Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Major League Baseball general managers meetings took place this week in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s a place where GMs gather, tell stories about each other, lay the groundwork for deals and take care of other business.

It’s where the Washington Nationals officially began operations 15 years ago.

What made the Nationals’ World Series victory sweeter was the path the organization took to get to that point – from orphans to world champions. It began in Key Biscayne in the fall of 2004 at the baseball GM meetings, after the Montreal Expos had finished their final season and were relocated to the District – still under the ownership of Major League Baseball.

It was the first time that the franchise began operating in the business of baseball.

Jim Bowden opened the store up for business.

The former Cincinnati Reds general manager had just been named Nationals general manager by commissioner Bud Selig, who passed over former Boston Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, who would go on to be hired as Baltimore Orioles GM in 2011 and build a playoff team. He was named Sporting News Executive of the Year in 2014, when the Orioles won 96 games and made it to the American League Championship Series. Duquette also had ties with the Expos, having been the general manager there from 1991 to 1994. He also won the Sporting News award with Montreal in 1992.

Another candidate was Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick, who had built a two-time World Series champion in Toronto and playoff teams in Baltimore and Seattle and expressed interest in the Nationals job.

Yet baseball selected Bowden, considered a clown within the industry.

No matter. There was a still lot of excitement at the time, even with Bowden building the first Nationals team, and he held court with reporters in Key Biscayne about his hopes and dreams for the Washington Nationals.

“I can tell you that we are going to be aggressive in trying to do things to improve this team,” Bowden told reporters. “We had the second-worst record in the league and the fourth worst in baseball last season. So while there are a lot of good young pieces here in place, there is a lot of work to be done to get to the level where we want our Washington fans to be proud of. If we can improve the team, there is no timetable. If we can do it today, we will do it today. If it is a week from now or a month from now, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is let’s get it better.”

Bowden would talk often about his coveted trio of players – Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena and Adam Dunn – and would eventually wind up with all three later. But his early personnel moves at the meeting were mostly small time housekeeping decisions. He added five players (pitchers Michael Hinckley, Darrell Rasner, Danny Rueckel and Josh Karp and first baseman Larry Broadway) to the 40-man roster and designated another for assignment (pitcher Roy Corcoran).

He said he was laying the groundwork for something bigger. “I have talked to probably eight to 10 teams where it looked like from the outside that we may have a match,” Bowden said. “The difficult part this early in the process is everyone plays hardball, so you have to go through the process.”

The process would result in Bowden’s first big move shortly before leaving the meeting when he trade prospects Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis to the Anaheim Angels for bad boy outfielder Jose Guillen, who had played for Bowden in Cincinnati. “Two hours before I was introduced, I called Bill [Stoneman, Angels GM] and told him we were interested,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for 17 days.”

The most legendary moment for the Nationals as those GM meetings, though, was when agent Scott Boras met with reporters and predicted the future of baseball in Washington.

“You are going to get international figureheads going to the games,” he said. “You will have a monstrous television outlet that will go from Maryland all the way down to Georgia, a huge amount of people. The team will have an international element to it, and it will be a raving success. I think it will be the darling of the National League. Players and families will want to come to that city.

“It will be a big destination spot,” Boras said. “When you think of the millions of school kids who make Washington trips, all of those will be drawn in. When San Francisco built their new ballpark, they had 10,000 more fans a game. They would sell the tickets to the hotels, and the hotels put together dinner and baseball packages, and you would get people from all over the world who came to visit and would go to the games just for the event and experience. They wouldn’t even know what baseball is.”

Not everything Boras predicted has come to pass in Washington. But one thing has – it has been a raving success for Scott Boras.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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