Stan Kasten reached out to Roy Clark in 2006 when the latter was the Atlanta Braves' scouting director. Clark turned the Washington Nationals' team President down that summer and Kasten and the Nats instead hired Mike Rizzo away from Arizona, where the former scout with 24 years of experience in the game had helped the Diamondbacks improve their system from Baseball America's 29th overall in 2000 to no.1 overall on BA's organizational rankings five drafts later.
Three years after Rizzo moved to the nation's capital, he was named General Manager in the wake of Jim Bowden's resignation. Given the full-time job at the end of the '09 campaign, Rizzo overhauled the Nationals' front office, hiring 17 people including Clark, who now agreed to leave Atlanta, and Davey Johnson, who had previously served as an advisor under Rizzo's predecessor. The Nationals' GM built what he described to the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell at the time as a "baseball shop" or baseball "think tank."
"Three years ago, Clark was Kasten's first choice to be Bowden's top lieutenant. Clark said no. Kasten picked Rizzo," the WaPost's Mr. Boswell wrote in November of '09. "Now, full circle, Clark is Rizzo's right-hand man. So, Kasten ended up with his two top picks." Rizzo's idea of a "top lieutenant" or senior advisor was Davey Johnson. "'Among other things, he'll be the guy next to me in the golf cart in spring training, making me smarter,'" Rizzo told the Washington Post columnist.
"Among other things" eventually included managing the Nationals. Johnson took over as the skipper in 2011 when Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned from his position on the Nats' bench. With Roy Clark as an Assistant GM and former scout Kris Kline as Scouting Director, the Rizzo-led Nationals went from 26th on Baseball America's organizational rankings in '09 to no.1 overall in 2011.
"These guys are baseball afficionados. They know the game. They know the draft game very well, and it's a unique skill set that they have," Rizzo said at the time. "And it's no coincidence that when those guys were brought in that we've taken off."
In 2012, with Johnson on the bench, the Nationals won 98 games and made their first postseason appearance since the franchise moved to D.C. from Montreal in 2005.
The 2013 campaign was a disappointment, however, and as planned, Johnson, 70, stepped down after the Nats failed to defend their NL East crown. Then Clark left too, signing on as a "national crosschecker" for the Stan Kasten-led Los Angeles Dodgers. The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell lamented the loss of Clark to LA in his most-recent weekly chat with readers:
"When the Lerners bought the team, Clark and Rizzo were Kasten's 1 and 1A choices to be his first hire as GM. Clark [wasn't] available, Rizzo was. Then, a few years later, he and Rizzo stole Clark from Atlanta in the great midnight front-office landgrab that changed the franchise."
Johnson on the field and Clark behind the scenes. Are there any two men outside of Rizzo himself and players on the field, who have had more of an impact on the rebirth of baseball in the nation's capital? Kris Kline is still in place as Rizzo's Scouting Director. Matt Williams is now on board as Rizzo's manager, brought over from Arizona where he played when Rizzo was in the D-Backs' front office.
When Clark's departure was announced, WaPost reporter James Wagner said the Nationals' GM would announce further changes at some point in the future. Davey Johnson is under contract this year, but will be serving as a consultant. The biggest changes for the Nationals this winter, unless Rizzo signs another big free agent or pulls off a Gio Gonzalez-esque deal, will likely take place off-field. Two of the important voices of the GM's first four years at the helm are now gone or at least diminished in Johnson's case. It's Rizzo's team now more than ever. In Rizzo We Trust?
More from Federal Baseball:
- Wire Taps: Will The Nationals Lock Jordan Zimmermann And Ian Desmond Up?
- Matt Williams On Bryce Harper's Spot In The Nationals' Order
- Nationals Pitching Report: Getting to the Bottom of Tanner Roark's Big Fly Rate
- The Starting Nine: Nationals Links And Weekend Wrap-Up
- Nationals' Top Prospect Lucas Giolito On MLB Network Radio's Minors And Majors