Mission Accomplished: The Fire Jim Bowden Interview
Many of us first met the Fire Jim Bowden blogger as "Steven on Capitol Hill," a Nats Journal commentator who occasionally took a somewhat dim view of then-Nats GM Jim Bowden. Eventually, it was suggested that "SoCH" should just go start his own blog already, so he did. The name, naturally, was "Fire Jim Bowden," and there were t-shirts, petitions and point-by-point explanations for why Bowden should lose his job.
Steven Biel, though, turned out also to have plenty to say about the Nats in general, and to be a pretty compelling writer, and so the blog evolved into a somewhat less single-minded pursuit than its name would suggest. Still, when Bowden finally
resigned because the constant media stories were becoming a distraction to his team got fired over the weekend, I immediately went to FJB to see what the reaction was. The answer? A Kool & the Gang video. Plus, a non-gloating list of Bowden's finer moments. (Me, I'm just curious why Bowden never accepted my friend request on Facebook.)
Biel, if you're curious, is a 33-year old self-described insomniac who has done most of his blogging around 2 a.m. or while his toddler naps. He directs Greenpeace USA's global warming campaign, never wanted to be a sports writer and had stopped caring about baseball until the Nats moved seven blocks from his house. The Nats made him care again. Our Q&A follows:
To save me from looking through the archives, when did you start the blog, and what was your goal, aside from the obvious?
I started in June 2008, just around the time it became clear that the 2008 Nationals team was going to be historically bad, not just vanilla bad like '06 and '07. I was on parental leave, but lucky me, my baby look really good long naps and was as easy to care for as you could imagine. So I had time to read a bunch of really good books that I'd put off reading, and also to follow baseball and the Nationals closer.
One night, I was chatting on Nationals Journal, and one of the other commenters complained that I was dominating the discussion with too many long comments, especially those about firing Jim Bowden. On reflection, I decided that commenter was probably right, so on a whim I created the blog and started copying over some of my lengthier posts. I figured no one would be interested, and I'd get bored in a week, but people were interested, and I didn't get bored after all.
My goal really was just to have fun, maybe make some friends. I had no expectation that the site would get any attention, and I certainly didn't think I would influence his longevity as GM. (I still don't think I had any real influence, even though Jim seems to think that he was forced out by hostile media and unfair bloggers.) I was absolutely floored he day I met Jim Bowden and realized that he personally was reading the blog.
How and when did you hear [Sunday's] news? What was your initial response? Did you do anything to celebrate? Call friends? Rip off your shirt? Pop bubbly?
I had a celebratory post ready to go, which I drafted way back in August when it started to seem like Jim might actually be fired. So pressing "post" on that felt pretty good. I exchanged e-mail with some of the friends I made through the blog: Jim, who runs The Pug on H St., Dave and Cheryl at Nationals News Network, Kristen and Stephanie from We've Got Heart. Then I had to go to work.
What did you make of Bowden's parting statement?
I laughed out loud when he predicted that the Nationals would win a championship in 2009.
I agree with Mike Harris from Nats Fanboy Looser. I thought it was a really classless move, and sadly, classic Bowden: thin-skinned, self-important, and constantly shifting blame for his own mistakes. It's stuff like this that brings you to the point where after 15 years in a business NO ONE will stick up for you. And it's amazing--this past week, really no one stood up for him at all.
Moreover, the media, and the Washington Post in particular, has always been incredibly forgiving to Jim over the years. Barry Svrluga always defended him by remarking on the payroll constraints. Boz, too, has tended to focus his critiques on the ownership and payroll, and has tended to defend Bowden. I thought Chico Harlan over the last week absolutely bent over backwards to be fair.
SI reported that he was under investigation. That is true. Does he expect that this isn't going to get picked up in the press?
In my view, losing 102 games in year four of your tenure is more than enough to get you canned. Add to that the mediocre state of the farm system (just one Nationals prospect in BA's top 100). Add to that the Smiley-gate scandal, which happened on his watch, regardless of his involvement....Is it really necessary for him to be a felon too?
