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June 23, 2011

On the Beat

The Riggleman Resignation

by John Perrotto

Jim Riggleman is about as mild-mannered of a manager as you will find. Well, make that mild-manned ex-manager.

That is what made Riggleman’s abrupt resignation as the Nationals' manager on Thursday afternoon following a 1-0 victory over the Mariners at Nationals Park so stunning. The move is surprising on a few different levels, not the least of which is that the Nationals have won 11 of their last 12 games to climb into contention for the National League wild card.

The bigger surprise, though, is that walking away doesn't seem like the type of move Riggleman would make. He has always been an extremely respectful man, loyal to whatever organization he was working for, and, until Thursday, the number of times he did anything shocking during a managerial career that has also included stints with the Padres, Cubs and Mariners could be counted on less than one finger. Furthermore, Riggleman called managing the Nationals his dream job as he was a fan of the old Washington Senators while growing up in suburban Maryland.

However, Riggleman had grown increasingly frustrated with Nationals ownership and general manager Mike Rizzo in recent days. Riggleman felt the Nationals' recent surge proved that his club option for 2012, which would have matched this season's salary of $600,000, should have been exercised. Riggleman went to Rizzo on Thursday morning and said that if the option was not picked up by game's end that he was quitting. Rizzo said in a statement released by the Nationals that he told Riggleman at the beginning of the season and then reiterated in recent weeks that no decision would be made about the option until the end of the season.

So quit is what Riggleman did. In doing so, he walked away from what is shaping up as a very good situation, both in the present and long term. The Nationals' recent surge has pushed them over .500 at 38-37, the first time they have had a winning record this late in the season since 2005, the first year after the franchise moved from Montreal. While the Nationals almost certainly aren't going to overtake the Phillies and their nine-game lead in the NL East, Thursday's win moved them within 4 1/2 games of the wild card-leading Braves.
The Nationals already have the makings of a talented young core of players on the major-league roster in third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, catcher Wilson Ramos, second baseman Danny Espinosa, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, left-hander John Lannan and closer Drew Storen.

And the best is yet to come: the Nationals have the best prospect in the game in outfielder Bryce Harper, who is playing at low-A Hagerstown after being the first overall pick in the last year's amateur draft. The first pick in the 2009 draft, right-hander Stephen Strasburg, is recovering from Tommy John surgery after making a dazzling 68-inning major-league debut last season in which he struck out 12.2 per nine innings and had a 2.07 ERA and 3.08 SIERA before his elbow popped.

Ownership, rightly accused by fans of being cheap in the past, showed it was willing to spend last winter when Rizzo gave $126 million of the Lerner family's money to free agent Jayson Werth. While the wisdom of spending $18 million a year on a 32-year-old right fielder with a .279 True Average in306 plate appearances this season can be questioned, adding Werth was a statement that the Nationals plan to be major players in the free-agent market for years to come.

It will be interesting to see what the Lerners and Rizzo look for in their next manager. Will they go for a big name like Bobby Valentine, an up-and-coming prospect like Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, or unconventional like Mariners special advisor Ted Simmons? Whatever way it goes, a franchise on the rise will be able to choose from any number of outstanding candidates to replace Riggleman.

Riggleman—who said in his press conference that, “I'm 58 and too old to be disrespected,”—won't have as many choices. His rash decision Thursday could very well be career suicide. He has a 662-824 record in 12 seasons. At last check, there were no franchises looking for a manager with a .445 career winning percentage who walked out on a team that had fought its way from oblivion to contention.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Jim Riggleman

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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John Carter

I agree that doesn't seem like the smartest career move. However, some team may recognize that Joe Torre had a similar record over 15 seasons before taking the Yankees to perpetual World Series and believe that Jim Riggleman did learn a great deal during his years as a manager.

Jun 23, 2011 15:57 PM
rating: 0
 
saigonsam

Joe Torre did not walk out on his contract. I imagine Riggleman understood what a club option was when he signed his deal, and when that option could be exercised.

I can't imagine Riggleman will ever have the credibility to discipline players who refuse to play hard because they are unhappy with their contract.

Jun 23, 2011 18:09 PM
rating: 2
 
juiced

Poor analogy since Riggleman is no longer collecting a paycheck like your "unhappy" players. He's taken a 70-72 win talent team and gotten them to 500 without the services of his best player and while building a fine, no name pen and correctly but unconventionally hitting Werth 1-2. I sympathize with him. Most clubs would have exercised the option by now

Jun 24, 2011 00:47 AM
rating: 1
 
saigonsam

Yeah, i am sure those bad attitude ball players will think twice before determining it is a bad analogy.

Jun 24, 2011 06:26 AM
rating: 1
 
saigonsam

I can just see Gary Sheffield now saying to himself, "i am not happy with my contract option not being picked up, maybe i should shutdown for the rest of the year like my manager. No, wait, that is a poor analogy. I will play hard."

