Thomas Boswell: Nats Need Something Definitive to Go On

By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Baseball might as well post a morning line on Jim Bowden's odds of keeping his job. Even money? Worse?

Every day, the Nationals sit and wait for word, from federal and MLB investigators. Can they, or should they, fire their general manager? Who -- if anyone -- in their organization is guilty and of what? How much is black or white, and how much will just be ambiguous gray?

"We are still waiting on the professionals," Nationals President Stan Kasten said cryptically yesterday. "I hope, and expect, we will be able to provide more information soon."

The Nats would love to fire Bowden. Or support him. Go or stay; either is fine. Though "go" probably has a solid lead in the organization's electoral college at the moment. But they want to be fair and also to be perceived as fair. Yet the way the shoes keep dropping around Bowden, the Nats are starting to look at him like he's a toxic centipede.

"We're getting pressure from the Nationals," an MLB source said. "They want to find out, one way or the other, so they can go on their merry way."

Throughout Latin America, especially the Dominican Republic, federal investigators are turning over rocks, trying to find evidence against anyone potentially involved in illegal scouting practices, especially skimming bonuses. Behind them come MLB's own handful of investigators, usually turning over the pebbles that are left. Already, one executive and several scouts from three franchises have been fired. The whole sport is on alert. The Nats aren't in this alone. But Bowden's is the biggest name thus far.

Meanwhile, the Nationals sit by the phone, paralyzed, frustrated, sometimes angry, waiting month after month, ever since Bowden was first interviewed by the feds last summer. Now in his fifth year of workaholic labor for the Nats, Bowden, regardless of his results, deserves far better than a guilt-by-association firing that could effectively end his baseball career.

You have to stand by him until "the professionals" finish with him. Then, if you want to fire him because the team lost 102 games last season, or just because you're tired of his drama, that's any franchise's prerogative. Or, if you think that signing his old Reds buddy Adam Dunn and a good offseason trade for Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham should be rewarded with another season, then go for it.

But the limbo in which the Nationals now find themselves would be destructive to a 102-win team, let alone this club, which is trying to regain its respectability and actually has made significant steps to do it.

Those who run the Nats don't even know how to react when you start a telephone conversation with "Good morning."

"Ohhhh, you have no idea how good a morning it's been," groaned Kasten, who was besieged Monday with questions about Jorge Oquendo, a former Reds scouting coordinator. Oquendo worked for Bowden in '93 and again from '99 to '03 and also worked for the White Sox in '06-07 under player personnel director David Wilder, who was fired last May.

Got that? The only executive who has been fired thus far because of the Dominican scandal is Wilder. Oquendo worked for him. Oquendo also worked for Bowden -- twice. That gives investigators a link between Wilder and Bowden.

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