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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Nationals today. After they won in walk-off fashion, sweeping the Mariners, and pulling the team's record above .500 for the first time since the day before Marbury v. Madison came out. All because he felt disrespected? I'll reserve the "Go to hell, Jim Riggleman!" title for Needham when he pops in.

Is there any way to interpret this other than that Riggleman went just completely psycho-selfish on the Nats? Just quitting because of an uncertain contract status, while the team is rapidly coming together into a successful unit?

Imagine if a player did something like this! Imagine the more notable acts of a player just flate refusing to go on because of sheer selfishness -- like Derek Bell's "Operation Shutdown," or, more comically, Gary Templeton's "If I Ain't Startin', I Ain't Departin'" episode. Riggleman's decision strikes me as far worse. I mean, Bell sucked, and Templeton was just being a clown. Riggleman's persona was, purportedly, as a leader of men. Right.

Managers resign their positions fairly routinely, sometimes for reasons that appear inexplicable. Remember when Mike Hargrove resigned right in the middle of a surprisingly strong season for the Mariners. That was weird, but apparently Grover was burning out. I'm sure more details will emerge here, but, as it stands now, Riggleman comes across as just brazenly selfish.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So, Um, Any Good Games Lately?

I was busy spending $300 at Wegmans, so I missed tonight's game. Anyone have a recap?

After thinking about the post below, here's what caught my eye when I thought about it a bit: the Nats are 10th in runs. Now 10th isn't anything to write home about, but that's a marked improvement from where they were a month ago. And it's at the high end of what reasonable expectations were.

Yet, if you look at what the team's doing, there's nobody really vastly exceeding expectations. I guess Nix is, but he's certainly not been propelling this latest streak. Morse is hitting terrifically, a bit above his head, perhaps. But it's not something you couldn't imagine, no matter how unlikely you thought it would be.

So here they are... as close to .500 as they've been this late in the season since what? September of '05?

We've said it a million times before: you're never as good as you look when you're on a hot streak. This Nats team -- not even Philly or Boston -- is going to keep this pace up. But enjoy it dammit. We're playing quasi-meaningful games... and that's more than most of us envisioned this season.


I said this on twitter the other night... I'm certainly not Riggleman's biggest fan. If you played Strat or OOTP or DMB against him, 3/4 of the people reading this would beat him 7 times out of 10.

But this team plays consistently hard. They usually play smartly. They make errors, but they're usually ones of physical talent, not mental mistakes. Think about Desmond, and how many of his errors last year were on balls he should've eaten had he known the game better. He's not doing that this year. Sure, Jerry Hairston still makes bad baserunning plays, but that's his talent: he sucks.

More or less, this team shows up, plays hard, plays smartly. It doesn't do all the little things right. But no team does. An obsession with that is one of those empty BS dumps people use when they can't really point to other things. (Much like statheads wave away things by citing "luck".

Tonight's game was an example. If this were Manny Acta's team, they'd have rolled over, played dead, been buried, and turned to tasty little piles of nitrogen by the time the 9th rolled around.

But not under Riggles.

For whatever his faults are -- many, many! -- he deserves quite a bit of credit for that. (See also: Robinson, Frank)

Is this thing still on???

It seems as though Needham is occupied by, among other things, annoying people on Twitter. Consequently -- although precisely nobody has asked for this -- I thought I'd check in on his behalf.

During the last dispatch, around Memorial Day, the Nats were described in these pages thusly: "Third worst in baseball. Last in the East. Yep. That's about right." What has happened since then? Well, let us count the ways:

- Danny Espinosa hit a gazillion homers;
- Jordan Zimmermann suddenly became awesome;
- Mike Morse turned into Godzilla;
- The Nats won about a hundred games in a row; and
- Bryce Harper sucker-kissed some pitcher.

Oh, and Chad Cordero called it quits and Wily Mo Pena made it back to the big leagues. All in all, an interesting three weeks.

Having recovered from a huge hole to the bad to come within a game (now two games) of the .500 mark, the Nats beg apparently do not beg but instead raise the question of whether this streak of momentarily excellence will materialize into something with more permanence. Given the relative state of good tidings, I will refrain from offering any critical opinion on the matter, except that I might miss these guys next season when my wife and I drop cable television.