Sunday, April 01, 2001

Bowden makes deals - and enemies


Ex-Boy Wonder still daring, driven

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Jim Bowden has made many bold moves as Reds GM. His best: getting Ken Griffey Jr.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The arm-wrestling segment of the negotiating seminar was designed as an exercise in cooperation. But to Jim Bowden, it looked more like competition.

        While other baseball executives conspired with their colleagues to trade wins and share the $1-per-pin purse, the Cincinnati Reds general manager grappled Cleveland's John Hart to the floor.

        “Most of us would just go back and forth so you (each) got the most money,” San Diego general manager Kevin Towers says, recalling that November 1999 morning in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “But nobody ever set the ground rules. Bowden used both hands because he wanted to win.”

        A table was turned over, a water pitcher was spilled and Mr. Bowden's reputation as baseball's enfant terrible was vividly reinforced.

LOVE HIM...
  • “Jim is not humble, but we're not running for prom king here. We're trying to win a division.”
- Bill Reik, Reds minority owner
  • “Give Jimmy a limited amount of resources and he'll figure it out.
- Dan O'Dowd, Rockies GM
...OR HATE HIM
  • Jim Bowden is “one of the worst people in the world.”
- Ron Oester, Reds coach
  • “We had a handshake deal that he wasn't going to trade me. Three months later, he traded me ... If I had been in the room with him, I would have killed him.”
- Jeff Shaw, Dodgers reliever
  • “They say what goes around comes around. If that be the case, then he's going to get his some day.”
- Dave Collins, ex-Reds coach
        The former Boy Wonder turns 40 this season - his ninth running Reds baseball operations - but the encroachment of middle age finds him as audacious as ever.

        The Reds open the 2001 season Monday with the smallest payroll in the National League's Central Division. That they remain competitive and one of the game's few successful small-market franchises is largely a reflection of Mr. Bowden's ingenuity and daring.

        Mr. Bowden was 31 years old when he became general manager on Oct. 16, 1992 — at the time, the youngest man to ever run a big-league ballclub. In the 8 1/2 years since, he has made 84 trades, including a club record 14 last year. He has made more deals in less time than the Reds' five previous general managers combined.

        He has been the highest-ranking constant in an organization that has undergone dramatic changes in leadership and philosophy, and his fingerprints are all over the franchise. His willingness to trade established players for prospects has fortified a threadbare farm system. His single-minded pursuit of Ken Griffey Jr. helped bring the game's most glamorous player back to his hometown last year. In the face of daunting payroll reductions, Mr. Bowden has managed to raise the profile and expectations of Reds baseball.

        His ability to make enemies is equally impressive.

        Following the Reds' messy search for a new manager last year, a Dayton Daily News column headline labeled him “The Lowest of the Low.” Reds coach Ron Oester, who claimed Mr. Bowden manipulated him out of the job, called him “one of the worst people in the world.”

        “They say what goes around comes around,” says former Reds coach Dave Collins. “If that be the case, then he's going to get his some day.”

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Jim Bowden offered the manager's job to Ron Oester, then gave it to Bob Boone.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Major-league baseball can be a cold-blooded business, but few front-office figures generate as much heat as Mr. Bowden. Several executives cite the wrestling match with Mr. Hart to illustrate his competitive zeal, ability to turn the rules to his advantage and willingness to work on the edge.

        Not all these traits are universally admired, but his critics generally acknowledge that Mr. Bowden's results exceed his resources.

        This helps explain why he endures in Cincinnati while aggravating so many in baseball. Mr. Bowden was named Baseball's Executive of the Year by several publications in 1999, but failed to finish in the top three in the vote of his peers. One National League general manager, asked if Mr. Bowden is the most disliked man in baseball, replied, “He's in a league of his own.”

        “Jim is not humble, but we're not running for prom king here,” Reds minority owner Bill Reik says. “We're trying to win a division.”

