One of the many lessons I have learned being a life-long Washington D.C. sports fan is to never be surprised by anything, but these Washington Nationals often shock me. Just this past Tuesday evening, the Nationals rallied from a 5-1 deficit with 2 outs in the ninth inning to win with a 3-run walk-off home run by Wilson Ramos: this was one of the best comebacks I have seen in any sport in recent memory. I was pleasantly surprised that the Nationals made such a dramatic comeback.
But after the Nationals had gone 11-1 in their last twelve games and 38-37 overall this season, Jim Riggleman resigned as the manager of the Nationals after the game Thursday. When I first heard the news, I was legitimately shocked. What a shame, this club finally strung together some success and is getting some solid publicity both locally and nationally, and this unfortunate mess has to occur. In this seemingly hasty decision, everyone involved loses.
Jim Riggleman loses because managing his hometown baseball team was his dream job; Riggleman was hired after a mediocre track record in previous managerial stops in large part because he wanted the job more than anyone else interviewed. He was not treated as well by the organization as he should have (likely because they knew he so desperately wanted this job), but this man had very little leverage and decided to bluff his own hand to GM Mike Rizzo. Rizzo called his bluff and Riggleman ultimately lost. He will likely never manage again and will have a difficult time living down this decision to leave his team in such lousy circumstances.
The Nationals lose in the short-term because the club was responding to Jim’s message and was playing consistent, quality baseball for the first time in a few years. Longer-term, this hurts more from the public relations aspect of it, as how badly does it reflect on GM Mike Rizzo and the organization that Riggleman would quit during an 11 of 12 game winning streak, in his dream job with no outside leverage? Jim was not likely the answer to the managerial position past 2012, but was the right man for the job today and it reflects poorly on the team that he up and left.
GM Mike Rizzo loses as this reflects badly on him that he had such terrible communication with a manager that he supposedly had a strong relationship. Mike has a wonderful and well-deserved reputation as a talent evaluator, but he has never held management positions prior to arriving in Washington, and with the absence of Stan Kasten, perhaps Rizzo is spread too thin right now wearing so many hats. Mike made the proper decision, as he cannot develop the reputation as someone who caves to ultimatums, but he should have done a better job communicating with Jim Riggleman to never let this occur.
Finally, the Nationals players lose as they now have a major distraction at a time when they should be receiving some credit and good publicity from Washington and the country as a whole. They have played solid, winning baseball most of this season and deserve some optimism for a change.
So where does the organization go from here? John McLaren was announced yesterday afternoon as the interim manager, but John is loyal to Jim Riggleman, and is only seen as a place holder for the next few days. The best case scenario for the Nationals is to convince Davey Johnson, currently a special advisor to the organization, to return to the dugout for the remainder of the 2011 season, at which point the team looks to hire the permanent successor for 2012 and beyond. Davey is one of the best managers in the history of baseball and his experience could be invaluable to this young team during this peculiar situation. Davey is close with Riggleman as well, and has had some health issues in the past, but the Nationals should really try to convince him to take over for the rest of the season to help continue to development of the ballclub.
As a wise man once said, “prepare to be surprised” because as a Washington sports team, the Nationals will continue to shock us going forward. I just keep hoping for more good surprises like Tuesday’s 9th inning comeback.
A Big “Tip of the Fedora” goes out to the Dannhauser family… Thank you for your wonderful hospitality this week and thank you for introducing me to one of my true loves: the Cape Cod Baseball League. Thanks again!
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