominican Republic. Mr. Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo were both named in those reports. Mr. Rijo was fired a week after news of the Alvarez scandal first broke.

Neither Mr. Bowden nor Mr. Rijo has been charged with a crime, but the Nationals disbanded their Dominican operation at Mr. Rijo’s baseball academy last week and likely will field one team in the Dominican Summer League this year instead of their usual two.

The move caps Mr. Bowden’s rocky tenure with the Nationals, which began before Major League Baseball approved the Montreal Expos’ move to the District in December 2004. Signing a few 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 Mr. Bowden.

Mr. Bowden showed a skill for picking up players off the scrap heap, getting impressive contributions from Dmitri Young in 2007 as well as Tim Redding and Odalis Perez in 2008.

But things bottomed out last season. The Nationals went 59-102, and three of Mr. Bowden’s acquisitions - Paul Lo Duca, Felipe Lopez and Johnny Estrada - were released after the July 31 trade deadline. Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena and Young, all Bowden pickups, struggled through injury-plagued and ineffective years.

Rumors also swirled about Mr. Bowden’s relationships with Mr. Kasten and Mr. Acta, though both men spoke positively about their working relationship with Mr. Bowden.

“I thought it was a good, professional relationship,” Mr. Acta said. “If it would have been as bad as some people think, he wouldn’t have kept me around here for three years.”

His professional record told only part of the story, however. Mr. Bowden generated plenty of controversy in his time as the Cincinnati Reds’ general manager and produced more of it with the Nationals. He was charged with drunken driving in April 2006 and was investigated that season after the Reds’ claim that Mr. Bowden knowingly traded injured reliever Gary Majewski to them without disclosing he had received a cortisone shot before the deal.

Mr. Bowden told a radio station in July that the team would not offer injured closer Chad Cordero arbitration after the season, a move that angered the longtime reliever.

And a month after news of the federal investigation in the Dominican Republic came out last summer, the Nationals failed to sign first-round draft pick Aaron Crow.

Because of that, the Nationals have the 10th pick in this June’s draft along with their regular first-rounder - the first overall selection. The importance of those two picks makes it unlikely the team will conduct a drawn-out search for a general manager.

Mr. Rizzo, who stood on the side of the media room during Mr. Bowden’s press conference, is the presumed successor. Toronto assistant general manager Tony LaCava’s name has surfaced in rumors, though there were no indications he had spoken to the Nationals.

“We’re not planning on missing a beat. Our staff has a meeting [Monday] morning, first thing,” Mr. Kasten said. “I think you’d all be unwise to speculate or guess about what’s going on.”

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