Yesterday, Bowden didn't show up for the game, but no one had an explanation as to why. Players are getting cynical. Employees don't know who's in charge. Every day, someone leaks another unattributed quote from inside the organization contradicting team leadership. Stan has been in full-fledged lashing-out mode for days.
All this bad PR is further damaging an already badly tarnished brand. Chico Harlan sums it up:
But for the Nationals, with Bowden under FBI investigation and with the rest of the organization awaiting a resolution, every moment connects to the same, protracted mystery. Exhibition games become Where's Waldo games. More important, the uncertainty regarding Bowden's future has left many in the organization wondering who's in charge, and why a resolution hasn't yet been reached.I agree completely with Harlan on all this except one thing. The team is lacking competence, not just clarity.
The Bowden controversy has obscured the many promising story lines of this spring and interfered with the run-up Washington needs for the 2009 regular season. Never have the Nationals seen a greater need to sell their on-field product. With their welcome-to-the-District grace period now over, and with the honeymoon benefits of the new stadium waning, the Nationals, more than ever, must attract fans with talent and with the potential to win. And the early returns from February indicate that they have some promise. A healthy Nick Johnson. A pain-free Shawn Hill. A free agent slugger capable of hitting 40 home runs. A group of young pitchers nurtured by an improved farm system.
They lack only one thing. Clarity.
All this ultimately has to be laid at the feet of Mark and Ted Lerner and to a slightly lesser extent Kasten. These guys clearly have not one single shred of a clue how to manage public relations. They get a nearly $700 million publicly funded stadium and then turn around and refuse to pay rent and sue the city because they don't like the kind of windows that were installed in the skyboxes. They have the one of the lowest payrolls and hands-down the worst team in the league, sell the fans on "The Plan," and then refuse to sign their top draft pick. The list goes on and on.
These guys just have no idea that it's helpful to be liked if you want to be successful in the entertainment business.
Ted, Mark, Stan... listen to me. In a situation like this, when you're surrounded by scandal, suspicion, and rumor, the best course of action--the only course of action--is to deal with it decisively and move on. You HAVE to change the story. You either fully back up Jim so that the story dies, or you can fire him. But you have to decide. Whoever it was in the organization who told Harlan "'you can't wait for this investigation to play out' to make a move"--promote that person. Dragging out the story only increases the damage. This is crisis management 101. You rip the scab, make it a one-day story, and get back to your core message.
And frankly, the second Stan went on the record with his "I support everyone, but..." answer to questions about whether Jim is going to be fired or not, that was it--Jim was thrown under the bus right then. By firing Rijo and putting Rizzo in charge of the Dominican reorganization, you drove the bus over his dead body a few times. Now, relegating him to making "decisions" like whether or not to keep Shawn Hill on a tight pitch count (gee, there's a tough one...), you've completely stripped him of any last shred of authority. His ability to function as the leader of this team is shattered.
Now, the only question is how much more damage the Lerners and Kasten will do to the value of their property by dragging this out more. Hopefully, someone can explain to these guys that this team, which long ago became a laughingstock, is fast becoming an object of scorn and derision. They need to get their shit together, and fast.