If Jim really sees himself as a victim in all this, well, then, good luck to him.
I gather that some members of the Nats organization read your blog. Can you elaborate on that at all?
I know Jim reads it, because when I met him at ESPN Zone he walked up to me and without even saying "hello" said, "I think it's really great that my kids get to read all the trash that you write about me..." and then started nit-picking some of my recent posts.
Stan and Mike Rizzo also said they were aware of me when I met them. Beyond that, I couldn't tell you. I would hope they'd have better things to do.
The perpetual problem for Fire [This Person] bloggers is that achieving their goal can run them out of business. Have you spent months considering what you'd do if/when this day came? Are you going to shut it down? Change your site's name?
I actually haven't written that much about why Jim should be fired, per se. That's where I started, but after about 10 posts you kind of run out of ways to say, "The team is terrible, and so therefore maybe we should replace the guy who's picking the players...."
The site is much more of a general Nationals news blog with a slight emphasis on statistical analysis. I've focused more on Jim's fate over the last week or so, but only because that's become topic A for everyone. So I'll keep doing it as long as it's fun.
As for the name, I did a poll on the blog last September saying, "if he's fired, what should I do?" and the options I think were to change the name and keep blogging about the Nationals, don't change the name, or just go away. Don't change the name won by a pretty big margin. I think Jim's become a useful symbol of what to avoid if you want to build a winning team.
We'll see. I'm open to suggestions.
Any feelings of guilt or sadness?
No. Jim's a public figure, and he makes a lot of money to endure the slings and arrows. He makes more money than 95 percent of your readers, I'm sure. He'll be fine.
Besides, the whole point of spectator sports is to chat, criticize, second-guess, engage, and, of course, cheer. I think blogs like mine are good for baseball. I'm drawing interest to the team and helping drive ticket sales. I think Stan understands this--he was quite friendly to me when we met, and has replied to me via e-mail numerous times.
In what ways does this change your mindset as a Nats fan entering the '09 season?
I'm more hopeful for sure. Jim's been at this for 15 years, and he hasn't gotten the job done. It was clear that he really didn't have a plan for building a winner or the skills for drafting and player development. I honestly believe that if Bowden had been the GM for another decade, we would still be waiting for a winner. It brings me no joy to say that, but I think it's true.
Whether it's Rizzo or LaCava, it'll be nice to have someone as a fan whom I can try to have faith in again. If nothing else, it gives us something else to talk about.
What one Bowden move, on or off the field, caused you the most consternation?
The Aaron Crow non-signing is still the thing that sticks in my craw. That probably wasn't just a Bowden decision, but I still can't really talk about that without getting worked up.
Otherwise, for pure, completely obvious boneheadedness, I would call it a tie between two years and $10 million for Dmitri Young (Da Meat) and two years, $6.2 million for Vinny Castilla (ol' hamburger knees). Maybe he just had a thing for guys with meat-related nicknames.
What will be your lasting memory of the Jim Bowden Era in D.C.?
I have far more good memories than bad of following the Nationals, or else I wouldn't do it. I would say for me, Zimmerman's walk-off home run on Father's Day against the New York Yankees off Chien-Ming Wang is still the best. What a great day that was.
(Postscript: In follow-up e-mails, SoCH said he was having second thoughts about the blog's name going forward.
"I'm kind of starting to realize that I will have a bit of an identity crisis with Jim gone and the new GM coming in," he wrote. "I mean, as you said, the blog is a general Nationals commentary blog, but it'll be strange to write with optimism and hope, giving the new guy at least some benefit of the doubt, etc. I'm a fan, and believe it or not, my first instinct is to rally behind my team. Jim just became impossible to rally behind. People may find that I become almost a homer. Who knows. But I agree that Fire Jim Bowden probably at some point becomes just a weird anachronism. Like I said, I'm open to suggestions.")
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