It sure looks like Jim Riggleman was right. If reports from ESPN Chicago are to believed, Davey Johnson will be hired to be the Nationals manager this season and next. Johnson, now a special assistant (and his former Team USA coach, the Nats’ special Stephen Strasburg assistant) was the obvious choice to finish the season as skipper. Being 68 and out of managing for 11 years, it was not expected, however, that he would stick around past this season. If the team does, in fact, hire him through 2012, Riggleman’s decision would be vindicated to some degree.
Riggleman’s “lame duck” status, which makes his departure somewhat expected, existed because he did not have a proven winning track record. It was widely assumed that the Nationals (at least by us here), once ready to compete, would kick Riggs to the curb (perhaps unfairly) in favor of a guy with a ring or two on his finger. Johnson fits that bill to a “T.” He won a World Series with the Mets (albeit 25 years ago, making Jack McKeon look more relevant by the second) and took the Orioles to back-to-back ALCS’ in the ‘90s.
Should the Nationals quickly move to hire Johnson this weekend, and do so through 2012, it would speak volumes of their pre-determined plan. They knew they wanted a proven coach to lead the team into their competitive years (2012-2014), and Riggleman’s sudden departure just gave them reason to do so a little earlier than expected.
Even if Riggleman did correctly call the Nationals bluff, it does not mean he emerges from this episode unscathed. In the moments directly following Riggleman’s resignation, much scorn was directed at GM Mike Rizzo. Riggleman was a popular guy in the clubhouse, and earned respect from “baseball guys” in the media with his hard-working, no-nonsense demeanor. People quickly took his side. As the dust has settled, however, local fans have started to voice their displeasure. Additionally, whispers from the national media and baseball world indicate Riggleman may have ended his managerial career with the move.
While Riggleman may be accused of having made a knee-jerk reaction, we must avoid the same thing in declaring that the will never manage in the Majors again. It is not difficult to envision him being picked up in an auxiliary capacity (hitting coach, bench coach, etc.) and being promoted. Still, he has ruffled enough feathers to not be hired again. He has placed a stigma on his own head and it would be very tough for any general manager to hire Riggleman knowing that every news program would lead with “Jim Riggleman, who quit mid-season as manager of the Nationals, was hired…” the next morning.
Riggleman, however, is a lifelong baseball guy and at 58 it is hard to imagine his time in the game is over. His comments after the game show that he was at peace with his decision, but his history indicates walking away will not be easy.
The first time I sat in the same room with Jim Riggleman, it was impossible not to notice that his complexion resembled a worn-in baseball glove. Ben Goessling of MASN commented to me that Riggleman had the skin of a guy who spent every year of his life at Spring Training and far too many afternoons on a baseball diamond. He was just 30 years old (and two years removed from playing) when he took his first managerial job (at the Single-A level). He is a baseball lifer, and he probably will not be content being away from the game for too long. Within two years, you could bet Riggs will be a college coach, minor league hitting instructor, or in some other peripheral role in a professional organization.
News and notes from Nationals Park:
- Lost in all this manager talk is that the Nats have played two incredible games in a row. After Wednesday’s walkoff 1-0 win, the Nationals won a wild game featuring John McLaren getting tossed in his debut, seven innings of scoreless ball from both starters, four blown Nats leads, and a four-spot in the 14th to win it. Read the full story here.
- Chien-Ming Wang – remember him? No? Well, that is understandable. After two years on the sidelines, he is finally starting a rehab stint.
- Byron Kerr questions whether Stan Kasten would have prevented all of this from happening.
Small notes from around the Bigs: The Minnesota Twins have been plucky, over-looked, consistent winners for the past few seasons. Despite a small(ish) market payroll and being buried in the AL Central hinterland, the Twins have quietly won back-to-back division titles (and lost the 2008 title in a playoff game) and have boasted to recent MVP winners. This year, they may be the most hard-luck team in the Bigs. Ace Francisco Liriano has struggled with shoulder injuries, and one of those MVPs (Joe Mauer) has missed most of the season with a scary leg-weakness problem. Just when they were starting to bounce back, it was announced that the other MVP (Justin Morneau) would need neck surgery. Good news for the Tigers, White Sox and Indians, bad news for the Twin Cities.
As always, check out Patrick’s homepage for all of his thoughts on the Nationals. Please share your thoughts, complaints and comments below. For daily updates, you can subscribe to these articles (free at the top of the page) or follow Patrick on Twitter (@Neuman85). Enjoy today’s entertainment below!
Song of the Day: Freelance Whales – “Hannah”
Nats Video of the Day: John McLaren, taking advantage of his first game as interim manager, has a conniption fit and gets tossed. Gotta love it.