The Major League Baseball franchise that is scheduled to begin play in Washington next spring will announce its first major hire today when the club names Jim Bowden its general manager, possibly on an interim basis, according to two industry sources.
Bowden, 43, was general manager of the Cincinnati Reds for 10 1/2 seasons before being fired in July 2003. In Washington, he will inherit a tenuous situation -- and for an indefinite period of time. The team, formerly the Montreal Expos, is owned by the 29 other major league clubs, and is up for sale. A new owner could completely overhaul the front office.
Former Reds general manager Jim Bowden, left, meets with the Cubs' Sammy Sosa in 2002. "He'd do a good job in that situation," says one associate.
(Al Behrman -- AP)
Bowden could not be reached to comment. Expos President Tony Tavares said last night that there is an announcement "on baseball matters" scheduled for today, "but I do not comment publicly on searches that are ongoing."
With baseball's general managers scheduled to meet next week, Bowden's hiring was essential, even though the Expos -- who have a limited budget -- are unlikely to be major players in the free agent market. Tavares has said repeatedly that he wanted to have a GM in place before deciding on whether Manager Frank Robinson should return for a fourth season with the club.
Bowden apparently got the job over former Expos and Boston Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who said yesterday he spoke with baseball officials on Friday about the position.
"The opportunity looks interesting," Duquette said in a telephone interview yesterday. "There's a lot of work to be done. There's some challenges that come with building a team."
Those challenges apparently will be met by Bowden, who has experience working within a strict financial structure. When he became general manager of the Reds in 1993, he was just 31, then the youngest GM in major league history. The Reds won the National League Central and reached the League Championship Series in 1995, when they had the second-highest payroll in the National League, but were swept by the Atlanta Braves.
After that, the club's management -- led by then-owner Marge Schott -- ordered the payroll slashed, and Bowden earned respect for making the team competitive within a limited budget. The Reds won 96 games in 1999, but the Houston Astros won the Central title, and Cincinnati lost a one-game playoff to the New York Mets for the wild-card berth.
In 2000, Bowden -- who already had earned the nickname "Trader Jim" for his willingness to deal players -- made his most significant move, trading with Seattle for all-star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., whose father was a member of Cincinnati's famous "Big Red Machine" teams of the 1970s. The trade was designed, at least in part, to re-ignite enthusiasm for baseball in Cincinnati during a political push for a new ballpark.
The city eventually built the stadium -- the Great American Ball Park opened in 2003 -- but injuries to Griffey made the next three years difficult. The Reds won only 66 games and finished last in 2001. En route to another last-place finish in 2003, Bowden and manager Bob Boone were fired in July.
Since then, Bowden has done some work for ESPN as a baseball analyst.
"He's dying to get back in the game," one associate said last night. "He'd do a good job in that situation, because he's enthusiastic about getting another chance, and he knows how to work in a small-market situation."
In the meantime, little progress has been made thus far in determining what group will ultimately determine the futures of Bowden, Tavares and others who baseball hires to run the club for now. Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said yesterday that the league has received "quite a few" inquiries from potential buyers interested in bidding on the Expos, but he said the sale process is in the preliminary stages.
"We're just asking, 'If you have an interest, let us know,' " said Levin.