Thursday, June 23, 2011

Riggleman Goes Postal

Here's the one thing we can say with confidence after a few hours to digest the news that Jim Riggleman has quit as Nationals manager: Riggleman has thrown away any chance he'll probably ever have at managing again in MLB. Frankly, he'll probably never even be a bench coach or minor league manager.

When the Nationals came calling, Riggleman had been rotting on the vine for for a decade after getting fired as manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1999. He has a .445 career winning percentage. And just as he was proving some worth by getting the Nationals over .500 (just the 3rd time in 12 seasons he had a team win more than half their games), he decided it was time to burn down the building.

Jim seems to believe that he was terribly mistreated because it's June 12, and he didn't have a contract for next season. But here's the list of MLB managers who do not have a guaranteed contract for next year: Brad Mills, Tony LaRussa, Bruce Bochy, Terry Francona, and Jim Leyland. Add to that list interim hires Jack McKeon and Bob Melvin, and that's more than one out of every four managers in baseball.

Riggleman complained today that he didn't have the freedom to think outside the box, but what's that based on? He's been making a bunch of outside the box decisions lately, and to his credit a bunch of them were based on good process and have paid dividends, like leading off Jayson Werth or his early season eschewing of a traditional closer.

Now, it's true that it's pretty unusual for a manager to get consecutive one-year contracts like Jim did in 2010 and 2011. But he didn't have to agree to be the Nationals manager this year. No one put a gun to his head. No one ever said, "if you sign this deal and have the team over .500 at the end of June, we'll definitely pick up your option." To sign the contract and then quit on his team in mid-season is just completely beyond the pale.

We might never know the whole story. Maybe Mike Rizzo really said some things he should have, or implied assurances and didn't follow through. More likely, it appears that Riggleman just massively overplayed his hand, thought he had sufficient leverage after getting the team over .500 to give his boss an ultimatum. In fact, he had no real leverage. Riggleman wasn't being discussed as a manager of the year. He was never on anyone's list of top managers in the game. And only a fool would change that assessment based on one hot week of baseball.

So the Riggleman era is over. We can stop debating small ball vs. smart ball. The pitchers I'm sure can go back to hitting ninth. The team will probably start losing again, but not because of the manager--it'll be because the team doesn't actually have .500 talent.

And now we get to wait and see if Mike Rizzo has enough guts or imagination not to hire another pointless retread in his second chance. In the meantime, we can just sit back and enjoy the ripping Riggleman is getting on Twitter. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • @Buster_ESPN A rival official on Riggleman: "I wouldn't hire him for AA or AAA job. You can't walk away..when you're under contract."
  • @ngreenberg If Riggleman believed in the stats, he'd have known his stunt had about a 3% chance of working.
  • @crashburnalley Quick Jim Riggleman meme I threw together...
  • @jposnanski Note to Jim Riggleman: When you tell your boss you will step down if your contract isn't fixed, it's usually called a "bluff."
  • @JohnMarecek: Wonder what Riggleman would say to a player, bitching about his option not picked up in June?
  • @BizballMaury I have determined that only karmatic location that would serve Jim Riggleman is the Marlins. They deserve each other #Riggleman #FAIL
  • @keithlaw I would be very impressed by Riggleman's move if he wasn't thoroughly replaceable as a manager.
  • @chrisneedham I'm sure Mrs. Riggleman is used to Jim giving up halfway through the job


Jasoneducator said...

Some of the best analysis I've seen on this subject. Thanks so much! The other component to this, though, is what responsibility, if any, do you feel The RZA should get for this? "This Nats Clan Ain't Nuthin' to F With".

Harper said...

Best hope is that Rizzo goes for a young guy with good cred in the off season. I think it's possible becasebBased on how he treated Riggs I don't think he was ever serious about that uninspired hire. It was just filling space until he wanted to hire his real manager.