Riggleman walks away from Nationals
So he took a stand Thursday morning, telling the team it was time to act. He wanted his contract option picked up for next season, or he would quit.
A few hours later, he did just that, abruptly leaving one of the hottest teams in baseball in a move so unexpected that the front office wasn’t prepared to say who would manage the next game in some 24 hours. The news turned the clubhouse mood from festive to stunned just minutes after the final out of a sweep of the Seattle Mariners, and players boarded the buses in the bowels of Nationals Park for a six-game road trip without the leader who had them playing so well.
“It’s been brewing for a while,” Riggleman said. “I know I’m not Casey Stengel, but I do feel like I know what I’m doing. It’s not a situation where I felt like I should continue on such a short lease.”
General manager Mike Rizzo said he’ll announce today who will manage the team during an interleague series against the Chicago White Sox. But first there was the obligatory two-sides-of-the-story from GM and manager, and not all the words were charitable. Rizzo even released a pointed statement saying he “was always taught that one of the cardinal rules of baseball was that no individual can put his interests before those of the team.”
“Jim told me pregame today that if we wouldn’t pick up his option, then he wouldn’t get on the team bus today,” Rizzo said. “I felt that the time wasn’t right for me to pick up the option, and certainly today’s conversation put to me in the way it was put to me, you certainly can’t make that decision in a knee-jerk reaction.”
Riggleman’s version of events was slightly different. He said he requested that he and Rizzo have “a conversation” about his contract when the team arrived in Chicago. Regardless, Riggleman said he would have resigned had that conversation not resulted in some sort of contract security.
“I just felt if there’s not going to be some type of commitment, then there obviously never will be,” Riggleman said. “I’m just not the guy that they thought they could move forward with.”
Riggleman has been working on one-year deals since taking over for Manny Acta in July 2009. He was being paid $600,000 this year and the Nationals held a team option for 2012 at $600,000.
“I tell ya, I’ve been in this 10 years,” Riggleman said. “Maybe I’ll never get another opportunity, but I promise you I’ll never do it on a one-year deal again. ... You don’t bring people in on a one-year deal. I’m sure they will never do it here. When they get the guy they want, it won’t be on a one-year deal.”
Riggleman is the second manager in the majors to resign this week. Florida Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez quit Sunday, but his team was struggling and in last place in the NL East.
Rizzo said he and Riggleman had discussed the contract situation several time this season, but Rizzo said he felt it was too early in the season to commit to Riggleman for next year, even though the Nationals have won 11 of 12 and are above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2005. Players began proudly speaking of how the club’s reputation was starting to grow around the league after years of last-place finishes before tepid crowds.
“We should be celebrating going to Chicago,” Rizzo said. “I’m disappointed that this is a distraction, that this is not thinking of the team first, that it is thinking of personal goals, thinking of personal things first. That’s probably what disappoints me the most.”
Riggleman didn’t care for Rizzo’s thoughts about waiting for the right time.
“Timing? Come on,” Riggleman said. “That’s like I’m not going to get married until I have a steady job. You’ll never get married. You make the decision you feel is right and Mike felt the decision was to not move forward with me.”
The players had no idea this was coming. They found out when Rizzo informed them in the clubhouse after the 1-0 win over the Mariners. All expressed varying degrees of surprise and disappointment, although Jayson Werth tried to make it sound as if it didn’t matter.
“It’s not going to change anything in here,” Werth said. “We’re the ones that have been making the pitches and hitting the balls and winning the ballgames, so we’re going to keep going.”
The rest of baseball was just as shocked.
“He was going to be one of my coaches for the All-Star game. I guess I have to pick another one,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “I feel awful for Jimmy. I knew how hard he worked over there.”
The 58-year-old Riggleman previously managed San Diego, the Chicago Cubs and Seattle, spending parts of 12 seasons in the dugout overall. He has a career 662-824 record, including 140-172 with the Nationals. Riggleman guided the Cubs to the 1998 NL wild-card spot and was let go after the next year.
He later was the bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle, then took over as the Mariners’ manager midway through the 2008 season but was not retained when the season ended.
Riggleman was hired as the Nationals’ bench coach in 2009. Still harboring hope of managing again, he even considered going to Japan if a job opened there. Instead, he got a spot in the majors with Washington when he replaced Acta.
Born and raised in Rockville, Md., a short drive from Nationals Park, he maintained his local roots. Unable to attend his high school reunion because Washington was playing, he instead invited his classmates to meet him the same weekend at a home game.
Riggleman was a minor league infielder and later a manager in the St. Louis system. He became a manager for the first time in the big leagues with the Padres late in the 1992 season and was considered part of the modern-breed of skippers, putting an emphasis on communicating with his players and increased use of statistics.
He said Thursday he was fully aware that he was leaving one of the precious 30 managerial jobs in the majors, but for him it was a matter of principle.
“It’s about me,” Riggleman said. “It’s about looking in the mirror and feeling like I’ve got to answer to myself. In today’s world in major sports, it’s not a good environment to work when the manager or head coach in football or whatever is on a short leash. Too many negatives can come out of it. You’re walking on egg shells too often. You can’t think out of the box as much. I thought after 10 years I’d earned the right to have a little bit longer leash.”