CHICAGO — When the Nationals were in Florida in early May to play the Marlins, bench coach John McLaren made a promise to his manager, Jim Riggleman: If you go, I go.
“He looked like he was an island all by himself,” McLaren said. “I just told him, ‘Jim, I’m all in with you. If you leave, I’m going to leave.’”
Sunday afternoon, McLaren, who was named short-term interim manager after Riggleman’s sudden resignation Thursday afternoon, will take off the baseball uniform for the foreseeable future. With Davey Johnson set to take over as Nationals manager on Monday, McLaren will leave the on-field coaching staff and be reassigned in the Nationals’ front office in a role that will include scouting.
McLaren met with the Nationals players in small groups throughout the morning Sunday, addressing them privately in lieu of a team meeting. The meeting they did have was held shortly before gametime and conducted by GM Mike Rizzo, who thanked McLaren profusely for all he’s done for the organization to this point. Then came applause from the players so loud it could be easily heard outside the closed clubhouse doors for the former bench coach.
“To the players’ credit, they’ve been through a lot,” McLaren said. “Jim made the decision, and those players have stuck together and I think they know they’re good enough to win. I just told them: ‘Make me regret my decision.’ I’ll be at home shaking my head saying ‘You idiot, you should be there.’ But there’s some good people in that clubhouse. I think everybody’s ready to move forward.”
The Nationals were 1-1 in the first two games of McLaren’s tenure as Nationals interim manager, winning a thrilling 14-inning contest on Friday night but getting shutout on Saturday. McLaren admitted he told Rizzo he was “hurt” to not be considered for the interim manager’s job for longer than a few days but that he felt confident Johnson would do a good job.
It was clear the Nationals players were sorry to see McLaren leaving the on-field coaching staff but several of them noted how happy they were that he’d remain in the organization. McLaren, who worked mostly with infielders this season, made a point to laud the work Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa have done this year to become a truly impressive double play tandem.
McLaren will go home to Phoenix, A.Z., immediately while his new responsibilities are worked out. No bench coach has been announced. Rizzo said Johnson will have his say in selecting the person for that position on his staff.
Here’s a little bit more from McLaren as he reflected on his decision to leave the coaching staff:
“(Riggleman) has texted me twice, he’s called me three times, he’s tried to talk me out of it and I’m not going to do it… I didn’t want to have to look in the mirror everyday and say, ‘Well, you told Riggs this and you didn’t do it.’ Jim was very supportive. He’s tried to guide me in a different direction and with that said, the last four days I’ve really gotten close to Mike Rizzo. He’s really shown me great respect and we’ve had some really good conversations.
“I feel bad about Jim Riggleman. It’s a tough situation for everybody. He’s a good friend. I wish it hadn’t gone down like this but it did and I think that we’ll move on.”
“I’ve been thinking about maybe it’s time to get out of coaching. I can’t throw batting practice anymore — well I can but I’ve hit about four guys so I think I’m about done there. Maybe a new chapter in my baseball career. I’ve done scouting before and I enjoyed it.
“I’m a very emotional man. I kind of wear everything on my sleeve. But I think everybody’s good now. It’s been fun. The Nationals have treated me very well, and it’s time to move on.”
He didn’t leave without making one more joke, with regard to Saturday’s game in which a team of White Sox pitchers — a group that included starter Jake Peavy — shutout the Nationals.
“First of all, I’ve got to mention yesterday’s game again,” McLaren said. “Guillen caught me a little off guard and he threw Peavy at me. I’m ready for Farmer to come out of the radio booth and pitch in the bullpen, I’m ready for Hawk to come out and pinch hit and I’m ready for Minnie Minoso to pinch run. With that, we’re ready for the game.”