Near the end of the 2008 season, Chico Harlan (then the Washington Post's Nationals beat writer) and I were riding in an elevator with a handful of fans and Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' assistant general manager at the time. Jimmy Kloke - better known as the Dancing Kid on the Nationals Park scoreboard and one of the brashest kids you'll ever meet - looked up at Rizzo and simply said, "I want you to be the GM next year."
Rizzo laughed sheepishly and thanked Jimmy before getting out of the elevator. Who could have known at the time he was two years from being the sole face of the Nationals' baseball operation?
With Tuesday's news that Rizzo will be promoted, adding executive vice president of baseball operations to his title, the Nationals' GM is now completely in charge of everything that happens on the field. He'll have five years to make the Nationals in his image, and if something goes wrong, all of the criticism will be his to own.
That will be different from the way the Nationals have done things before in one important aspect: While Rizzo had relative autonomy over the baseball department, team president Stan Kasten also had some input and served as something of a liaison between Rizzo and the team's ownership group. Now that Kasten is gone, Rizzo will have a direct line to ownership. It will be his responsibility to argue for larger payrolls, to determine the fate of the manager and coaching staff with the Lerner family and to direct resources throughout the rest of the front office.
"I never one time thought about what type of contract I had, the term of it," Rizzo said. "I always have a long-term view with a short-term focus. It's something that won't change my approach to this job one bit, other than I know we're going to have continuity and consistency from the top down."
Rizzo acknowledged he will have to occasionally delegate more responsibility to the rest of his handpicked front office, and called the construction of that group his biggest accomplishment since taking over for Jim Bowden in March 2009.
But there will be no more translucency about whose philosophy is shaping the Nationals' baseball decisions. It will be Rizzo's responsibility, and the credit or blame will go to him alone.
He came to the Nationals in 2006, working largely on the player development side of things after making a name for himself as a scout. And he's made a steep, quick rise since then.
"For a guy who loves baseball and grew up in it his whole life," Rizzo said. "this is a dream opportunity for me to kind of hone in on a franchise and build it the way I see fit."