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The morning after: a few thoughts from Chicago

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Yesterday was an interesting day and, in a few hours, the Nationals will play their first game since 2009 without Jim Riggleman in the manager’s office. They’ve got to find some way to move on and from what was said yesterday immediately after the news was dropped on them that was really the only reaction most of the players had — at least publicly.

There are a few things to ponder, though, before the Nationals fully turn the page on the Jim Riggleman era:

1. Clearly there’s a disconnect here. Mike Rizzo came out and told the media yesterday that Riggleman approached him 45 minutes before the first pitch Thursday and said if he was not extended or the option on his contract for 2012 not picked up that he would “not be getting on the bus.” And he made his feelings perfectly clear with a line in a prepared statement that read: “I was always taught that one of the cardinal rules of baseball was that no individual can put his interests before those of the team.”

Riggleman said all he asked for was a plan to have a conversation about the issue when the team arrived in Chicago. He was denied that conversation and took that to mean that if Rizzo wouldn’t even discuss it with him then he was clearly not the team’s choice for the future. 

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes but the bottom line is this: Riggleman did not make this decision in a rash manner. According to his agent, Burton Rocks, Riggleman had approached Rizzo for the type of conversation he was looking for on several occasions and he was rebuffed each time. As Riggleman said Thursday, this was “festering.”

“He wanted a personal meeting with Mike to talk about it,” Rocks said. “He said to me, ‘If I can’t talk to my general manager and be granted just the meeting to talk about it then they clearly don’t see me in the picture here.’”

Riggleman had said previously that he was hoping to have his contract situation resolved by Father’s Day. That day came and went less than a week ago and there was no progress but Rocks said that at no point did Riggleman indicate then that he was ready to make this decision.

“I just said, ‘I’m hoping something can get done by Father’s Day just to see where we were,’” Rocks said of his statements in spring training. “On Father’s Day, I said, ‘Jim, our timetable is different and we’ll just wait until the end of the season,’ and he was fine with that but he wanted to talk to Mike personally about the situation and I guess what made him react that way was he was not granted that personal dialogue and this wasn’t the first time.”

The details about what went down and why Riggleman did what he did can be rehashed until everyone involved is blue in the face but the fact of the matter is, what’s done is done.

2. The Nationals now have what will be one of the most attractive managerial openings out there this offseason. The Nationals are in a phenomenal position right now and will continue to be in one if they continue to even hover around .500 this year. With what they have coming both from the disabled list in Stephen Strasburg and in the minor leagues, you’d be crazy not to think this team has a promising future.

For now the man to lead this group will be bench coach John McLaren but it’s most likely that his term as Nationals manager will last just the three games the team will play this weekend in Chicago and a new manager will be named Monday to last them the remainder of the season. Sources have indicated to me that Davey Johnson is high on the list to get the job for the rest of 2011 and it’s really only a matter of him accepting.

It would be interesting to see how much of an impact Johnson, who hasn’t managed a major league team in the last 10 years, has on the Nationals. His track record as a manager, especially a championship-winning manager, speaks for itself and he’s been around the team enough for the players to know him and respect him.

It will also be interesting to see how this affects the rest of the coaching staff if Johnson is indeed the man tabbed on Monday. Naming McLaren as the interim manager but making it clear it will only be for the weekend seems to indicate they’re planning to bring in someone not on the current coaching staff for the post the rest of the season. However, there is a loophole in that line of thinking in that the Nationals may still plan to tab a member of the current coaching staff but didn’t want to make that decision in a rushed manner if they planned to give him a real shot. 

3. While the Nationals will go on and play another game (and another and another) it’s difficult to say where Riggleman can go from here. He didn’t mince words in his chat with reporters on Thursday saying several times he felt disrespected by the Nationals front office and the way they were handling things is simply not the way he wanted to do business.

“I’ve been doing this 10 years and maybe i’ll never get another opportunity but I promise you I’ll never do it on a one-year deal,” Riggleman said.

He hasn’t backed off that stance, doing multiple radio interviews today where he restated that he approached Rizzo several times for a conversation about his contract status — both when the team was below .500 and since they’ve been winning — and was denied each time. His main point is that he wasn’t able to have the authority he felt he needed in the clubhouse without the guarantee that he’d be back.

While there have been no explicit mentions of discord between Riggleman and his players, he mentioned in an interview with 106.7 today that, for example, when pulling a starting pitcher he’d have to listen to them complain about the decision for longer than a manager with security would because of fear that the negativity would infect the clubhouse. It’s not difficult to read between the lines and point the very public blow up between Riggleman and Jason Marquis in Baltimore last month. 

But again, what’s done is done. 

Riggleman is being crucified across much of the sports world today for quitting on his team and sources indicated that’s the way several players are viewing this decision as well. It’s difficult to expect sympathy for a manager from his players in this instance because a majority of major leaguers live their lives and their careers on one-year deals. 

I will say this — and this is purely my opinion here — in knowing Riggleman the little I have for the past few months, he had to feel extremely wronged in order to do something like this. He had to know that it would make the chances of him managing another major league team extremely slim and it would get the backlash that it has. If he made this decision with all of that in mind, than the one thing people have to respect is this: he’d had enough and he was standing by his conviction that he was better than he was being treated. His notoriously low winning percentage as an MLB manager may suggest otherwise, but a manager can only do so much with what he has to work with. 

The only thing that’s certain now is that he won’t get a chance to improve that record with the Nationals.

“In sports or any business you have to make decisions,” said shortstop Ian Desmond. “He gave me every opportunity to play in the big leagues and succeed. I thank him for that. I played hard for him and I know he did his best to contribute.

“I think with the veteran presence we have and pitching staff, we’re going to win ballgames regardless. I think this is a business decision and there’s no doubt in my mind his heart was with the team. I think this was just the decision he had to make and Rizzo, likewise. It’s not only about playing the game, there’s a huge business part that a lot of people don’t realize.” 

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About the Author
Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak

Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.

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