Rizzo Named General Manager of Nationals

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

When Mike Rizzo began his non-playing career 26 years ago, he was a scout who ambitioned to be a general manager, which was fine, except for all the improbability that stood between what he had and what he wanted.

Working as a scout meant seeing players, and seeing almost nobody else. It meant travel. It meant rising every morning, sometimes at 5 a.m., and drilling himself with a reminder: "I'm going to beat somebody today." Rizzo said that to himself, and then drove 200 miles after nightfall to scout a player the next day.

Scouting, as a career, can curse somebody who wants more. Scouts are baseball's laborers. They wear loose-fitting shirts and age fast. The glossy need not apply. Rizzo, as his father had, became a to-the-core scout: One year, he accrued 150,000 frequent flier miles. One year, he watched players in 25 states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Right or wrong, Rizzo wanted to go further.

It happened. Thursday, Rizzo's career reached its crest. At a news conference to announce his new role as the Washington Nationals' senior vice president and general manager, Rizzo explained the improbable rise and what he had needed to learn to accomplish it.

"I thought I had the ability to be a general manager a long time ago," he said. "I knew I had the player evaluation part of it down early in my career. I always considered myself as a good leader. I always thrived under pressure. So I thought I had a good foundation, and then when I did get into the front-office job I was smart enough to learn what I didn't know. And it was vast."

There were obstacles. Plenty. Rizzo worked for three organizations before joining the Nationals as an assistant general manager in July 2006, Stan Kasten's first front-office hire. Always a see-'em evaluator, Rizzo needed to adapt, at least somewhat, to baseball's trend for computer and statistical analysis.

When he became acting general manager this March, taking duties from the just-resigned Jim Bowden, he had to contend with the team's corresponding search for a full-time replacement -- a Kasten-led mission that started with 75 candidates, narrowed to 15 interviewees, and finally, around June 1, six finalists. Oh, by the way: The Nationals also had a historically bad bullpen, contract negotiations with franchise player Ryan Zimmerman, a manager on the hot seat, few veterans attracting trade attention and a No. 1 draft pick demanding the richest amateur contract in history.

Rizzo navigated the whole thing, and on Tuesday morning, he learned that he had earned the job full-time.

He called his father, Phil, a lifetime baseball scout.

Maybe Rizzo planned to give the news, but he didn't need to.

Good scouts can read a situation.

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