CHICAGO — The baseball world buzzed Friday. Still reeling from the news that Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned Thursday afternoon in a contract dispute with Nationals ownership and general manager Mike Rizzo — and buoyed by Riggleman's media tour de force — it seemed everyone and anyone was talking Nationals.
Inside the visitors clubhouse at U.S. Cellular field Friday afternoon, though, it was business as usual. Ryan Zimmerman walked through the clubhouse whistling and flipping a bat between his hands. Several players gathered at a table to play cards, some sat at their lockers chatting and studying scouting reports for their series with the Chicago White Sox.
There was a calmness inside the clubhouse that was in stark contrast to the firestorm going on around the team. Interim John McLaren will be in place for "days, not weeks," Rizzo said, and the Nationals search for a manager for the remainder of the 2011 season was ongoing. Davey Johnson, who is currently a senior advisor to Rizzo, is considered the frontrunner for the job.
"I hate to say it's not a big deal, because we all respect Jim and it's tough not having him," said Zimmerman, the only member of the Nationals to have played under all four of the organization's managers. "But we're going to go out and play just like we've been playing for the [last few weeks].
"The manager does a lot of things. They're obviously important, or there wouldn't be managers. But it's not a player, it's not a pitcher or something like that. It's still the same exact same team we had that just went 8-1 on this homestand. That's the way we look at it. We're going to go out and do what we've been doing."
There was no team meeting scheduled to discuss the situation, only the routine hitters and pitchers meetings that accompany the first game of any series. There was no open concern over the fact that their managerial situation was unsettled.
"We're going to take batting practice and go play the game," McLaren said. "There's no meeting. We don't need a meeting. There's nothing to tell these guys. The situation, it is what it is. A pep talk won't do it. I can't explain it to them, because I don't know how to explain it. We're going to go play baseball. We've been playing great baseball, and I feel like we will continue to play great baseball.
"I'll manage tonight, and we'll go from there. ... You never expect anything like this. I feel bad for Jim. He's a good friend. I know he had a lot on his mind. I felt like we were going in the right direction and I was totally blindsided."
The focus Friday was mostly on the Nationals' coaching staff, which will remain in flux until a manager is put in place for the remainder of the season. McLaren, who said his managerial style would likely not be too different from that of Riggleman's, admitted he would like the opportunity to be the team's full-time manager. Rizzo explicitly stated he was not in consideration for the position.
"I'm just coming here tonight and doing the best I can to get us a 'W'," McLaren said. "If I'm asked to do it tomorrow night, I'll do it tomorrow. And if I'm asked to do it next week, I'll do it next week."
Bo Porter, the team's third base coach, is typically one of the first names brought up for almost any managerial opening in the major leagues and this was no different. While Rizzo only mentioned the name of Johnson in his session, he did say that it's a "possibility" that members of the current coaching staff would be considered. For now, Porter insisted he is the team's third base coach and that is where his focus lies.
"This is not the way you want your name to pop up," he said. "Obviously it was a decision that Jim made. At this time, the best thing we can do as a staff, as an organization, is pick up the pieces and keep this team moving. Because we have the rest of the season to play. It's unfortunate what happened. But that's the case in which we're at right now. ... I'm going to be the third-base coach and do the best job I can as the third-base coach."
Until there is resolution, the Nationals will have to keep their focus on the field.
"I think it's all about baseball now," Rizzo said. "It's about the Chicago White Sox, we've got Edwin Jackson tonight and the stuff that happened yesterday is behind us. Baseball is a game of routine and we need to keep our focus on the field. The players don't have to inundate themselves with the details or any of the front office stuff. Their job is to perform and play baseball and that's what we're going to do."
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