Thomas Boswell: Bowden May Wind Up Paying Again

"I'm extremely angry," Jim Bowden, left, says of the fraud involving Esmailyn González's identity. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Thomas Boswell
Friday, February 20, 2009

The bucks stop on Jim Bowden's desk. All 1.4 million of them.

When that bill comes due, will the Nationals' general manager pay with his job?

For the moment, Bowden appears to have been the primary sucker in one of the most embarrassing scams ever used to defraud a baseball team.

What is certain already is that a Nats franchise that shoots itself in the foot every time it gets a new pair of shoes has taken another painful public pratfall.

Get a new city-built ballpark; don't pay the rent. Get a coveted No. 1 draft pick; don't sign him. Promise a better team to inaugurate a new park; lose 102 games. Expect sellouts in Southeast Washington; average 12,000 empty seats. Sign slugger Adam Dunn; have a scandal explode the next week.

Now we have the mysterious case of what President Stan Kasten called the "player to be named later." It would be farce if it weren't so mortifying.

Three years ago, Bowden was perhaps the game's most gullible executive, a bumptious hustler so eager to impress his new bosses, the Lerners, that he talked them and Kasten into signing a 16-year-old Dominican named Esmailyn González, who now turns out to have been a 20-year-old named Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo.

The only thing the Nats seem to have gotten right was their shortstop's ironic nickname: "Smiley." Now, Alvarez needs a new moniker: the Real A-Fraud.

"Could he be A-Rod's cousin, too?" one Nat asked.

Bleak humor about the Nats now bounces all around baseball. But this case, as Kasten says ominously, "will have big repercussions." At one level, the FBI and Major League Baseball, both of which are investigating broad allegations of kickbacks to street agents and other improprieties in the Dominican Republic, will sort out the villains. The White Sox already have fired personnel because of the scandal.

However, whether or not anybody in the Nats' front office comes up dirty, heads will probably roll. At least one executive, José Rijo, the team's Dominican head honcho, will almost certainly be fired. The bigger question is whether Bowden, the head dupe in this $1.4 million scam, may be shown the door, too.

Right now, the heat is rising. A central figure in the fraud is Smiley's street agent Basilio Vizcaino, who is a lifelong friend of Rijo. Rijo, in turn, has been close to Bowden for 17 years. Did a chain of scoundrels in the Dominican fool Rijo who, in turn, sold a bill of goods to Bowden who, then, made the pitch to the Lerners and Kasten soon after they'd bought the team, but long before they were up to speed?

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