There were no winners in manager Jim Riggleman's shocking resignation Thursday, coming just moments after another thrilling Washington victory capped an 8-1 homestand and made the Nationals victors in 11 of their last 12 games.
Talk about a major buzzkill.
One of the hottest teams in baseball just got doused with a bucket of cold water, bringing a jubilant clubhouse to a screeching, somber halt. Whether the good times resume in the near future — beginning Friday against the Chicago White Sox — Thursday felt like a death in the family.
Riggleman doesn't look faultless here, abandoning his team because management refused to pick up his contract for next season. He certainly could've waited until the All-Star break in three weeks. Or he could've simply honored his pact to manage this season and seen what happened next.
But as the months passed and general manager Mike Rizzo refused to discuss the matter, Riggleman got an idea of what the future held. And he didn't like the idea of being a lame-duck manager for a club that wasn't committed to him. So he gave Rizzo one last chance and decided to walk when it wasn't forthcoming.
"I'm not Casey Stengel, but I feel like I know what I'm doing," Riggleman said after the Nats' 1-0 victory against Seattle. "It's not a situation where I felt like I could continue with such a short leash, where every little hill and valley is life and death in the game. The game's not fun that way."
Rizzo said they discussed Riggleman's option being picked up "several times during the season but felt the time wasn't right." When Riggleman presented him with an ultimatum before Thursday's game — saying he wouldn't board the plane to Chicago without the promise of a conversation upon arrival — Rizzo said the timetable was unacceptable.
"You certainly can't make that decision in a knee-jerk fashion," he said, contending that Riggleman requested a signed deal, not simply a conversation.
Knee-jerk? After 73 games this year and a season-and-a-half before that? What was Rizzo looking for?
"We wanted to see where the season was going," he said. "We wanted to see where the young players were going, how they were being developed and we were moving forward. Four weeks before the All-Star Game wasn't the time to do it."
It should've been done sooner if it was going to be done at all.
The fact that it didn't happen told Riggleman he was done after this season.
Can't say I blame him for reaching that conclusion. Even though Rizzo stressed his role in hiring Riggleman — first as interim manager and then in the permanent role — not picking up the option spoke louder. "Now" is the right time when you believe in the manager and respect his work, especially if you appreciate the difficult position you've placed him in by not ensuring his return.
"I just wanted the option picked up," Riggleman said. "I didn't say pick up my option or else. I want to make that clear. I thought it was worthy of a conversation when we got to Chicago, and Mike said we're not going to do that."
If now — after one of the hottest streaks in Nats history — isn't the right time to pull the trigger, or even discuss pulling the trigger, I doubt that Rizzo ever intended to do so. But how do you tell your manager, in the middle of the season, you don't want him back next season?
Rizzo could've tried honesty and let Riggleman know the option wouldn't be picked up. The general manager isn't obligated to re-sign anyone whose contract is expiring; if he wanted a different manager at the helm in 2012, so be it.
But such an announcement would've robbed Riggleman of all his credibility in the clubhouse. As it was, Riggleman said he felt restricted in working without a contract for next year. "Too many negatives come out of it," he said. "You're walking on eggshells too often and can't think out of the box. I felt after 10 years I earned the right to have a little bit longer leash."
The conversation Riggleman wanted in Chicago wouldn't have led to his desired outcome. For whatever reason, Rizzo didn't picture Riggleman as the manager going forward, but wanted to keep him — perhaps — for the entire season.
Rizzo might as well have fired Riggleman and spared everyone of this ordeal.
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