"He knows his stuff'

        During Mr. Bowden's reign, the Reds have won one division title, were in first place when the 1994 players' strike hit, and have a 639-592 won-lost record. The Reds' record ranks ninth in the major leagues during that span, even though the club's average payroll stands only 17th. Only the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros have won more often while spending less than Jim Bowden.

        “He's got an uncanny ability of making the best out of what he's dealt,” says Reds chief operating officer John Allen, who has had a strained relationship at times with Mr. Bowden. “From a nonbaseball perspective, that's salesmanship.”

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Bowden at batting cage.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        “Give Jimmy a limited amount of resources, and he'll figure it out,” says Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd. “He knows his stuff, boy. He's not afraid to make a mistake, doesn't play that game of cover-your-butt.”

        Mr. Bowden says the frequency of his trades is a reflection of today's game, in which players' mobility and escalating salaries have made continuity an antiquated concept. Yet dollars aren't the only factor influencing his acquisitive tendencies.

        “He's a real wheeler-dealer,” Reds shortstop Barry Larkin says.

        His success stems from the ability to process intricate knowledge of the marketplace — from contractual nuances of veteran players to control difficulties of minor-league pitchers — and a willingness to gamble that he knows a little more than the next guy.

        “I remember having a discussion with our people in the years where we drafted 20th,” Mr. Bowden says. “They'd ask, "Why are we going to waste the money and our time to go see the top 10 players in the country?' I'd say, "Because when their stock goes down, we're going to trade for them.'

        “You've got to know what everybody has. You've got to know what's in the draft, what's in Single A, Double A, Triple A. We've got to scout and prepare the other organizations as if it's our own. We want to know more about their players than they do.”

5 BEST TRADES
  • Acquired Ken Griffey Jr. from Seattle for P Brett Tomko and Jake Meyer, OF Mike Cameron, and INF Antonio Perez in 2000.
  • Acquired Danny Graves, P Jim Crowell and Scott Winchester and INF Damian Jackson from Cleveland for P John Smiley and INF Jeff Branson in 1997.
  • Acquired 1B Dmitri Young from St. Louis for P Jeff Brantley in 1997.
  • Traded P Dave Burba on the eve of his 1998 Opening Day start for 1B Sean Casey.
  • Acquired C Eddie Taubensee from Houston for P Ross Powell and Marty Lister in 1994.
5 BEST RECLAMATION PROJECTS
 • Signed OF Eric Davis out of retirement in 1996.
 • Signed P Jeff Shaw as nonroster free agent on Dec. 31, 1995.
  • Signed OF Ron Gant as free agent after dirt-bike accident in 1994.
  • Claimed P Pete Schourek on waivers from Mets in 1994.
  • Signed P Pete Harnisch as a free agent in 1998.
5 WORST MOVES
  • Traded OF Paul O'Neill to Yankees for OF Roberto Kelly in 1992.
 • Signed C Damon Berryhill as free agent in 1995 and lost a first-round draft pick.
  • Left P Trevor Hoffman unprotected in 1992 expansion draft.
  • Fired Tony Perez after 44 games as manager in 1993.
  • Traded P Gabe White to Colorado for P Manny Aybar in 2000.
        This is an ambitious goal, but Mr. Bowden may have enough energy to accomplish it. More than once, he has surprised rival executives with his detailed analysis of their personnel. At least once, he has made a trade proposal by voice mail at 3 a.m. He has proposed literally hundreds of deals, including several involving more than two teams and more than one involving another team's manager. (He admits seeking Jim Leyland - who filled out lineup cards in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado - but declines to name other managers he sought in trade out of respect to the men they might have replaced).

        “We were talking about (former Reds pitcher) Mike Remlinger,” Philadelphia general manager Ed Wade says. “I offered (pitcher) Tyler Green. Jim said he would do the deal if I would include (executive) Dallas Green. I laughed, but he was serious. Dallas said, "You should have taken the deal.' Looking back, I let a slightly overweight, slightly middle-aged man stand in the way of us getting a quality left-hander.”

