Q&A with Tony Tavares

Q&A with Tony Tavares

PITTSBURGH -- One thing you can say about Tony Tavares: He has been never afraid to speak his mind when talking about the Nationals/Expos. Last year, for example, it was Tavares who said that the team wasn't working hard before games and blamed it on the coaching staff.

Pretty soon, Tavares will have to keep opinions like that to himself, for Stan Kasten will replace Tavares as president of the Nationals once the Lerner Group takes over sometime this month.

During Tavares' tenure as president, the Nationals/Expos were competitive, finishing .500 or better in three of his first four years with the club, despite having limited resources.

In possibly his final week as president of the club, Tavares talked to MLB.com about his tenure with the team, and his relationship with general manager Jim Bowden and manager Frank Robinson.

MLB.com: How long are you planning to stay on with the Nationals?

Tony Tavares: Until the closing takes place. I'm obligated to stay here and represent Major League Baseball, so if you notice, when the Nationals are in town, I'm in town. This coming week, it going to be Bob Nicholson representing us here because I'm going to be away and (executive vice president) Kevin (Uhlich) is away. If they haven't closed by the end of next week, then Kevin will come back in for a week. If they haven't closed by the end of that week, then I will come back. I sincerely believe they will have closed before July 21. Chances are, I will not be back for the short term.

MLB.com: How uncomfortable has it been for you in the office and knowing that the Learner Group will take over soon?

Tavares: Out of all the things I have done in business, this is probably the hardest. If you talk to Stan, he will tell you the same thing. There is no animosity between Stan and the Lerners and myself, and between myself and Stan, but it's uncomfortable because they want to get going. They want to start implementing their own vision. They are hiring a bunch of people they want to bring on, and you certainly understand that. But the difficulty is, because it's still Major League Baseball's money, baseball still needs to have a custodian over its assets to make sure they are being protected. It's cumbersome. It's uncomfortable for employees.

MLB.com: How was the team able to sign, for example, Chris Marrero and Esmailyn Gonzalez? Who is responsible for paying them?

Tavares: Marrero was done as part of the original budgeting process. Jim didn't go over slot or anything like that. The drafts picks were easy ones to handle. The signing of (Gonzalez) was a more difficult thing. That had to be separate approval, because it's committing to a player and (the Lerners) haven't closed yet. On the remotest of possibilities, if you don't close -- chances of that is slim and none -- baseball would have to be responsible for the signing of that player. There had to be an agreement by Major League Baseball and the Lerners on whose responsibility would it (be to pay Gonzalez).

MLB.com: Do you see the new stadium being ready by 2008?

Tavares: That is an aggressive timetable. Everybody knows if anyone can pull it off it's Clark Construction. They have the resources to pull it off. If you would have said to me anyone but Clark in this marketplace, I would have said, I don't think so.

MLB.com: How happy are you that Jim Bowden was able to keep his job as general manager of the Nationals?

Tavares: Very happy. I always thought he deserved the chance. I think he had done a good job with limited resources. I also think he has an exceptional draft this past year.

MLB.com: Can you talk about your relationship with Bowden?

Tavares: I'm pretty much a hands-off operator. The only thing that I ask is that I'm informed. I do manage according to a style that's called "manage by challenge." I go and challenge Jim and say, "Why do you want another outfielder? Why are we going to do that?" My job is to be thought provocative to Jim and his people, to make sure they are convinced about what they are doing. That's the rule I have played with Jim.

MLB.com: While your relationship with Bowden has been very good, your relationship with Frank Robinson hasn't been the best.

Tavares: It wasn't the worst. It was truly overblown. Either the first or second year of our relationship in Montreal, we had one disagreement that got a little loud. But other than that, we have not had a lot of confrontations.

MLB.com: But, sometimes, you have been critical of the way the players have worked before games, and that's a reflection on Robinson.

Tavares: That is an observation and I challenge anybody who didn't see the same thing I saw. As part of my role, I am entitled to come forward and say something if I see something wrong. That's what I did. Some people will not be happy with that. That's called tough cookies. When you are the boss, you dish out the good with the bad. They have been a lot of plaudits Robinson's way.

