Patrick Reddington: Rizzo, rumors and the Nats' GM search in '09

Mike Rizzo and the Nationals announced a new long-term deal for the general manager last night.

Managing principle owner Theodore N. Lerner praised the work the 52-year-old executive has done since 2009 to turn the Nationals into, "one of the most exciting and respected young teams in baseball." Rizzo talked in the press release about the hard work they have done with the Lerners' support to build "this club from nearly expansion level - at both the minor and major league level," into a 2012 NL East winner with a respected minor league system.

There was a time, however, in August 2009, when reports said the general manager who took over in the nation's capital following Jim Bowden's resignation wasn't going to get the job on a full-time basis. In the weeks before he was named the full-time GM, several candidates emerged as alternatives. SI.com's Tom Verducci reported at one point that summer that a source told him, "Arizona director of scouting and player personnel Jerry Dipoto has emerged as a frontrunner," for the job in the nation's capital.

Owner Mark Lerner explained to MLB.com's Bill Ladson that the team was doing its due diligence and considering all candidates before making a final decision.

"We have a responsibility to conduct a proper search," he explained, "... and that may entail going beyond our own gates."

USA Today's Bob Nightengale wrote on Twitter that the "Nats meanwhile have narrowed their GM candidates to two or three. Mike Rizzo, unfortunately, appears to be a longshot." Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo quoted major league sources, who also said, "Diamondbacks director of scouting and player development Jerry Dipoto is the leading candidate to be Nationals general manager."

Washington Post writer Chico Harlan reported at the time that "industry sources" were telling him that the team had finished conducting interviews and narrowed, "their search for a permanent general manager, with Mike Rizzo, Boston assistant GM Jed Hoyer and Arizona player personnel vice president Jerry Dipoto emerging as the primary candidates." The decision, the WaPost writer said, would likely be announced after that August's deadline to sign 2009 draft picks.

As that deadline approached, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal said in an Aug. 15 video report that, "The buzz in scouting circles is that Diamondbacks' executive Jerry Dipoto is the front-runner, but the team has given absolutely no indication of its plans."

The Nationals signed Stephen Strasburg moments before the deadline passed that summer, but after the acting GM and the Nats inked the No. 1 overall pick of the '09 draft, the rumor mill had the team going a different direction in the front office with reports saying Rizzo was likely out.

"Multiple sources insisted Tuesday that the Nationals are on the verge of announcing that Arizona Diamondbacks vice president Jerry Dipoto is about to be named Nationals GM," Yahoo! Sports' Gordon Edes wrote on Aug. 18 that summer. Edes quoted a source who said Dipoto's hiring was imminent.

"It could happen in the next 24 hours," insisted one major league executive who said he had it on good authority that Dipoto, "would be hired by Nationals president Stan Kasten." Dipoto, however, told the reporter that if any deal was coming it was news to him.

Then, on Aug. 19, 2009, there were multiple reports which said the Nationals' search was over and Rizzo was likely out. Citing the Yahoo! Sports report, MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote that after getting Strasburg signed, "it appears that acting general manager Mike Rizzo has not secured that role for the longer term." A CBSSports.com article said sources confirmed the Yahoo! Sports report.

"The Nationals appear to have chosen Diamondbacks executive Jerry Dipoto as their new general manager," it said, "Dipoto has told friends in Arizona that he plans to accept the job."

A source even contacted us at Federal Baseball - though we couldn't confirm the report with anyone we contacted for information. After reaching out at several points throughout the process with information, some of which checked out and some of which proved false, the source said Dipoto was in.

"They are in the process of inking a deal as I write this," he/she said in an email.

The next day, all of the rumors were shot down.

"The decision has already been made," a source told the WaPost's Chico Harlan, "and the best I can tell you - what's been written is 100 percent wrong."

MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported that, "The Nationals made the decision that Rizzo was their man a couple of days ago."

After he was confirmed as the Nationals' second general manager, Rizzo told reporters that though the process had been rough, he was aware of the fact that he had the job days earlier in spite of the reports that were out there. Looking back on the week that was, Rizzo said, "The information, the mis-information ... was unfortunate, but it didn't effect me nearly as much as the people who knew me and were rooting for me, 'cause I knew on Tuesday (Aug. 18) that I had the job. The Wednesday (Aug. 19) stories were at first, it was a little comical, and then as the day drew on and it seem to kind of snowball into more of a for sure thing that I wasn't going to get the job, and you know, family members and friends were a little more vocal in their displeasure."

In the end, Rizzo got the job. He reshaped the organization from the bottom up and three years later helped lead them to the first postseason appearance by a D.C.-based team since 1933.

Patrick Reddington blogs about the Nationals for Federal Baseball and appears here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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