        One of Mr. Bowden's strengths is that he lets little stand in the way once he fixates on a player.

        “I like dealing with Jim because things can work quick,” says Oakland general manager Billy Beane, although he has yet to make a deal with the Reds. “He works at a fast pace.”

        One of Mr. Bowden's shortcomings is that in situations that call for delicate diplomacy, he can be blunt and brusque.

        “To me, Jim is like a really good doctor with sometimes bad bedside manner,” says Brian Goldberg, the agent for Ken Griffey Jr. “We all to some degree have an ego, but he probably has more of it than the average person.”

        Mr. Bowden chased Mr. Griffey so publicly last winter that Mr. Allen ordered him to stop rather than continue raising fan hopes about a deal the Reds weren't sure they could afford. Several sources say Mr. Bowden's histrionics in the Griffey talks so infuriated the Seattle Mariners that they refused to deal with him one-on-one in final deliberations. When the Mariners re-signed manager Lou Piniella last November, following an overture by the Reds, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said his determination to get the deal done was motivated in part by the Griffey experience.

        “I really, quite frankly, didn't want to listen to Jim Bowden crowing again in Cincinnati,” Mr. Lincoln said in a radio interview.

        Mr. Bowden's view is that the Mariners claimed a rift with him in order to seek a better deal from Mr. Allen -- a standard negotiating tactic.

        “I don't blame them for that,” Mr. Bowden says. “We (Reds officials) laughed about it.”

        Ultimately, because of the dollars involved, closing the deal required the involvement of Reds chief executive officer Carl Lindner. Still, Mr. Bowden's persistence made the deal possible. He rallied public opinion until Mr. Lindner recognized the chance to play hometown hero.

        “Jim's general philosophy,” says Reds assistant general manager Doc Rodgers, “is that "can't' is not acceptable.”

Deals on Daddy's lap

        James G. Bowden IV remembers proposing baseball deals at 4 or 5 years old, seated on his dad's lap. He quickly developed the dream of running his own team.

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        “My dad said it would never happen,” Mr. Bowden says. “He said those jobs go to the guys who play the game of baseball. I said if I couldn't do that, I wanted to be a play-by-play announcer.”

        Mr. Bowden was raised in Weston, Mass., an affluent suburb of Boston. The Bowdens summered in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where Carousel was filmed. (His salesman father, James G. III, was a sailing extra in the opening credits.) Yet unlike some men who list two hometowns and Roman-numeraled names, Jim Bowden's upbringing was comparatively middle class, and his education was public.

        His baseball career at Weston High was distinguished mainly by a diving catch at first base to preserve the no-hitter of his friend, Doug Roth. He also demonstrated a rare talent for invective.

        “Even though his athletic abilities were really limited, it didn't stop him from talking a stream of trash that was unrivaled,” classmate Allen Reilly recalls. “There were many instances of him getting into scraps.”

        Mr. Bowden admits his bench jockeying may have fomented one fight, but he doesn't volunteer details. Classmates remember him as a tart tongue in the back of the classroom - a sarcastic member of a small, mischievous clique.

        Scott Duhaime claims Bowden set an unofficial school record in the 100-yard dash while sprinting to a getaway car during a Christmas prank.

        “My folks had a four-foot plastic Santa Claus that we would place out on the front porch during the holidays,” Mr. Duhaime said. “During senior year, Jim became so obsessed with our pint-sized Kris Kringle that he attempted to kidnap it one night after my family had retired for the evening. With his functionality clearly impaired after a night of holiday revelry, it took poor Jim a few minutes to realize that we had tied Santa to the railing. During this discovery period, Jim made quite a racket trying to drag Santa from the porch, and he woke up the whole house.”

        Mr. Bowden claims no memory of the incident.

        “Every time I talk to Jim, I'll bring up jokes or memories and he will not acknowledge or remember them,” says Mr. Roth, an alleged accomplice in the Santa Claus caper who declined to confirm the story. “It's almost like he's beyond that now. I don't think he really relates to Weston.”