Personally, I like Frank a lot, and I think Frank has done a creditable job with the organization. I want you to think about this: What owner or team president in any sport has agreed with every move that a coach or manager has made? It just doesn't happen.

You understand that we have some philosophical differences, but if you talk to Frank, he doesn't dislike me and I don't dislike him. We may not like each other's style at times, but it's not personal. I went to the man's 70th birthday party. I was happy to be there and I think he was happy to have me there.

MLB.com: What did you think of the job Robinson did the last five years?

Tavares: It's interesting. He just does things that are different. He is not a by-the-book manager. When you don't manage by the book, you are going to get criticized. Fran's approach isn't exactly the safest approach.

At times, I thought he was brilliant with some of the things that he did. He is as good at holding players accountable as any manager that I've ever seen. The thing I was most impressed with recently was how he reacted to having to pull Matt LeCroy out of a game. That touched me. There aren't many people, especially a legend like Frank, who would show that kind of emotion and care about another human being. That spoke volumes about the man for me.

MLB.com: In your five years with the organization, what was your proudest and worst moment?

Tavares: There are a lot of good moments. I'm getting enjoyment from watching Ryan Zimmerman play and being associated with that selection in the draft. He is going to be special going forward. He is a great kid.

The best moment was probably Opening Day in 2005 and being able to sit next to the President of the United States (George W. Bush) and watch the game. That was special.

The worst moment is the losing. It's tough to single out any one time. You know how competitive I am. I was never troubled by losing a game we had played well in or when a pitcher is spectacular. But when you start losing games 18-9, 6-0 or 8-1, that's no fun and embarrassing. I'm embarrassed for the players, I'm embarrassed for myself. I take it all personally. Those are the tough moments. I didn't enjoy it at all.

MLB.com: What do you think of this current team?

Tavares: They are underperforming for me, but if you go position by position, I'm happy with Alfonso Soriano. Center field has been mishmash. We haven't found an answer there. Jose Guillen is playing way below what he's capable of. You have to assume injuries has a lot to do with it. I have been pleased with Nick Johnson. I'm glad that his injury bug was short. The challenge has been keeping him healthy. Jose Vidro looks much better than he did last year. In recent games, he has looked a little sluggish. I think the All-Star break will be good for him. Rolls (Royce Clayton) has been a lot better in the (last few weeks) with his glove and bat. Zimmerman has been a delight. Brian Schneider has struggled. Starting pitching has been difficult. We haven't had a lot of great performances. Guys are either having problems with injuries or just having off years. That has been troubling. The bullpen has not been good -- just generally speaking.

MLB.com: It's no secret that some in the organization wanted to release six veteran players in late May and you prevented it from happening. Why?

Tavares: Because I thought it was being done in an emotional kind of way, and I think we slowed it down and we were right to have slowed it down. Some of those players who were on that list turned it around and are playing better. While I'm an emotional person, I can't allow the organization to operate on emotions.

MLB.com: Would you have a fire sale with this team?

Tavares: It would depend on what kind of deal I would make for Soriano. I wouldn't trade him unless I would get something of significant value back. I think you are at a stage where you have to consider the offers you are going to get for any of the veteran players. Anybody that's 30 or below is part of the immediate future. To move players for the sake of moving them, I wouldn't do that. But if I'm going to get value back, I would consider it -- just like everything else in life.

MLB.com: What's ahead for Tony Tavares?

Tavares: Starting a consulting company that will focused on helping people acquire sports teams. That would be one thrust of the business. The other thrust would be just doing some operational consulting, whether somebody is building a new stadium or having particular problems in running their franchise -- no matter where the area is.

MLB.com: Would you like to be back in baseball?

Tavares: I'm not sure. ... The things I enjoy most in life are deal-making and I love startups, where it takes a lot of planning. If I was a younger man and chose a different career path, as a military guy, I would be really good at planning battle strategy and being able to adjust. I could see myself being able to do that. Business is like war at times, and you have to plan and have plan Bs and plan Cs. I like doing those types of things. It really depends on what the circumstances are.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.