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Tipping point?

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Way in the hopefully not-too-distant future, when the Washington Nationals have a real owner and stable management, I suspect we will look back at the date April 18 as a date on which the Nats' situation, which had previously lumbered in the general direction of nowhere, actually accelerated to some end.

According to a report in the Washington Post, the Lerner and Kasten ownership teams have merged, creating the best possible ownership situation for this franchise. The key is what the partners would collectively bring to the Nats---and what the other two bidders wouldn't. There are many factors I believe are important to this process (including, but not limited to, minority ownership representation and relations with the DC Council). Essntially, however, I believe the selection of an owner has to boil down to two factors:

1. Sufficient capitalization, and

2. Clear direction for the future.

Lerner and Kasten, after joining forces, represent the best combination of both aims. The Lerners are, in a word, rich; in two words, they're filthy rich. This in itself is no guarantee of success (Carl Pohlad of the Twins is baseball's richest owner; he's even loaned fellow owners money, against baseball's own rules), but it certainly helps---especially since the Lerners, unlike some other owners (including Pohlad), are ensured of a new ballpark, so there's one fewer reason to fake poverty.

As for Kasten, he is simply the white knight; he is the key to everything, as his presence with the Lerners separates the ownership team from the remaining pack by promising administrative competence. Kasten offers the Atlanta Braves as his reference, both in the past and, presumably, in the future. It would be a natural for Kasten to bring in a Braves' assistant GM or scouting director---look for the names "Wren," "Moore," or "Clark," I'd guess---to run the player personnel side. This would be no assurance of success; in fact, one of the very worst GMs of recent memory, Chuck Lamar, was a product of the Braves' system. But it certainly will help.

Team Malek, it is said, has too many cooks in the kitchen. Team Smulyan has no discernible cook in the kitchen. In Kasten, Team Lerner/Kasten has a chef:

Kasten has long been assumed to be a vital factor in baseball's decision, in part because he successfully ran the Braves and was president of the team during the construction of Turner Field. Kasten is known in baseball circles as an able executive, and he also has run the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers. His experience could be helpful to the new owner, who is expected to play an important role in the construction of the stadium.

Unless it is learned that the Lerners are big-time gun-runners or Kasten is implicated as administrator of an interstate prostitution ring, I believe this is your winning team---as it should be. (According to a commenter at Capitol Punishment, however, Peter Gammons believes that Smulyan is still in it, thanks primarily to a substantial number of minority partners. We shall see.)

* * * *

The other event that came to light on Monday was Jim Bowden's arrest in Florida for driving while intoxicated (and his fiance's arrest for battery):

At 2:20 a.m., according to the reports, another set of police officers pulled Bowden over after he ran through a stop sign on Collins Avenue. Officers said they detected "a strong smell of an alcoholic beverage" emanating from the vehicle and that Bowden, who was driving, had "bloodshot eyes, glassy eyes, flush red face and slurred speech."

Police said Bowden refused to take a breath-alcohol test, which under Florida's implied consent law requires an automatic, six-month suspension of his California-issued driver's license. He failed field-sobriety tests and was arrested because, police said, he "was unable to operate a motor vehicle safely."

There's an important distinction to be made: the implied consent law relates to a post-arrest test, not a pre-arrest one. Articles reporting the incident have been vague on this point.

However, under Fla. Stat. section 316.193(1)(a), a conviction for DUI may be obtained when there is sufficient evidence (beyond a reasonable doubt standard) that the individual was "under the influence of alcoholic beverages . . . when affected to the extent that the person's normal faculties are impaired." Virginia's definition applying impairment is fairly standard and probably resembles Florida's: "enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior."

If the news reports are true, then it would appear that Bowden would be facing the prospect of a DUI conviction. Considering he likely has no prior DUI convictions or otherwise applicable criminal record, he is likely not looking at jail time. But this is an unfortunate episode, to be sure.

According to the Washington Times:

A source involved with one group bidding on the club said yesterday that the GM's arrest likely wouldn't doom his chances of keeping his job.

"This in and of itself should not be a contributing factor in anyone's decision whether or not to retain him," the source said. "There's never been any question about his sobriety, so it seems like an isolated incident. I'd ask around to see if it's isolated or if it's a real problem. Jim Bowden's future will depend on whether the new owner feels like they can find someone who can do a better job."

That is relieving, in a sense. Every day, hundreds if not thousands of individuals are arrested for DUI across the nation. It is a terrible and potentially (and directly) deadly problem, but it would be unfair to single out Bowden's first arrest for it as the reason for his dismissal. It does not directly relate to his job as a baseball general manager, though a conviction certainly would reflect poor judgment.

Just the same, I believe this incident gives MLB and the new ownership team (which I am confident will be Lerner/Kasten) additional cover to start anew, which it needs to do. I am not one for predictions based on news accounts, but I have to believe that Bowden's regime (Bowden, Bob Boone, etc.) is not long for the Nationals. I would expect Kasten to run the club before not too long, with an organizational soldier executive like Tony Siegle staying on temporarily to effect routine player personnel decisions.