        Mr. Bowden remains close to Mr. Roth. After the pitcher earned a scholarship to Rollins College, Mr. Bowden enrolled there, too. Their bonding deepened during 26-hour, nonstop drives between Weston and the Orlando, Fla., campus.

        “One time, after driving 22 hours, we decided to stop in Jacksonville,” Mr. Roth says. “We pulled into a hotel, checked in, and Jim said we were going to get a drink. We walked into this bar, and it was all black and the people looked at us like, why are we here? But that kind of thing didn't bother Jim.”

        Mr. Bowden invoked the name of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and persuaded the bartender to serve him in the spirit of brotherhood.

Crucial acquaintance

        If Jim Bowden has ever suffered from stage fright, he has concealed it behind an uninhibited facade. He drives a black Porsche with the vanity plate “BODES” and favors bright-colored sweaters and provocative suits.

        “He draws attention to himself by being out there on a very extroverted level,” Mr. Roth says. “He would be so far out in left field sometimes that it was embarrassing. He would have been perfect for Animal House.

THINKER'S BRAIN
  Jim Bowden seems to have emerged from his trials more eager to know himself. Acknowledging a problem with arrogance, he has sought advice from Reds consultant Jon Niednagel, director of the Brain Type Institute, which evaluates personnel for companies.
  “Jim's a thinker,” Mr. Niednagel says. “He's always thinking in terms of strategizing and how can we make this system better. His type is an excellent problem-solver. They love to have a scenario that's almost chaotic to see how can I make sense of it.
  “Typically, with that wiring, you'll find a little more potential for conflict ... Thinking is the opposite of feelings.”
  Mr. Niednagel has identified 16 basic brain types and says Mr. Bowden's is similar to that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Teddy Roosevelt and computer entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
  “They are high-energy people,” Mr. Niednagel says. “They need to slow down a little more, listen a little more and be a little more careful. Secondarily, they're very creative and imaginative. Sometimes, they need to be more down to earth.”
        Mr. Bowden responds that his collegiate philosophy was to work hard and play hard. True, he appeared at a Rollins basketball game dressed as a female cheerleader as part of a fraternity initiation. But his ambitions never wavered.

        While watching the World Series his freshman year, Mr. Bowden became involved in a debate about the details of a trade involving outfielder Mike Easler. He returned to watch the next game armed with a baseball reference book. Determined to settle the argument, he inquired as to the whereabouts of his antagonist, Squire Galbreath.

        Someone pointed to the television.

        “Squire,” Mr. Bowden recalls, “was sitting in the front row at the World Series.”

        Until that moment, Mr. Bowden says, he was unaware that his friend's family owned the Pittsburgh Pirates. He could barely have imagined how that connection would launch his career.

        When baseball's winter meetings were held in Hollywood, Fla., in 1981, Mr. Bowden was allowed to sit in on Pirate trade talks and remembers the bloated buildups given Dodgers prospects by general manager Al Campanis. As seniors, Mr. Bowden and Mr. Galbreath worked out an independent-study program that involved frequenting the Pirates' spring complex in Bradenton, Fla., and interviewing such visiting luminaries as Johnny Bench, the Reds' Hall of Fame catcher.

        By then, Mr. Bowden was sports director of the campus radio station. He did play-by-play for baseball and soccer games and was paired one baseball season with Chris Russo, now the “Mad Dog” of New York's WFAN. But he was not overwhelmed with job offers.

        “My dad said, "What's Jim doing?'” Mr. Galbreath says. “I told him he was looking for a job. He said, "If he's still as keen on baseball, maybe he could do some thing for the Pirates.'”

        Mr. Bowden was hired as the third man in the publicity department in 1984. He performed the most menial tasks - making copies, running errands - until his work ethic attracted the attention of general manager Syd Thrift.

        “He was a tireless worker,” Mr. Thrift says. “He'd work night and day on Thanksgiving Day. That's the way I worked.”

