For years, the Washington Nationals were the laughingstock of MLB, from wearing jerseys that read “Natinals” instead of “Nationals” to not having established ownership for almost a year after moving from Montreal to the Nation’s Capital.
The man who led Washington through these darker times was Jim Bowden. Now working for ESPN and XM Satellite Radio, Bowden was once the youngest GM in baseball history when the Cincinnati Reds hired him in 1992, with his tenure lasting until 2003.
Bowden’s time in the Queen City included drafting players like Joey Votto, Adam Dunn and Aaron Boone, and a 1999 Executive of the Year award when Cincinnati won 96 games with one of baseball’s lowest payrolls.
From Cincinnati, Bowden was hired by Washington as the franchise’s first-ever GM, and drafted Ryan Zimmerman in his first draft. In fact, Bowden drafted Craig Stammen and Tyler Moore in that same year. He is also known for hiring Manny Acta after Frank Robinson decided to retire after 2006, which marked a youth movement in D.C.
Unfortunately, Bowden is probably known more for his blunders in Washington than his accomplishments, which of course have been revealed more recently than any time before.
Bowden was GM when players like Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge roamed the outfield for Washington, and the Nationals were a combined 284-363 under him, hardly a mark of success.
He will probably be best known for a 2009 scandal where certain Washington executives were implicated in skimming bonus money from the signing of Latin American players, which caused Bowden’s resignation. Though he still vows he did nothing wrong, the Mike Rizzo era was thus born in Washington.
Bowden’s tenure in Washington may not have been a sparkling one, but at this point in time, a question needs to be asked: how much credit does the ex-GM deserve for Washington’s recent success?
The key to Bowden’s tenure is to look at his drafts. He has actually hit some late-blooming home run with players like Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa along with players like Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and Derek Norris, all of whom were traded for Gio Gonzalez.
Norris and Milone have both emerged as solid major league players, and we all know about Detwiler, Zimmermann and Espinosa. Stammen has emerged as one of the game’s best relievers and Moore was a revelation off the bench for the 2012 Nats.
Taking an even closer look, if it was not for Bowden, the Detwiler/John Lannan fifth starter controversy never would have happened last year.
Lannan had a minor league option, but Detwiler did not because of Bowden calling him up in September of 2007. After that, Detwiler was up and down multiple times as Lannan stayed with the major league squad until 2010, when he was demoted because of a rough start to the season.
Of course, Lannan was demoted in 2012 and Detwiler arrived.
Now, by no means am I implying that Rizzo has ridden Bowden’s coattails to success. Bowden’s draft picks were toolsy players that needed years of seasoning. Taking Zimmerman out of the equation, every Bowden-drafted player on Washington’s current roster has spent at least two years in the minors before they were called up to the majors. Rizzo’s draft picks are polar opposites, coming up in a much shorter time period.
Nationals fans may grimace when reminiscing back to Bowden’s years as GM, but at this point, there is no denying that he helped set Washington up for a magical 2012, and for magical years to come.