- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Newly burdened skipper Jim Riggleman seems unlikely to return to Nationals Park next season unless the Gnats improve drastically under his tentative command. And considering the personnel on hand, why should they? Therefore, it behooves the Lerners and interim (there’s that word again) general manager Mike Rizzo to have a more or less permanent successor in mind.

Here’s how it works in baseball: If your deposed manager was a nice guy like Manny Acta who “related” to his players, you go out and hire the toughest guy you can find - somebody who boots backsides with the best of ‘em. And vice versa.

Accordingly, here are some free suggestions of role models for the Nats. Not all of them are or were baseball people, but, hey, the ability to get in folks’ faces might matter more than knowing when to sacrifice or take out a pitcher.

These guys are, or were, so tough that Attila the Hun would have been a pussycat in their presence. (Come to think of it, maybe Attila would be the answer. Reincarnation, anyone?)

Baseball has had unlovable tyrants of its own. Probably the nastiest guys in horsehide history were two Hall of Famers, John McGraw and Ty Cobb.

During his 30-year reign as manager of the New York Giants, McGraw took on nearly everyone in the grand old game, sometimes fistically as well as verbally. And this was after he pulled every dirty trick in the book as a third baseman for the legendary old Orioles of the 1890s.

Cobb, meanwhile, slid into bases and opponents with spikes flashing while terrorizing everybody he encountered as a 12-time batting champion and .366 lifetime hitter for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics. Fortunately, he and McGraw were in different leagues. Otherwise, more blood than beer might have been spilled in ballparks around the nation.

More recently, Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver accumulated enemies and won pennants by playing villains - only they weren’t playing.

Leo the Lip got himself into Bartlett’s by saying of rival manager Mel Ott, “Nice guys finish last.” Earl once displayed his priorities when outfielder Pat Kelly, a born-again Christian, asked the manager whether he didn’t want him to “walk with the Lord.”

Weaver, succinctly: “I’d rather have you walk with the bases loaded.”

Football has produced any number of ungentle souls as rough as the sport itself. Its everlasting poster boy for rock-rumped coaches is Vince Lombardi, who ran the Green Bay Packers and, for one season, the Washington Redskins like boot camps in the military sense of the term.

“I can’t walk on the Potomac even when it’s frozen,” Lombardi told disbelieving journalists when the Redskins hired him early in 1969. For the next 17 months, until his death from colon cancer in September 1970, St. Vincent might never again have smiled, much less cracked a joke.

“What’s this ‘Mr. Lombardi’ stuff?” Howard Cosell asked Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen during an interview at training camp. “I never heard you call anybody ‘Mister’ before?”

Jurgensen, nervously: “Why, Howard, I thought ‘Mister’ was Coach Lombardi’s first name.”

Don Shula with the Dolphins and Mike Ditka with the Bears also were noted tough guys who would chew you out at the drop of a ball cap. Bill Belichick supposedly is that way now, along with more than a few of his peers.

Then there was John McKay, who at least sounded tough while coaching the 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, Asked after a game what he thought of his expansion team’s execution, McKay replied, “I’m in favor of it.”

Basketball’s all-time rock-rumped chap is Bobby Knight, who used to snatch players by the shirtfront and pitch chairs onto the court at the drop of an epithet. Zebras and reporters populated his enemies list. Once he even stuffed an offending fan into a trash can at the Pan American Games.

And, heck, if the Nats really want a manager who can scare his troops half to death, what’s Mike Tyson doing these days? Or Jesse Ventura?

No, wait, I’ve got the perfect candidate - a local tongue-lasher so tough that half of official Washington supposedly quakes and quivers when he picks up the phone and even President Obama listens to him. Our man works for the government these days, but I imagine the Lerners could get him by reaching deep into their deep pockets.

I don’t know how much he knows about baseball, but who cares?

Anybody got Rahm Emanuel’s phone number?

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