        Mr. Thrift observed Mr. Bowden's computer proficiency and sought his help in organizing scouting reports. Eventually, Mr. Bowden went to work for him as assistant director of player development and scouting.

        “He used to sit in the box with me during games and I'd see these different things going on on the field, but he couldn't see them,” Mr. Thrift says. “He used to get so mad. He'd throw things in trash cans. He was determined he would be able to learn all the things that I knew. He was a very fast learner. I always grilled him with questions.”

        He was sufficiently impressed to bring Mr. Bowden along in 1989 as his assistant when he became a New York Yankees senior vice president. But Mr. Thrift lasted less than a year under irascible owner George Steinbrenner. When Mr. Bowden was asked if he intended to follow Mr. Thrift out the door, he was unable to make a commitment and was soon fired.

        “I got dispatched by George to let him go,” says Bob Quinn, then the Yankees general manager. “I was told to tell him and walk him out of the building. I was told we wanted to protect what was in the computer. Jim had tears in his eyes.”

        Mr. Quinn told Mr. Bowden on their way out that his own time with the Yankees appeared short and that he would try to hire him at his next stop. But Mr. Bowden says that when he called Mr. Steinbrenner to ask about severance pay, The Boss asked if he wanted to come back. The Los Angeles Dodgers also expressed interest, Mr. Bowden says, but backed off when a story was leaked alleging that he had been fired for stealing computer files.

        Subsequent examination of Mr. Bowden's files turned up a note criticizing the Yankees' operation, Mr. Quinn says, but no proof of computer piracy. When Mr. Quinn became general manager of the Reds, then ruled by owner Marge Schott's frugality, he fulfilled his promise.

        “I thought he was a bright young guy who could come in and help us turn this thing around,” Mr. Quinn says. “Both of my sons told me, "This guy will get your job.'”

        Mr. Quinn won a World Series with the 1990 Reds, but his deliberate style clashed with Mrs. Schott's notorious impatience, and their relationship deteriorated rapidly. Mr. Bowden, meanwhile, was aggressively cultivating the Reds' quirky owner as administrative assistant for scouting and player development.

        Some front-office members believed he was her spy. To trap him, player development director Howie Bedell told Mr. Bowden - and no one else - he had rented a Cadillac during spring training in 1991, confident the story would get back to Mrs. Schott. Soon enough, Mr. Quinn was ordered to demand an explanation of the fake extravagance.

        By August, Mr. Bowden had replaced Mr. Bedell.

        “Jim had a penchant for trying to eliminate people,” Mr. Quinn says, “which is unfortunate as hell. It's almost to the point where the guy can't help himself. If he perceives someone is encroaching on his turf, he takes the (steps) to eliminate them.”

Schott's ear

        Given Mrs. Schott's unforgiving management style, Mr. Quinn's quick exit was likely inevitable. She employed five general managers in her first nine years running the Reds and replaced them so rapidly that she was sometimes unable to remember their names.

        Yet she saw in Mr. Bowden a more kindred collaborator — decisive, yet deferential, a young father fond of dogs. Mr. Bowden might argue with her privately, but he could be counted on to publicly endorse her decisions and take any blame that accrued from them.

        “She knew where I stood, always,” Mr. Bowden says. “If she came in screaming and yelling at me, instead of putting my tail between my legs, I'd scream back. Bob Quinn was a different style. He didn't want confrontation. He didn't want to talk back. He didn't want to give a strong opinion.”

        If Mr. Bowden developed a reputation for undermining his superiors, he demonstrated no fear of intrigue in assembling his staff. Rather than eliminate threats, he collected them. He surrounded himself with accomplished advisers such as future Reds managers Davey Johnson, Jack McKeon and Bob Boone — always insisting that proximity to good minds helped make him smarter.

        “One thing I admire about Jim is that he was not afraid to hire a guy who was a former manager and GM who might be thinking about taking his job,” Mr. McKeon says. “Most GMs don't want to saddle themselves with another guy who could be sitting in the wings. He's got some guts.”

