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Sucker's Walk
2004-02-13 10:43
by Jon Weisman

Yeah, I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for people who approach their jobs by asking, "If we weren't already doing it this way, is this the way we would start?"

That's one of the sentiments expressed by purported Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta in a Credit Suisse First Boston Thought Leader Forum speech that has been circulating around the Internet recently.

DePodesta doesn't advocate change for the sake of change. In some instances, the answer to the question above will be affirmative. But life changes, information grows, and most of all, we don't know everything. DePodesta's question combines humility with a determination to do better. It's the right attitude to have.

Technically, at least, the Dodgers have other general manager candidates to replace Danglin' Dan Evans. One who would like to be considered is Jim Bowden, former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

Although his name grew familiar to many of us during his 11 years with the Reds, let's not forget that Bowden was once a boy wonder like DePodesta. Until Theo Epstein came around, Bowden was the youngest general manager in big-league history, hired at age 31 - the same age DePodesta is now.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports Weekly wrote a column about Bowden this week, in which the following quote appears.

"It would be fun to go to a big market, though, and have a chance to win year after year," Bowden told Nightengale. "If I can be creative with a payroll in the forites and fifties, I can be creative with a budget in the hundreds.

"I look at the Dodgers, and think, how can you have the best pitching staff in the league and score less runs than the Tigers? Come on. You've got to do something."

I look at Bowden's words, and wonder what kind of wall I can build to keep him out of Los Angeles.

First of all, creative is a nice mantra to bandy about, but Bowden creatively presided over a team that had six losing seasons out of 11, including the past three, most of the time in the National League's weakest division. Of course, the payroll limitations Bowden cites are legitimate, but for him to brag about his record is silly.

As far as the second half of Bowden's quote, many people would agree. One of those agreeing would be Dan Evans.

The idea that Evans didn't think something should be done to improve the offense is preposterous. No, he didn't succeed yet, and his signing of OBP-challenged Juan Encarnacion (a former Bowden acquisition) raised questions anew about his ability to do so.

On the other hand, Evans reduced the payroll, nurtured the farm system - and oh yeah, built that great pitching staff, the accomplishment many find it so easy to dismiss. He laid the groundwork to acquire some hitting, which he no doubt could have done had Frank McCourt's ownership approval needs not interfered.

Now, it's one thing for you and I to shoot the breeze, in conversation or in print, and say that the Dodgers need offense. But for a baseball executive like Bowden to take simplistic pot shots at a counterpart, without any evidence he could do the job better - that guy needs his ego balloon popped.

Combine Bowden's statement with the incident back in 2001, when Bowden tried to big-time Evans by refusing to discuss business at baseball's winter meetings until Tommy Lasorda was in the room, and Bowden sounds like the big-headed spawn of our last general manager debacle, Sheriff Kevin Malone.

"I don't want to sound arrogant or brash, but there's no doubt in my mind that I can turn the Dodgers into winners again," Bowden later tells Nightengale. "If I did it in Cincinnati, I sure can do it in L.A."

You had two division titles in 11 years at Cincinnati, Jim. Even the Dodgers can match that - with more than twice as many winning seasons to boot.

Guess how you sound.

Not like someone who would come into a situation with the ethic and flexibility to best determine how to improve a baseball team.

Nightengale writes that Bowden "definitely" deserves at least consideration for the job. Maybe you just need to get to know Bowden for that to become apparent. Maybe you just need to not challenge Bowden when he says that under him, the Reds "finished in first place three times," when it only happened twice. In any case, Nightengale doesn't make a very good case for Bowden with this article.

There are three threads spooling with the Dodger general manager position. There is the incumbent, Evans, who is not perfect, but who in less than three years on the job has removed much of the organizational dead weight and made the idea of long-term success possible.

There is his boss, McCourt, whose sincerity in telling us that Evans is a candidate to keep his job is dubious. (I guess McCourt would argue that he is no different than Democracy itself, which this year will tell George W. Bush whether he can keep his job.)

And there are the candidates. I honestly don't know that much about DePodesta. I've read Moneyball and I've read his speech and I've paid attention to the success of the Oakland A's and what other people say about him, but I'm not going to be the one to argue that I possess a wealth of knowledge about DePodesta. I know he has a bright mind and a sabermetric mind - which to be clear, doesn't prize one stat or another over all else, but factual knowledge over all else.

I don't know if DePodesta is the answer. But yes, based on the information I have, I'd rather that the clumsy McCourt take a chance on him than any other outside candidate.

If I'm wrong about DePodesta, I'll do the Sucker's Walk - with McCourt leading the way.

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