When we got word of Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman’s resignation on Thursday, Bob Ramsey, Chris Duncan and I were all stunned. Here’s a guy that has managed nearly 1,500 big-league games, and was 163 games under .500. We all know him because of his two stints in the Cardinals organization, and I like him, but the fact of the matter is that he’s piloted only two teams in eight full seasons to winning records.
Beyond that, after getting whacked by the Cubs following the 1999 season, Riggleman didn’t get another full-time gig in a dugout until last year, the 2010 season. Jobs don’t come along often, so it seems strange that he would give up one of the 30 that are available.
The Nationals refused to pick up their manager’s option for next season, and he was worried that after he put in all the work, the club would fire him and put somebody else in place to run the team when it was ready to win big. That may have happened, but it also may not have.
The Nats had won 11-of-12 when Riggleman walked away, and with the return of Ryan Zimmerman, are playing better than they ever have in the Nation’s Capitol. Did Riggleman truly think that if they kept up this pace, they’d let him go? I don’t think so. He was doing a great job, the players liked him, and the ship was sailing along just fine. Sure, sometimes successful managers move on, as Dusty Baker did from San Francisco and Bruce Bochy from San Diego, but both of those managers had been at their post for an extended period of time and the relationship with the franchise, media and fans had gone stale.
Riggleman was in his second full season with Washington and appeared paranoid about his future. He told the Associated Press, “I’ve been in this 10 years. 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.”
He questioned the club’s desire to have him around and said, “I just felt if there’s not going to be some type of commitment (now), then there obviously never will be. I’m just not the guy that they thought they could move forward with.”
While I think Riggleman is a terrific manager and hasn’t been dealt the best hands in his jobs, he still has to earn that commitment. When a guy has winning seasons 25 percent of the time, it’s not unreasonable to wait and see how the season pans out before giving him a new deal.
Riggleman will turn 59 in November. A guy who has had career aspirations of being a big-league manager certainly has lived his dream in that regard, but won’t be able to see it through with a second playoff spot. It’s hard enough for a guy in his late 50s and a 661-824 record to get a job. When you add in that he bailed out on his organization, his players and the fans because he was worried about his own well-being, it’s hard to imagine he can rebuild credibility. Here’s a group of players that have stuck together and worked hard to get back to the .500 mark, and when they finally do get to .500, he decides his situation isn’t good enough and walks out.
And let’s make no bones about it, this is all about Riggleman … and he admits it.
“It’s about me,” Riggleman told the AP. “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.”
Well, after eight mediocre years (I’m being generous there), he hadn’t earned a longer leash. And do you really think Riggleman’s first speech to his players in spring training was, “It’s all about you. Not about your team, not about the guy next to you in the locker room, not about me. We aren’t family. This is all about you.”
I doubt he said that.
What Riggleman did was end his dream. On the day he was hired full-time by Washington, he said “My feeling was, if there was some divine intervention that came upon me that said, ‘You will never manage again,’ then I would have got out of baseball. I wanted to stay in the game, because I still wanted to manage. So if I would have strongly doubted it would ever happen, I would not have continued. And you had to wonder as the years went by.”
I hope he doesn’t feel that way 10 years down the road, but I have a feeling Riggleman is going to wonder in 2021 if he should have quit, if he should have bailed on his last opportunity to manage a big-league club.