        Guts likely had nothing to do with Mr. Bowden hiring the inexperienced Tony Perez as his first manager. Mrs. Schott openly favored him, but the Cuban-born Mr. Perez later challenged her motives, accusing her of hiring him because she needed a minority to blunt criticism over some of her racist remarks.

        Asked if hiring Mr. Perez was his call, Mr. Bowden says, “No comment.” Mr. Bowden does say in retrospect that a rookie general manager should not be paired with a rookie manager, that he should have allowed Mr. Perez more than 44 games before firing him and that he should not have done it over the phone.

        The firestorm that followed this decision was the most intense of Mr. Bowden's career. Widely vilified for his shabby treatment of a Reds icon, Mr. Bowden told a reporter the next day he was wearing a brown suit because it hid the blood stains.

        “I wasn't ready for the job from a mental standpoint or an emotional standpoint,” Mr. Bowden says now. “But when you get the chance, you don't say no.”

"I've matured'

        If firing Mr. Perez so quickly was a function of immaturity, it was also evidence of Mr. Bowden's risk tolerance. It was the first of many instances in which he chose conviction over convenience.

        The first impressions Mr. Bowden made as general manager were of a man supremely confident and occasionally shrill. Critics referred to him as “Abner,” as in Doubleday, on the theory Mr. Bowden believed he had invented the game. Subordinates were struck by his high-decibel, highly profane tirades.

        Former Reds public relations director Jon Braude says the only time he's come to blows in his life was when he struck Mr. Bowden for screaming at him in an argument over TV coverage. About the same time, Mr. Bowden fired minor-league field coordinator Jim Tracy in a loud and public scene after they failed to reach contract terms.

        Mr. Tracy, now manager of the Dodgers, is brief and cryptic when asked about his experience with Mr. Bowden. “I'm not real good at throwing stones,” he says.

        “In a lot of ways, I've matured,” Mr. Bowden says. “I've learned to delegate authority better, learned to treat people better, learned to be better prepared for all situations. ... I'm certainly not where I need to be, but I think I've come a long way.”

        Some former Reds executives believe Mr. Bowden sometimes raised his voice mainly for Mrs. Schott's benefit and that his behavior was better modulated in her absence. Still, if Mr. Bowden impressed Mrs. Schott with his toughness, his influence on her was inconsistent.

        Like other general managers before him, he was usually able to persuade her to raise the major-league payroll, but getting approval for other expenditures could be excruciating. Mrs. Schott's contempt for scouting sometimes forced the Reds to select draft choices based on incomplete impressions. A snap judgment, Mr. Bowden contends, caused the Reds to miss superstar shortstop Derek Jeter in the first round of the 1992 amateur draft.

        When Mrs. Schott was stripped of day-to-day authority over the Reds in 1996, Mr. Allen changed the club's spending patterns. He freed up funds for scouting and minor-league development while trimming payroll to a level more consistent with the Reds' market size.

        This forced Mr. Bowden to stretch his dollars and led to the trades of several accomplished veterans. But it also allowed for closer inspection of potential draft choices and caused the Reds to start stockpiling younger players (many acquired in trade) instead of relying so heavily on retreads. A farm system that had been fallow for 15 years was recently ranked third in major-league prospects.

        When the Reds lacked legitimate prospects to promote or trade, Mr. Bowden relied largely on calculated risks and wild stabs to remain competitive. He signed Ron Gant when the Atlanta slugger was recovering from a dirt-bike accident and traded for Mark Wohlers when the Braves reliever couldn't throw strikes. Mr. Bowden has taken flyers, with mixed results, on such reclamation projects as Eric Davis, Pete Harnisch, Kevin Mitchell, Mark Portugal, Deion Sanders (repeatedly) and Ruben Sierra. He has been right enough to write off his losses.

Gutsy trades

        Getting Mr. Griffey will be the move that defines Mr. Bowden in baseball history. Yet the deal that best reveals his mind-set may be trading pitcher Dave Burba to Cleveland for first-base prospect Sean Casey on the eve of Mr. Burba's 1998 Opening Day start.

