Friday, June 24, 2011

Mules and Racehorses

Boy, did Jim Riggleman ever figure out how to draw attention his way or what? All of a sudden, not only the local beatwriters but also the national columnists can diagram intricate portraits of Riggleman's psyche, as if Riggleman's growing frustration and resentment had been a story simmering on the stove of the entire baseball media. Two days ago, your average baseball fan might not have even realized that Riggleman was managing an MLB club; since late afternoon yesterday, he's been the game's biggest story.

I've read some of the Riggleman apologia out there (Tim Kurkjian's ESPN column linked above seems representative), and here's where my train of thought comes to a grinding halt: I can't really figure out what Riggleman was trying to accomplish by resigning the way he did.

If in life there are your mules and your racehorses, then Jim Riggleman was obviously a mule of a manager. This isn't to say he was a bad manager -- although his career record certainly isn't good, he brought some positive traits to the Nationals -- but he's nothing special and most likely is not in high demand for his services. Riggleman went "rotting on the vine" for many years after the Cubs ditched him. Riggleman's last two managerial opportunities (with the Mariners and now the Nats) arose only because he was the bench coach (his most familiar position over the past decade), his manager was fired mid-season, and Riggleman happened to be around. Riggleman was the guy who drove the lemon to the junkyard.

So it's something of a miracle -- or, if you're Mike Rizzo today, perhaps a curse -- that Riggleman lasted this long with the Nationals. The club played well, relatively speaking, after Riggleman assumed command of the drifting and lifeless Good Ship Acta in the middle of 2009. Riggleman then guided the club to a 69-93 record last season, which could be described as a so-so performance only based on low expectations. Riggleman didn't really thrive in the job, but instead basically ensured that things didn't revert back to being a mess.

It seems to me that Riggleman's job was not really to be the Manager of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club, but merely to manage the Nationals while they were a very bad club. All along, he remained a glorified interim manager. Riggleman was the man for this job both because a) he apparently has a reputation for being a solid guy and because b) well, somebody had to manage the Nats while they were very bad.

Given this perspective, Riggleman's ultimatum (however it was phrased) strikes me as toothless. If he goes now or goes later, what's the big deal? It's not like someone else would snap him up (at least I don't think so), and surely no one would do so if he aired his reason for abruptly resigning. He only hurt himself by resigning in the manner that he did:

1) If you're going to resign because you're unhappy with your contract situation, at least keep that part quiet and come up with another reason -- a nice and bland one that doesn't burn bridges so pointlessly. Your true feelings are bound to come out eventually, but it's not like you need to go on the press tour explaining that you've been jerked around and reiterating that you're a man.

2) Although there are many reports that Riggleman's frustration had been festering for quite some time, I don't think it's unfair to infer that he used the team's very hot play of late as leverage. If so, I don't think that's a very classy thing to do, but in the real world you have to play your strongest hand. Still, Riggleman would've ended up with much more leverage if the Nats made a surprise run much deeper into the season. At that point, there might've even been public pressure to keep him. Remember, the fans apparently played a large part in bringing Bob Carpenter back to the broadcast booth.

I can't really say that I'm unsympathetic with Riggleman's feelings on the matter, and I also suspect that some of Rizzo's comments are too clever by a half. There was more to the story than we knew yesterday afternoon, obviously, and there's obviously still more to the story than we know now. It's doubtful that Rizzo handled this in the best way possible, and there's a lot of smoke (mainly from unattributed quotes) that Rizzo has some communication issues. I can't recall Riggleman ever bringing bad attention to his organization, so it's fair to conclude that Rizzo played some part in this mess.

In the end, however, Riggleman signed a contract -- the terms might have been very unfavorable, but he signed it. Riggleman's not absolutely bound by that contract; the Nats can't force him to manage their team. However, Riggleman essentially quit on his team due to a contract squabble and then he made that squabble very public. Riggleman never really distinguished himself as a manager in my eyes, but he did have my respect as a fan. Now, for what it's worth, that's gone.

4 Comments:

  • If you like Riggs it's gotta be frustrating to think he could have made this all work for him (the contract issue not the quitting) with just 3 more months of putting up with this terrible horrible indignity.

    Instead he goes and does this.

    By Blogger Harper, at 6/24/2011 3:05 PM  

  • It cracks me up that so many people who will never, ever earn the kind of dough Riggleman got for managing a baseball team get all worked up by the perception that a millionaire working for some billionaires got "disrespected."

    He should have counted himself lucky for every day he was allowed to go into that dugout and get paid big bucks to do what millions of other can only dream about doing.

    Screw Riggleman.

    By Anonymous bdrube, at 6/24/2011 3:52 PM  

  • Riggleman for the most part seems like a nice guy, but in my opinion you're being much too charitable regarding his abilities.

    Riggleman is a horrible manager, and frankly he's kind of an idiot. He made at least as many head-scratching strategic moves as Frank Robinson ever did, if not more.

    Worst of all in my mind, he refused to ever really give Mike Morse a fair shot to be an everyday player when any idiot who knows anything about the game could see LAST SEASON that he deserved that shot. If it weren't for the incredible stroke of luck of LaRoche's season-ending injury, Morse's talent might very well still be rotting on the bench even now!

    So as far as I'm concerned, good riddance. Hopefully we can finally get a solid manager in here and keep the progression moving forward.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/24/2011 4:46 PM  

  • I run a generic baseball blog... http://baseballjunkies.blogspot.com... I wrote a similar story. I would like to add your blog to our blog roll. If someone could email me at fiduciarystandard@gmail.com to give me the 'ok' I would appreciate it.

    By Blogger The OCP, at 6/25/2011 10:02 PM  

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