Jim Bowden's final move as Washington Nationals general manager was his own resignation.
Bowden abruptly stepped down Sunday morning after four seasons, leaving under the cloud of a federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to Latin American prospects.
He has maintained his innocence in the matter, but said Sunday, "I've become a distraction."
"It's an emotional decision. It saddens me. But I feel it's in the best interest of two of the things I love the most, and that's the Washington Nationals and baseball," Bowden added.
Seated at a table with Nationals president Stan Kasten before a small contingent of reporters and team officials, Bowden read from a prepared statement, sometimes deviating from the script as he struggled to contain his emotions.
No replacement was immediately announced.
"We're not planning on missing a beat," Kasten said. "Our staff has a meeting tomorrow morning, first thing. I'm not going to have anything to say to you about next steps for a while _ later in the week."
Bowden is the only GM the Nationals have had since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington before the 2005 season, overseeing a team that went 81-81 in that debut season but has been below .500 ever since.
Last season, the Nationals were a major league-worst 59-102.
"It takes a lot of courage for (Bowden) to do that," Washington manager Manny Acta said after Sunday's 7-5 exhibition loss to Baltimore. "Is he perfect? No. But few are brighter and few work harder."
Bowden's tenure with the club was marked by such moves as the trade for Alfonso Soriano, the failure to re-sign Soriano, free-agent busts such as Paul Lo Duca and reclamation projects such as Dmitri Young.
"When I came here ... the single thing that stood out for me about why we needed someone with Jim's skill is that he's resourceful," Kasten said. "We needed someone that would look around every corner, look under every rock to find the pieces that we could put into place. Because of that, we have a foundation that looks very exciting for '09."
Young revived his career in Washington in 2007 _ after a 2006 that saw him go through a divorce, undergo treatment for alcohol, substance abuse and depression, and plead guilty to assaulting his girlfriend before being released by the Detroit Tigers.
"He was known for giving guys second chances, me included," Young said, ticking off the beneficiaries of Bowden's penchant for redemption. "There wasn't a team out there that wanted to touch me with a 10-foot pole. He's the one that gave me an opportunity."
Bowden also drew unwanted off-field attention, including in 2006, when he was charged with driving under the influence after failing a field sobriety test while in Miami.
"Like anyone else, I have made mistakes in all areas of my personal and professional life, but I leave here with the true belief that I have done nothing intentionally to harm the Washington Nationals or Major League Baseball," Bowden said in a statement released by the team Sunday.
He met last year with FBI investigators looking into allegations of skimming of signing bonuses, and SI.com reported last weekend that Bowden's actions are being examined as far back as 1994, when he was GM of the Cincinnati Reds.
"I am disappointed by the media reports regarding investigations into any of my professional activities," Bowden said in his statement. "There have been no charges made, and there has been no indication that parties have found any wrongdoing on my part."
Players were informed of Bowden's resignation in a team meeting immediately before he met with the media. Despite the circumstances, his departure was a surprise to some who enjoyed a long relationship with Bowden.
"It was a much bigger deal outside the clubhouse because we really didn't talk about it," said outfielder Austin Kearns, who was scouted in high school by Bowden before signing with Cincinnati. "It didn't bother anybody in here. We're just getting ready to play. It's something that's over our heads."
Bowden's resignation came three days after Jose Rijo, a special assistant to Bowden, was fired by the Nationals.
That was fallout from an MLB investigation that determined a top baseball prospect from the Dominican Republic who received a $1.4 million signing bonus from the Nationals lied about his age and name.
"We all believe it is imperative that we honor the integrity of the game and that fans be able to concentrate their attention and affections on the game and players on the field," Kasten said in a team-issued statement. "Jim has maintained his innocence, but recognized that he had become a distraction, and with great grace determined to do what was best for the team and his players."
The 47-year-old Bowden joined the Nationals, who were then owned by MLB, as interim vice president and general manager in November 2004 after a stint as an ESPN commentator. The interim tag was removed by Kasten in June 2006 and Bowden was promoted to senior vice president and general manager on Feb. 28, 2008.
During Bowden's tenure, the Nationals selected third baseman Ryan Zimmerman with the fourth pick in the 2005 first-year player draft and helped reinvigorate the team's moribund minor league system.
Bowden engineered several notable trades, bringing in Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham. His last major player move came Feb. 11 when he landed slugger Adam Dunn with a two-year, $20 million deal, giving Washington a power threat in the middle of the lineup.
Bowden became the youngest general manager of a major league franchise when he took the reins in Cincinnati as a 31-year-old in 1992. Three years later, the Reds reached the NL championship series.
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