        “There are not a lot of GMs who would do that,” Texas general manager Doug Melvin says. “He's got (nerve).”

        Later that season, Mr. Bowden traded reliever Jeff Shaw on the eve of the All-Star break — when Mr. Shaw was the Reds' only All-Star.

        “We had a handshake deal that he wasn't going to trade me,” Mr. Shaw says. “Three months later, he traded me. ... If I had been in the room with him, I would have killed him.”

        Mr. Bowden disputes the handshake agreement, but agrees the outcome was unfair. Mr. Shaw had signed a discounted contract to stay near his Washington Court House home, only to be shipped to Los Angeles.

        Mr. Bowden still resists no-trade clauses, but has agreed to several contracts that provide for a salary increase if a player is traded - in part because of the Shaw trade.

        Because he is receptive to such concepts, agents applaud his creativity. When the Reds signed Tony Fernandez as a third baseman, agent Tom Reich says, they agreed to trade him if another team wanted him as a shortstop. There was no way to put such a clause in the contract, but Mr. Reich was satisfied with Mr. Bowden's word.

        Fellow executives, even those who dislike Mr. Bowden, admire his new methods to exploit old rules. Frequently cited were his trades before the 1997 expansion draft that locked in which players the Reds would lose. He traded Mike Kelly to Tampa Bay and Felix Rodriguez to Arizona, each for a “player to be named later” who would be drafted and then immediately returned to the Reds.

        “I think there are a number of people who wish they had thought of that first,” St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty says. “Including me.”

        Mr. Bowden readily admits his first trade was his worst. On his 19th day on the job, he traded outfielder Paul O'Neill to the Yankees for outfielder Roberto Kelly. Mr. O'Neill became a batting champion and has won four World Series with the Yankees. Mr. Kelly has become a vagabond, bouncing from team to team without making much of a mark.

        Though he concedes this mistake, Mr. Bowden is not renowned for humility. Many baseball executives -- including some in the Reds offices -- found his blow-by-blow descriptions of the Griffey deal self-serving and offensive.

        One Reds source says Mr. Allen flew to Florida specifically to reprimand Mr. Bowden for the spin of some of the post-trade stories.

        “We tried to tell the truth of what happened,” Mr. Bowden says, arguing that the deal deserved extraordinary disclosure because of its historic nature. “And I think some people may have misinterpreted.”

        “He made a great deal with Seattle, but I don't think you have to talk about it,” Mr. Jocketty says. “I would hope to never put another GM in a bad light, and I think that may have happened in that case.”

Lindner's support

        Other baseball executives are less concerned about etiquette. In a universe with only 30 teams, no man can afford to let personal feelings prevent him from making a deal that might help his team.

        “If you're well-liked by everybody in this business,” Mr. Towers says, “there's probably something wrong. The most important thing is that the CEO likes you.”

        Though Mr. Bowden's public persona is far more flamboyant than Mr. Lindner's, the Reds CEO clearly values his contributions.

        In 1998, with one year remaining on his Reds contract and no extension in sight, Mr. Bowden interviewed with the Dodgers and the Baltimore Orioles. The Dodgers selected Kevin Malone, but before the Orioles had settled on a candidate, Mr. Lindner stepped in. Then a limited partner with no formal authority over Mrs. Schott, he told Mr. Bowden of his desire to keep him in Cincinnati and spoke up at a partners meeting on his behalf. Mr. Bowden later signed a four-year contract extension that runs through 2003.

        Last winter, amid allegations he had maneuvered Mr. Oester out of the Reds' managing job, Mr. Bowden was blistered with criticism. Simultaneously, while Mr. Bowden was separated from his wife and openly dating, some top Reds officials wondered how that might play with the decorous Mr. Lindner.

        The two stories, one insider acknowledged, posed a potentially “lethal combination” in conservative Cincinnati. Through channels, however, Mr. Lindner made it known that Mr. Bowden's job was in no immediate danger. (Mr. Lindner did not respond to interview requests.)

