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Nationals GM Bowden resigns over skimming probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden resigned Sunday saying an investigation into the skimming of bonus money given to prospects from Latin America had become a distraction for the club.

Washing Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden is shown during the unveiling of the team's logo and name on November 22, 2004. REUTERS/Molly Riley

“The team, the fans and media can now turn all of their attention from the distractions off the field to where it belongs, on the baseball field,” Bowden said.

“It is an emotional decision that saddens me, but one that I feel is in the best interests of two of the things I love most - baseball and the Washington Nationals,” Bowden told a news conference in Viera, Florida.

“I am disappointed by the media reports regarding investigations into any of my professional activities. There have been no charges made, and there has been no indication that parties have found any wrongdoing on my part.”

Team president Stan Kasten said Bowden showed “characteristic poise and maturity” in resigning his post.

“We all believe it is imperative that we honor the integrity of the game and that fans be able to concentrate their attention and affections on the game and players on the field,” he said.

“Jim has maintained his innocence, but recognized that he had become a distraction, and with great grace determined to do what was best for the team and his players.”

It has been a turbulent stretch for the Nationals, whose 59-102 record in 2008 was the worst in the majors.

The team on Thursday fired longtime Bowden assistant Jose Rijo, who ran the Nationals’ operations in the Dominican Republic.

Rijo was a key figure in the signing of 16-year-old prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez, who turned out in fact to be a 20-year-old called Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo, the Washington Post reported.

Alvarez Lugo received a $1.4 million signing bonus.

“Like anyone else, I have made mistakes in all areas of my personal and professional life,” said Bowden.

“But I leave here with the true belief that I have done nothing intentionally to harm the Washington Nationals or Major League Baseball.”

Writing by Steve Ginsburg; editing by Rex Gowar