- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

The most important decision a general manager in baseball can make is choosing a manager.

That’s the kind of decision someone who aspires to be a GM thinks of when he dreams of running a baseball team.

Somehow I doubt Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo used to think to himself, “When I become a general manager someday, the guy I am going to hire is Jim Riggleman.”

But that’s who Rizzo hired. Riggleman isn’t the dream candidate for this nightmare of a franchise. The hiring simply might be explained this way: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And maybe it is a good idea, but the decision still has a white-flag feel to it.

It feels like the Nationals are saying this to their dwindling fan base: We’re hiring a baseball lifer with a losing record because we really aren’t going anywhere the next couple of years. So why spend the money to hire a manager with a better record?

That is the harsh reality for this franchise - and the reason Riggleman is a good idea at the time. He is a decent man who won’t embarrass the organization, a baseball man who can be trusted not to mess up the development of young players.

Riggleman was hired as the bench coach for Manny Acta last season and took over as interim manager when Acta was fired at the All-Star break. He owns a losing record for his career with a 555-694 mark in stops in San Diego, Chicago with the Cubs and Seattle.

But it takes a good manager to last more than 1,000 games in the major leagues, and maybe Riggleman will turn out to be Rizzo’s dream choice.

We won’t know for a while - it will take time to get players good enough for Riggleman to prove that.

It appears he will get that chance, though.

“[Making the right choice is important], especially if you are as fixated as we are on long-term stability,” team president Stan Kasten said. “It’s really important. I want a GM to be in place a long time. I want a manager to be in place a long time. That is my history in all my sports and what I have tried to do.”

Was the hire all Rizzo’s to make?

“This was Riz’s call,” Kasten said. “Riz was the one who established the first parameter when he said early on that he really didn’t see himself going with a first-time guy. Nevertheless we encouraged him, and he agreed that he should talk to some first-time guys, but I think he was always leaning against that. We encouraged him to have a wider cross-section of guys and open up your mind. There were some guys he had opinions about from the start, and as he went through the process he changed his opinions, in both directions, I’m happy to say. It was clearly Riz.”

The field supposedly included as many as 18 candidates, including former Arizona manager Bob Melvin and former Mets manager Bobby Valentine.

But Rizzo saw in Riggleman, who turned 57 on Monday, what he wanted in a manager.

“Jim fits a lot of what I was looking for,” Rizzo said. “He has an old-school air about him that plays well with the players. I believe the players like discipline. They want discipline. Jim gives them discipline and holds them accountable and forces them, especially in today’s major leagues.

“There is a lot of teaching going on in the major league level, whereas 10 or 15 years ago you were more or less major league-ready when you got here. The game has changed. He is a teacher. He is a hands-on worker. He is a guy who believes in the fundamentals and playing the game right and holds players accountable for doing so and for not doing so.”

Riggleman will have what Acta didn’t have: a general manager he won’t have to manage in addition to his players. He will have a general manager he won’t have to worry about coming into the clubhouse and creating internal drama.

Mike Rizzo won’t be stabbing Jim Riggleman in the back. He has his manager’s back.

“He has the hammer,” Rizzo said. “There is no doubt about it. He has had it. I support the manager and his decisions.”

That’s what a general manager does for the most important hire he makes.

c Listen to “The Sports Fix,” co-hosted by Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan, from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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