Back in the olden days, when Desert Fathers roamed the earth and Frank Robinson was still a young pup, there were these ascetics named the Stylites. They were also called the "Pillar Saints," and as far as characterizations go, it was more concrete than, say, "Moneyballer." According to one description:
One of my college professors, perhaps as a way of conveying a legend to which comparatively decadent students of the "Clinton Years" would better relate, fancied the Stylites as competitors in a League of the Pious. For instance, one Stylite would live on a pillar for 25 years, despite gangrene having set in on his left leg---only to be "bettered" by an even more committed Stylite who devoted more years and rendered more body parts afflicted. (The way these men could play through pain, there must be a way to relate a "Ryan Church is definitely a misnomer" joke . . . )
Well, such a depiction probably obscures the original Stylite intent of, say, St. Simeon, but it does illustrate things perhaps embedded in our human nature: the desires to embelish, to pile-on, and to remove a concept from the bounds of fairness.
And, in truth, there is something about the name "Jim Bowden" that provides a catalyst for these apparent desires. He is but a man---from all accounts, a kind of haughty man with a taste for leather clothing, I suppose, but still but a man. Imperfect, prone to errors and missteps, but---as I'd presume the Stylites would ultimately conclude--redeemable. Yet, within the broad community of Baseball Fandom, his very name seems to ignite passions. That's not even considering when he actually does something . . .
You may think I overstate, but it's a valid observation. What is more, the attention is especially concentrated within the sub-community of Baseball Fandom called the "Sabermetric Devotees." Bowden has certain perceived fetishes ("toolsy outfielders") and certain behaviorial tendencies ("management-by-ADHD") and, further, the guy has a reputation for being something of a jerk. Add it all up, carry the one, and few among the Devotees really seem to countenance the prospect that the guy could be the general manager of one's team of choice.
Recently, if momentarily, Bowden was linked to the vacant GM position for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. Check out the discussion at a place like Baseball Primer; the reaction among Dodgers' fans there was roughly ninety degrees beyond "not desirable." And these folks are but four years removed from Kevin Malone!
Anyway, to relate this to the Nationals, several of the Nats' blogs out there on the right column, as well as this one (by which I also mean my old one), have not conveyed the warmest of thoughts toward Bodes. Now, I have on certain occasions since January praised Bowden for particular characteristics of his I find desirable in an executive. Back in July, for instance, I compaired Bodes to Chicago's rather stagnant GM, Jim Hendry, who had not acted to resolve a core weakness hindering the Cubbies' prospects. Oh, that's not Bodes; quite the opposite, if Bodes has the means and opportunity to attack a perceived problem, he'll attack it. He'll also throw in some concurrent and incidental moves, too, just for fun.
The majority in the "Natosphere" (which has its share of Devotees) seems to have spoken, though, and the returns rather resoundingly indicate that, at least among the bloggers, Bodes is not the man to lead the Washington Nationals into a future that involves an independently-imposed budget and not the least whiff of Bob DuPuy's gassy constitution. Still, speaking as one who wishes Bodes well as long as it's in another organization, I am heartened that---contrary to tendency of bloggers to enflame rather than inform---the "Natosphere" (if it can be viewed as one entity, I suppose) has largely attempted to avoid embelishments and pile-ons and has generally not attempted to kick the mutha in the teeth, rhetorically speaking.
To be sure, the guy's even got a staunch advocate. That's important. It's hard to resist the urge to pile-on, unless there's someone on hand to focus the discussion back on the merits, rather than the punishment. Either this advocate has been influential, or other bloggers are fighting a bit of separation anxiety. (Or both, and I'm not be facetious here: as has been said, at the very least Bowden presents a decision-maker at the Nats' disposal this off-season, and the absence of one is not a productive alternative.)
For instance, here's a fair and balanced assessment of the Bodes Regime, what it can offer, what its consequences are, etc. Even assassins of snark and hate are calling his recent moves "masterful" and soliciting letters of recommendation. (Okay, okay . . . a bit much!)
The view of Bowden is robust; I truly feel, as a blogger, that I'm informed from all corners and that the matter is ripe for my disposition.
He shouldn't be the GM of the Nationals any longer than absolutely necessary.
Well, I suppose I didn't change my opinion. But I want to be clear that I'm not basing my opinion on the belief that he's a mallet-headed idiot. No, my season-old presumption of competence still stands upright. Bowden's a competent GM; given the right circumstances, he can succeed. That's not even an observation---it's a historical fact.
But one need not be incompetent to be a bad fit, and one can be competent without being a good fit. And, in this case, Bowden isn't the right fit for the Washington Nationals.
This team needs someone with vision for the future---a future, I'm presuming (hoping?), that will include an actual owner and some forward-thinking. Note that the vision need not be "sabermetically-inclined," although one that is at last "sabermetically-informed" would be a substantial asset. Bowden, though, lacks any identifiable vision. One of his DC Examiner columns was particularly revealing; in the column, Bodes categorized all the MLB GMs based on "philosophy" (scout-oriented, aggressive-trader, "Moneyballer," etc.). Well, not all of them: Bowden didn't classify himself, stating that he was a mix. Undefinable.
That's not what I hope the GM represents. Rather, I want to see a plan, as well as the constancy and commitment necessary to enact that plan. Even if I disagree with the fundamentals undergirding the plan, I can respect that one is in place. I can track its progress, evaluate its success, and speak its language.
Bowden is too inconistent, too active, too re-defining, and too whimsical to meet this expectation. That was his reputation upon accepting this assignment, and while he was encumbered by the peculiar nature in which the Nats find themselves, he did nothing to dispell the reputation. Bowden's one-week fascination with Brandon Watson embodies Bowden's fanciful nature as an executive. Flooding his manager's roster with an excess outfielder in whom Robinson was uninterested, Bowden progressed from dictating an entire column about how Watson was the catalyst the Nats needed to realizing that Watson was nothing more than an excess body on the roster---and not long for it.
Either Robinson initially deceived Bowden, or Bowden didn't communicate his plan---if one truly existed---even close to properly. From all appearances, Bowden tried to sell the move before fully considering it. Even granting that Robinson was not a "Bowden hire" (in fact, Robinson's almost certainly one of the most senior members of the organization now, figuratively as well as literally), and even granting that the two plainly don't like each other, this sequence of events was as inexcusable as it was inexplicable.
Again, this is not to argue that Bowden is an abject doofus, or that he cost the Nats the shot at something truly White Sox-quality wonderful. Further, give Bowden the right kind of organization---one, perhaps, with meager resources, where Bowden can pluck and pluck away and discover some gems in all of his maneuver---and he'd be worth a team's while.
But, if I assume the vantage point of where the Nats should be in 2007, '08, '09 and beyond, Bodes just isn't there.