BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jim Bowden is a spendthrift. John Allen is a skinflint. Bowden imagines opportunity. Allen perceives risk. Bowden believes a baseball club must spend money to make money. Allen is an accountant. He believes in profit.
... has one year left on his contract
... won't discuss Bowden's future with Reds
The Cincinnati Reds' brain trust is sometimes a management team and sometimes a tug-of-war. Most days the two executives coexist peacefully, publicly committed to building a contending team by 2002. Privately, they have some issues.
Bowden is reflex. Allen is restraint. Bowden is impetuous. Allen is patient. Bowden has been known to fly off the handle. Allen has a vise grip on his emotions. They are polar personalities who purport to be on the same page; reciprocal parts of the new Reds machine.
It doesn't have to be unhealthy. A sincere difference of opinion can be conducive to reaching the right answer. But what had been a quiet clash of styles is starting to look more and more like a turf war. Odds are, there will only be one survivor.
"We've talked about the possibility of moving Bowden out and moving (Jack) McKeon in," an ownership source told The Enquirer. "He (Bowden) wants a contract extension and John hasn't answered him."
"I've heard for a year there are problems between them," a former Reds executive said, "and it's escalating more and more."
Publicly, both parties say there is no problem. Privately, several Reds sources say Allen does not entirely trust Bowden.
Fueling speculation of a rift is that Allen has signed several of Bowden's subordinates to multiyear contracts that extend beyond the term of the general manager's deal, and has recently taken a more public role in negotiations normally considered the province of the general manager.
Bowden has one year remaining on a five-year contract, but an escape clause in that contract has already been triggered by Marge Schott's suspension. If another club should want Bowden -- the most persistent rumors concern the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers -- he would face no contractual barrier to leaving.
Presumably, if Allen were determined to keep Bowden, he would want that loophole closed. Yet the two have not broached the topic for months.
"I'm not going to discuss it," Allen said Tuesday, when asked about Bowden's future with the Reds. "At the appropriate time, Jim and I will sit down. We've had some discussions. I would say the ball is in my court."
What Allen intends to do with that ball is unclear. Because his own future is uncertain pending Schott's possible reinstatement, Allen may be reluctant to commit the club to an expensive multiyear deal for a general manager. But several club sources believe if Allen's stewardship is extended, he would be more likely to pay off the last year of Bowden's contract than to sign him to a new deal. Allen's ideal scenario, sources said, would involve Bowden leaving of his own volition.
"I'm loyal to this organization," Bowden said before Tuesday's game with Pittsburgh. "The rebuilding process has been painful, but we have light at the end of the tunnel with the new stadium. I want to be here to see it happen, if the organization wants me.
"I love Cincinnati. I love the Reds. This organization has been tremendous to me, gave me opportunities at a very young age. I've enjoyed working for all the people here."
Allen, hired initially as the Reds controller, became Bowden's boss on June 12, 1996, when he was named the club's interim managing executive. The Reds had been running enormous losses -- purportedly $50 million over four years -- and Allen saw his mission as bringing balance to the books.
Primarily, this meant imposing spending limits on Bowden, whose aggressive pursuit of pennants had raised the Reds' payroll to the level of teams in much larger markets. A 1997 study of the annual estimates of Financial World magazine suggested the Reds had lost more money than any professional sports franchise in the six-year period following their 1990 World Series championship.
Allen's budget restrictions have restored the Reds to profitability, but greatly eroded their ability to compete on the field. Bowden, whose bottom line is determined by wins and losses, has continued to seek creative solutions to bridge the talent gap, but has been frustrated by his financial handicaps.
When the Reds traded Dave Burba on the eve of Opening Day, Bowden cited Allen's payroll limitations as the main reason for the move. When the Reds traded Jeff Shaw on the Saturday before the All-Star Game, Bowden again intimated that the idea of getting younger and cheaper was not necessarily his.
"About 10 days ago, I met with John Allen and talked about the direction of the Reds to make sure that we were clearly on the same page," Bowden said at the news conference announcing the Shaw deal. "I informed him that if, in fact, we start to trade the rest of these key pieces, he can't come back in 15 months and say, "OK, now we want to win.' "
Asked Tuesday to describe his relationship with Allen, Bowden said, "We have a good working relationship. I feel I've been able to work within the parameters that he has given me. I worked hard to get our payroll to a certain target level, which was a difficult task, and we were able to get down there."
"Jim has done a great job of living with the payroll restrictions," Allen said. "I appreciate and respect that. He's kept me informed of the comings and goings."
Bowden says he understands Allen's place in the chain-of-command, and describes himself as a "team player." But when he learned Allen had closed the deal on Pete Harnisch's new contract last month, his initial reaction was to compare himself to Fred Claire, the recently deposed Dodgers executive.
Since then, Allen has taken an increasingly active role in negotiations, first with holdout draft choice Austin Kearns and now as McKeon discusses an extension for 1999.
Because Allen is ultimately responsible for how much money the Reds spend, he has a role in every negotiation, even if it is invisible. Yet to the untrained eye, it would appear the Reds managing executive is usurping the traditional responsibilities of his general manager. To the trained eyes within the Reds organization, this is ominous.
McKeon reiterated Tuesday that he has no interest in taking Bowden's job -- "I'm not angling for no GM job," he said. "I like managing better" -- but he conceded that Allen's involvement in bargaining is at least curious.
"The whole thing is up in the air," McKeon said. "You don't know what the situation is with baseball and Marge. Who knows what's going to happen to John? Everybody's in limbo."
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.