As we mourn the loss of the great Peter Falk (aaahhh… just one more thing), It seems there’s an interesting trend in the NL East. The division continued their apparent joint campaign with the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) to show America that old people can still do their jobs just as good as young people this week, when the Washington Nationals hired 68 year old Davey Johnson to manage their ball club. I mean, what is going on here? First, the Marlins hire the 2nd oldest manager in the history of baseball, then the Nationals hire another guy who is old enough to collect social security (although he’s a spring chicken compared to McKeon). Have dentures, will travel… I guess.
Anyway, Johnson’s hiring came on the heels of the second unexpected managerial resignation in a four day period (McKeon was hired when Freddy Rodriguez suddenly quit amid losing 17 of 18 games). On Wednesday, Jim Riggleman (pictured above) resigned from his post as Nationals manager because of a contract dispute. A what? Yes. He was unhappy with the contract he signed, and so he quit on his team.
Here’s the basic back story. In the middle of the 2009 season, the Nationals fired Manny Acta and hired Riggleman (their bench coach at the time) as the interim replacement for the rest of the season. Riggleman’s contract was renewed for $600,000 at the end of the 2009 season, and again at the end of the 2010 season. So what’s the problem, Jim? Basically, Jim wanted more job security. He wanted the team to pick up his option for the 2012 season now, and not in the off season. Before Wednesday’s game, Jim spoke to General Manager Mike Rizzo and informed the Nats GM that he would resign if the team didn’t name him manager for the 2012 season. When Rizzo refused to pick the option up, Riggleman quit.
I understand wanting job security and wanting to be rewarded for doing a good job. Everyone loves the pat on the back, especially when its coupled with knowing where you’re going to be next year. The things I don’t agree with were the timing of Riggleman’s resignation and the way in which he resigned. The Nationals were in the midst of winning eleven out of twelve games, which had put them above .500 this late in a season for the first time since 2005. For a team that has finished in last place in six of the last seven seasons, including the last two under Riggleman, this is a big deal. I feel like Riggleman tried to hijack the recent successes, and the turnaround in the standings, to use it as leverage to get the Nationals to give him the job he wanted.
Here’s the thing: Sure the Nationals are doing great, but we’re not even at the All-Star break. Who is to say they don’t pull a Marlins move and lose 18 of the next 19 games? They’d be in last place again, and hiring Riggleman full time would have looked like a bonehead move. Also, the GM of a major league team cannot allow himself to be strong-armed into hiring anybody, let alone the manager of his team (especially one named Rizzo). That would set a terrible precedent, and it would cause the front office to lose a lot of respect both in the club house and around the league.
Secondly, the manager is there to lead and inspire his players. This is where i feel that Riggleman truly acted selfishly. No one is going to look down on Jim for doing what he felt was the best move for him and his career. The problem is that he had twenty-five guys in that clubhouse relying on him to get them through the season, and he tried to use them as leverage and ultimately abandoned them. What if Riggleman had leveraged his way into an extension? He was still willing to abandon his players if he hadn’t. Who is going to want to play for a guy who clearly was willing to put himself completely ahead of the team.
Why didn’t Riggleman wait until the end of the season to pull this move? He could have fulfilled his commitment to management (contracts are actually two way streets, everybody) and, more importantly, fulfilled his commitment to the twenty-five players in the dugout. If at the end of the year the Nationals still refused to give him more than a one year contract renewal, then Jim could have simply walked away. He might even have had a winning season under his belt (only his 2nd in over a decade of managing) to add to his resume when he began looking for another big league job. Instead, now his resume includes leaving a team high and dry in the middle of one of the best streaks in its history over a contract dispute… Good luck with all of that.
I will say one more thing about this before I put it to rest. Is there ever any real job security in major league baseball? Managers get hired and fired every year. Teams can fire a manager whenever they want, even in the middle of a long-term contract. Joe Girardi was fired by the Marlins in 2006 after a season for which he was named National League Manager of the Year! The Nationals could have rewarded Riggleman with a ten year contract and fired him in September anyway if they wanted to. Why let your pride take you away from a winning season, not to mention $600,000. Why not just enjoy the ride, maybe surprise all of baseball with a playoff appearance and go somewhere that is willing to give him what he wants?
At the end of the day, what Riggleman did was not only selfish, but pretty foolish. From what I have read, however, Riggleman is a good guy and a very well-respected manager. I do wish him the best, I just hope he didn’t ruin a season which has seen the Nationals finally become relevant, both in the standings and at the ticket office.
image courtesy of: http://media3.washingtonpost.com
Johnson image courtesy of: http://www.centerfieldmaz.com
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