Talkin' Baseball with Jim Bowden From WhatIfSports.com image

Former MLB GM Jim Bowden Talks to WIS

Bowden's career goal was not to be a GM
By Ryan Fowler, WhatIfSports.com
May 5, 2010
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A fresh faced Jim Bowden bellied up to the bar once more. The recent college grad of Rollins College (Florida) found himself in sports bars on a regular basis come the mid-80s. He wasn't so much interested in a cold tall one, but more the free happy hour grub.

"My second year with the Pirates I was making $12,500 a year," Bowden said. "I was having trouble getting food on the table."

The former general manager relied "on the house" to provide him complimentary buffalo wings and potato skins as sustenance in 1986. Then before he knew it, he was on baseball's front office fast track.

"I was blessed because I learned how to replace my mouth with an ear," Bowden said. "For three years I learned from the best in the game."

Syd Thrift

He followed Syd Thrift (right) from Pittsburgh, to New York and then to Cincinnati. In 1992, the Reds named him general manager; at the time he was the youngest GM in Major League Baseball history.

"To be one of thirty to have that job was incredible," Bowden said. "It was a dream come true without knowing it."

Bowden's magic carpet ride with the Reds ended in 2003. After a brief hiatus from the front office, he landed on his feet in Montreal as the Expos were about to be deported to Washington, D.C. Five years as GM of the Nationals ended in 2009.

Twenty-five years after breaking into baseball in Pittsburgh, Bowden has finally achieved his career goal in 2010. Becoming a general manager kind of fell into his lap as he worked his way up the front office ladder, but his eagerness to accept a job with the Pirates was so he could eventually call a Barry Bonds walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th. Bowden graduated with a degree in communications and wished to become the Bucs play-by-play man.

"A West Palm Beach news director said I reminded him a young Bob Costas," Bowden said.

This past off-season the Rollins College communications major finally landed his first full-time broadcasting gig as a baseball analyst for Foxsports.com in addition to hosting a four-hour show on Sirius radio. You can add Whatifsports.com baseball insider to the list.

"I really feel you should try to give the fans as much insight and truth as possible," Bowden said. "A lot of times we get the surface of the story and I thought that was something I could bring to the table."

Bowden says he works 18-hour days, seven days a week because though his time as a baseball executive is in the past, his passion for the game remains just as strong.

"I think today it's become the "it" thing to do," Bowden said about sports broadcasting. "Players want to be anchors on MLB Network. It's a cool thing to do and it's now looked upon as a limelight job."

Along with the wings and rings he relied on for a good portion of the 1980s, Bowden has digested baseball knowledge from the best in the business. Whatifsports.com visitors will get to chow down on this baseball buffet on a regular basis.

Throughout the course of the 2010 baseball season, we'll be touching base with the former GM to gauge Major League Baseball's current pulse. You will snack on the filet mignon of hot trends, teams in trouble, minor league updates and in-depth analysis of players about to erupt at the plate.

Jim Bowden on Atlanta Braves Phenom Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward

As if Atlanta needed any more heat, Braves' rookie Jason Heyward has added a few dashes of spice to the Atlanta line-up. The 20-year old's spring training long ball that sent one fan's car to the body shop was a warning shot that Heyward was major league ready.

"The emergence of Jason Heyward and his 8 home runs and 24 RBI's has been impressive at the age of 20," Bowden said. "His plate discipline and awareness that he displays makes him look like a 30-year old veteran. His energy, tools, intelligence and work ethic make him a special player."

Though Bowden is in awe of Heyward's natural ability at the plate, he warns fans to not get carried away with the comparisons right away.

"I think people's expectations of him to be Babe Ruth or Gehrig out of the get go are unrealistic. I think he's going to hit 20, 25 home runs this year, drive in 85 runs and hit .250, .260. At 20 years old those are tremendous numbers. He's going to be a special player for a very long time."

Jim Bowden's Biggest Surprises Through the First Month

1. Teams: San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics. Both were predicted by most analysts to finish in last place. Both are atop the standings mainly because of pitching and defense and the Padres have now won 47 games over their last 81 leading us to believe that they are for real.

2. Players: Francisco Liriano has looked like the pitcher of 2006 giving the Twins a true "ace". His strikeouts and GB out ratios are special. Brad Penny has reinvented himself with a new two-seam FB that is unhittable and Jaime Garcia has recovered from Tommy John surgery to give the Cardinals a strong rotation. Same can be said in San Fran. where Barry Zito is back and Jonathan Sanchez is appearing to have his break-out season. Jason Varitek is playing like the "old" Varitek, Paul Konerko has 10 HR's while Big Papi and Trevor Hoffman careers are suddenly in jeopardy as they look finished.

Stephen Strasburg

On the Farm:

Watch for Mike Stanton of the Marlins, Aroldis Chapman of the Reds and Stephen Strasburg (left) of the Nationals to burst on the scene in May like Heyward did in April.

Walt Jocketty told me that it is Aroldis Chapman's lack of command of his slider that is holding him back from making his major league debut. His 100mph fastball and above average change-up are ready now. They continue to stretch him out in AAA and as his slider improves watch him to become a fixture in the Reds rotation by Memorial Day.

Team's On the Rise:

1. Atlanta Braves: The Braves are off to a slow start and their bats have been particularly cold in April. Escobar, Jones, Glaus, Diaz, Cabrera, McLouth all hitting .241 or less. Heyward has struggled as well after a fast start. This team is much better than their record and should be a wild card contender. They will improve.

2. Colorado Rockies: The Rockies played .500 ball in April, but this is one of the better teams in the National League who haven't seem to put it all together yet. Expect the Rockies to go on a long winning streak and move from 4th to 2nd by the end of May.

Team's On the Fall

1. Oakland Athletics: They got off to a fast start thanks to solid pitching and defense. Their lack of offense really hasn't been exposed yet, but by the end of May watch for them to decline.

2. Washington Nationals: If they continue to be "stubborn" and not bring Stephen Strasburg to the Major Leagues and refuse to make a deal for more offense in RF, Pudge Rodriguez won't be able to keep his offense up and a combination of the three will lead the Nats to the bottom of the NL East by the end of May.

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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