So, how was your afternoon?

If you're reading this blog, you know by now that Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals Thursday, following the team's 11th win in in its last 12 games, another stunning walk-off. 

The announcement came -- as all news does these days -- on Twitter.  MLB.com's Bill Ladson (@washingnats) -- who wasn't even at the park for the game -- tweeted the bizarre news as the rest of the Nats press corps were waiting for Riggleman in the Nationals Park media room for his post-game press conference.

One of the reporters saw Ladson's tweet and immediately everyone thought one of two things: Bill misplaced a hyphen and he meant re-signed, as in signed an extension of his contract, or someone hacked into Ladson's account and was playing a cruel joke.

THAT'S how big a surprise this was to those of us that cover this team on a daily basis.

But when GM Mike Rizzo came into the room with a "major announcement", everyone realized the gravity of the situation.  When Rizzo said the words, "Following the game, manager Jim Riggleman has resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals effective immediately," there were audible gasps that came from fans gathered in the President's Club to watch the press conference through the big windows down there that make the media room feel like a fish bowl sometimes.

Rizzo then went on in some length with his side of the proceedings, relating how Riggleman gave him an ultimatum to pick up his option for next year or he wouldn't get on the team bus to the airport for the road trip.  A half hour later from the clubhouse, Riggleman said it wasn't like that, that he simply wanted a meeting to discuss the possibility of the option, but that Rizzo declined the request, thus making the decision for him.

As in everything else in life, there are three side to every story: yours, mine and the truth.  We may never know the complete truth on how things went down leading up to Thursday's announcement, but we have a pretty good handle on the big picture.

What we know is this:  Rizzo had no reason to pick up the option or even discuss it.  Doing so would give away the only option he had in the managerial structure for next year's team.  2011 isn't about wins, despite the outrageous hot streak that have the Nats at 37-36 at play's end today.  It's about evaluation, of players -- both major and minor league -- and the managerial and coaching staff.  Picking up Riggleman's option was simply not something Rizzo needed or wanted to do.

We also know this: Riggleman is as "old-school" as it gets, and he's a man's man.  He comes from an era when a manager was the most respected man in the organization, even more than the general manager, and as such, still subscribes to the notion that a manager on a one-year deal can't command his clubhouse anymore.  In effect, he felt like he was a lame duck.   
"I made it very clear that, you know, I can't say no to this, but this is a bad contract for a manager," he said. "There's no option for Jim Riggleman. It's a one-year option that the club decides on. That's not a good way to do business. I made it very clear that I didn't like that. But you know I can't say no to it. So there I am. And two years later, I'm realizing: You know what? I was right. It's not a good way to do business."
In his exit interview from the clubhouse -- where according to several published reports he was not allowed to address the team on his way out -- Riggleman even stated that there were probably several players on the Nats that would not be sad to see him go.  You can read into that what you will.

Riggleman felt like the organization -- and Rizzo -- disrespected him by not even giving him a meeting to discuss the possibility of the option.  Rizzo felt like Riggleman committed the biggest baseball sin: walking out of an uncompleted job by putting personal gain ahead of team goals.

Both are right. 

Riggleman picked the absolute worst time to drop this bomb, when this team was playing its best all season.  Perhaps by continuing that great play, Riggleman could have actually forced Rizzo's hand by earning the job, or at least putting himself in a good position to secure a manger's job somewhere else after his contract expired.  But Rizzo was ham-handed in not even entertaining his manager, who has done nothing but do his job professionally through some of the worst baseball conditions possible, with respect and dignity.

I don't subscribe to Riggleman's managerial philosophy, but he's hard-working, decent, and a solid baseball man that had to put up with his share of knuckleheads on this team during his tenure.  The least he could have gotten in the end was a conversation.

One more thing I know:  this wouldn't have happened on Stan Kasten's watch, not the way it went down today and when the Nats finally had started to garner attention nationally for, get this, playing baseball, instead of for something stupid or dysfunctional.  Kasten certainly had his share of problems here, but at the first whiff of this this morning, Kasten would have had both men in a room and made sure that this wouldn't come to a head until the all-star break anyway, when a proper resignation/dismissal could be arranged.

As it is, it's just another embarrassing moment to the organization and its fans, who only want one thing: to cheer for a winning baseball team.

Going forward, John McLaren will manage the team over the weekend while Rizzo decides who will actually be the lame-duck manager for the rest of the season.  Several names are being thrown about, including Special Advisor Davey Johnson, third base coach Bo Porter, and exiled showman Bobby Valentine.  I have a hard time envisioning any of the three being serious candidates.

Johnson has gone on record saying his managing days are over.  I can't see him going on the road to finish this job out as he certainly would not be a long-term solution.  Bobby Valentine is a side-show act, perfect for his gig on TV.  But he'd be bigger than the message at manager again and I can't see Rizzo putting up with his personality.

As for Porter, he'd be the most likely candidate, now and for the future.  But by bringing on Porter, Rizzo would have his hands tied again.  Much  like the scenario could have played out for Riggleman, if Porter has success as the season progresses Rizzo would have to hire him long term, prohibiting Rizzo from going out on the market to procure the man he thinks will lead this team to its first playoff appearance over the next three years. 

Does Rizzo think Porter is that man?  I guess we'll see by Monday, the deadline Rizzo announced that he would have the interim manager's job sorted out.

No, there were no winners today at Nats Park, despite the final score of 1-0 that lingered on the high-definition scoreboard as they broadcast live Riggleman's impromptu press conference from the middle of the clubhouse.

5 comments

  1. Jenn Jenson // June 24, 2011 at 2:19 AM  

    Nice analysis, Dave.

    I'm sure you won't be surprised if I report I'm heartbroken.

  2. beidenmolinaro // June 24, 2011 at 9:22 AM  

    Sigh...agreeing with Jenn on both counts.

  3. Sec314 // June 24, 2011 at 10:46 AM  

    You're absolutely right, if Kasten were still here, this never would have happened, or it would have been managed in a much better way.

  4. Griff // June 24, 2011 at 12:03 PM  

    your analysis says it all. 2011 was evaluation time - for everyone. At the basic level, Riggleman was a placeholder for this team till the young guns Strasburg and Harper get back/come up, at which point he'd be let go for a "real" manager.

    Kudos to Riggleman for standing up for himself.

  5. Anonymous // June 26, 2011 at 5:59 PM  

    Safe to say, you went parts of three seasons without a single positive word to say about Riggs. I can't even defend this.