Jun 24, 2011 06:32 AM
rating: 0
 
rscully
(130)

Thanks for this analysis, John. I basically agree, although the only shred of doubt that creeps in is that this has been a pretty poorly run franchise until very recently, so I'll leave open the possibility that something was really messed up in management and that Riggleman had reason to truly feel disrespected. But even in that hypothetical case, it's very, very hard to imagine a scenario where simply up and quitting is justified. And regardless of the reality, it sure comes across as if he's purposely trying to sabotage the team.

Jun 23, 2011 20:12 PM
rating: 0
 
MightyMoGreen
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

It's difficult to decide whether the writing or analysis is worse here. But I'm up for the challenge.


You started a paragraph with the sentence "So quit is what Riggleman did." Even Bill Simmons would blanche at that beauty. Furthermore, I've never read about someone's elbow "popping." Is that some new injury?


The concluding paragraph is such a rip job that it calls into question whether there is some sort of personal beef here. The "logic" regarding managerial records was the same dross that was tossed at Joe Torre when he took over the Yankees. If that qualifies as "analysis", why not start judging starting pitchers on their record alone?


Rizzo is far less proven as an executive than Riggleman is a manager, and lest we forget, Rizzo was hired and promoted by an incompetent criminal and a thief. He has very little respect in the game, especially compared to Riggleman. The Werth signing was one of the five worst moves by a G.M. in my lifetime.


Bobby Valentine would never ever take that job. They won't pay him what he deserves either, and he's also too smart to work for a guy like Rizzo.

Jun 24, 2011 04:15 AM
rating: -8
 
R.A.Wagman

In most lines of work, quitting on the job happens all the time. I had a guy leave on me just last week due to salary unhappiness. I don't hold a grudge against him, but managing a professional sports franchise (or other form of mass entertainment) can, and probably should, be held to a high standard. It's a public line of work. Would a politician who abdicated in mid-stream even be able to hope to ever return to a leadership role?
You walk away once, you don't come back. Jim Riggleman's baseball exile has began.

Jun 24, 2011 06:29 AM
rating: 1
 
R.A.Wagman

ummmm.....has begun.

Jun 24, 2011 06:30 AM
rating: 0
 
saigonsam

Haha. This has to be a SP reference, right?

Jun 24, 2011 06:59 AM
rating: -1
 
saigonsam

You know,Sarah Palin. The governor who abdicated in mid-stream and who most Alakans refer to as "The Quitter"?

Jun 24, 2011 07:22 AM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

Actually, no - I'm Canadian. I was thinking about monarchs who left the throne and paved the way for more democratic (or otherwise despotic) rule. To this outsider, Palin has more in common with Snooki than with someone I would consider to be a leader.

Jun 24, 2011 07:37 AM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

Yeah, but not among the slobbering hordes of torch-carriers who were ready to follow her over the cliff into oblivion in the first place.

Jun 24, 2011 12:36 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

How many of those people would do the same for Snooki?

Jun 24, 2011 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

Riggleman is saying that he did not say "pick up the option or I'm gone", but rather, "agree to at least talk about it or I'm gone." I still don't understand the decision. But I suppose there are a lot of hypothetically possible conversations that might make it more understandable, and we'll never know (what if team personnel were personally insulting to Riggleman, or said something like "Werth wants you gone, so you may as well go"?) But if it sucks to be there, why would you want your option picked up?

Jun 24, 2011 11:43 AM
rating: 1
 
PeterBNYC

The miscalculations abound on both sides. I can't believe the Nationals casually approached the loss of the current field manager in season, and that Rizzo and the Lerners must have talked about an early option exercise. They decided they would not take action now because they saw nothing that said they had to. Maybe they failed to see Riggleman as the type of guy who will take a job with an underperforming club and, when things improve, think it is all him.

Riggleman's reasoning is tougher to understand. He cannot have discussed this topic with Rizzo and have left the room thinking he could push Rizzo to do what Rizzo didn't want to do. So, what was the point of the ultimatum now?

Jun 24, 2011 13:17 PM
rating: 0
 
MWSchneider

It seems to me that the Nats had decided to look around and see who was available. There's a reason they gave him a contract with a club option. A story in the Washington Post this morning suggests that Rizzo had grown unhappy with Riggleman after an incident with Jason Marquis earlier in the season that, according to this account, required Rizzo to step in and handle personally. I don't know how much credence to give this since it is now in the Nationals' interest to throw Riggleman under the bus, but it does seem like the Nationals were not foaming at the mouth to bring him back. I also don't know how good or bad a manager Riggleman is.

Regardless, IMO, what Riggleman did was unacceptable. Yes, many people leave jobs over salary but not many have contracts that pay them $600,000 a year even if that is underpaid by MLB managerial standards. All he had to do was wait until the season was over and, then, if the Nats wanted to extend him, tell them to shove it. In the context of sports teams, you don't quit in the middle of the season. Maybe Riggleman did read Sarah Palin's book and is now going to take a cruise across the country.

Jun 24, 2011 13:54 PM
rating: -1
 
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