Performance measures

        Like all baseball executives, Mr. Bowden's future with his franchise is tied most tightly to performance.

        Should the Reds stumble en route to their new stadium, Mr. Bowden's personal style may seem a bigger problem and/or an excuse for Mr. Allen to hire his own man. Conversely, should Mr. Bowden continue to outperform his payroll, some ambitious owner may seek permission to woo him.

        “It will be interesting to see when he gets into a new ballpark and has the revenues to go with it,” Mr. Wade says. “He's been very creative with what he's done.”

        Mr. Collins, the former Reds coach who's now a minor-league manager in the Colorado organization, respects Mr. Bowden's intelligence and diligence, but wonders if his operation is too divisive and distrustful for sustained success.

        “I've never been a part of an organization where there was less harmony, less encouragement, (people) not supporting one another, never knowing what the true purpose was,” he says. “You've got to understand the importance of chemistry, and I don't think he does.”

        Several of Mr. Bowden's assistants say he has become more sensitive in recent years, more contemplative, less quick on the trigger — both in his decisions and his outbursts. Mr. Rodgers lauds Mr. Bowden for his willingness to admit his mistakes and his constructive approach to others' errors.

        “He has definitely not mellowed by any stretch of the imagination,” Mr. Rodgers says. “But he's definitely more aware of his effect upon other people. After '95, there was a definite change. He had won.”

        Because he has won more often than his payroll should permit, Jim Bowden has attained a grudging respect among his peers. Proposals that once established him as a minority of one - instant-replay umpiring, for instance - are now gaining popularity. Procedural rules he has exploited have been changed lest he be allowed a competitive advantage.

        “I kind of blanch at all the criticisms,” says Mr. Reik, the Reds minority owner. “Jim has to be aggressive with our payroll, and what this guy does just mystifies me. Does he make mistakes? Yep. Have there been some big ones? Yep. But he's really good. And I think he's gotten better.”

        The road to maturity has its detours. Last year, as his marriage fell apart, Mr. Bowden asked that a line be removed from the Reds media guide that called him “a man with great character, integrity and family values.”

        It was, Mr. Bowden says, one of the hardest things he has had to do in baseball, but it also indicates a sense of accountability. The guide continues to describe him as “one of the brightest and most innovative minds in the game of baseball today,” but the adjective “young” has been deleted.

        Jim Bowden, former Boy Wonder, is not yet the man he wants to be. Neither, however, is he the same man he once was. However gradually, he has been growing into his job for eight years. Some day, his image may catch up with his evolution.

        Maybe not.

        “Once you get a label,” Doc Rodgers asks, “how do you get unlabeled?”
       



Reds Stories
- Bowden makes deals - and enemies
Opening Day schedule of festivities
Special Section: Insider's look at Cinergy Field
SULLIVAN: Cinergy Field reborn too late
Griffey decision will wait
Is strong start important?
New season, same old Brennaman
Young glad he chatted with Gooden
Game report: Phillies 8, Reds 0
Mullin adds green to Reds
Ten Questions with: Doug Gallant

Prosser leaning toward XU
Xavier's Levandusky wins shootout
QB Guidugli signs with UC
NCAA Tournament coverage at Cincinnati.com
Duke, Arizona prove pollsters right
DAUGHERTY: Duke wins with guts, willpower
Duke 95, Maryland 84
DAUGHERTY: Arizona's talent rises to top
Arizona 80, Michigan State 61
Irish, Purdue meet again
Men's NCAA pairings
Women's NCAA pairings
Auto Racing Insider
Baseball losing its pranksters
Best and worst of the week in sports
Cincinnati high school highlights
Cincinnati high school baseball
Cincinnati high school softball
Other Cincinnati high school results
High School Insider
N.Ky. high school results
It's all in details for OSU's Tressel
Grand Rapids 5, Cyclones 2
Mighty Ducks 3, Louisville 2
Richmond 115, Stuff 98


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