BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jim Bowden has a lot of nerve, and this is a good thing. Baseball teams should not be run timidly, not even those teams that run mainly in reverse.
The general manager of the Cincinnati Reds has more brass than Pier One, or he would not make so many trades that make him look so callous. Less than 100 days after he swapped his Opening Day starter on the eve of Opening Day, Bowden Saturday dealt his only All-Star on the eve of the All-Star break.
Jeff Shaw leaves for the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for two more prospects of unproven worth. He leaves the Reds without a proven closer and without a representative in Tuesday's All-Star Game. He leaves a bullpen-by-committee with two saves to its credit and disillusioned captain Barry Larkin wondering why he's being forced to go down with the ship.
Shaw leaves the Reds because protecting leads is a luxury for a last-place team, and because Paul Konerko and Dennis Reyes should be of more help in the 21st century. He leaves because Bowden is convinced delayed gratification is his best shot with this ballclub, and because Bowden is compelled to pull triggers no matter how much noise it means.
"You won't win in 2002 unless you go through the unpopular moves to get young players who can help you win down the road," Bowden said. "I didn't want to do it now. I wanted to wait until the All-Star Game was over. But I find if you wait, the deal might not be there. We could have tried to wait, but we didn't want to take the risk."
Bowden doesn't hesitate
Players get hurt. Players get hot. Executives get cold feet. Trades fall through for the flimsiest reasons.
Because opportunity's knock can not always be scheduled for optimum conditions, Bowden operates on the premise that one should pounce whenever a good deal is on the table.
He is sometimes in error about these things. (Sean Casey, for instance, has yet to be confused with Tony Gwynn.) But Bowden is rarely indecisive. He much prefers initiative to inertia, though his impetuous management style is not always conducive to clubhouse chemistry.
Less than 24 hours after trading Larkin's lieutenant, Lenny Harris, to the New York Mets for reliever John Hudek, Bowden was working the phones for an encore.
"I'll make a deal before you go home," he promised a reporter before Saturday's game with St. Louis.
"Jeff Shaw?" it was surmised.
"I don't know who," Bowden replied.
Bowden knew enough to instruct manager Jack McKeon to keep Shaw out of the game as a precaution. When the deal was announced following the final out, Shaw left the premises before his catcher, Eddie Taubensee, could say goodbye. Baseball partings are customarily quick. They are rarely painless.
Larkin may be next to go
"Stay tuned," Larkin said, barely able to suppress his anger. "I don't predict the future . . . If you're pitching well, you might be the next guy to go. If you're hitting well, you might be the next guy to go."
In honor of the departed Harris, Larkin removed the captain's "C" from his uniform jersey Saturday. It was a subtle protest from a career politician, but the unmistakeable sign of a malcontent. Larkin has become the George Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds: desperately eager to leave town, but trapped by his singular skills. He has a wonderful life, but he expects a better one.
"I don't have a basis to form an opinion," he said Saturday, when asked if he could see the logic behind Bowden's maneuvers. "I don't know what they're trying to do. But it seems to me if they're trying to save money, they'd get rid of their highest-paid player."
Eventually, Jim Bowden is bound to move most of his veteran players. If Larkin is not next to go, it will probably be Pete Harnisch. The pattern is clear. A purge is in progress.
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org