No regrets for Nats' Riggleman
WASHINGTON -- A day after his bizarre resignation as manager of the Washington Nationals, Jim Riggleman spent Friday night doing what he had done all season.
He watched the Nationals play baseball, but this time, he was sitting at home in Bethesda, Md., a D.C. suburb, instead of the Nationals' dugout in Chicago.
He was flipping back and forth between the Nationals-White Sox as well as the Orioles-Reds from Baltimore.
"It's a little strange, but I've watched a lot of replays of Nationals games on TV in my home, so it doesn't feel that weird," Riggleman said in a telephone interview. "The Nationals' score is 0-0 in the fifth inning. Wow, we had a few of those tight games when I was there.''
In Riggleman's final days as manager, the surging Nationals swept three games from the Padres by scoring a combined six runs. They won Riggleman's final two games at home vs. the Seattle Mariners, 2-1 and 1-0, and moved from the basement into third place in the National League East.
Then, as the Nationals were celebrating, general manager Mike Rizzo called a closed-door meeting to announce that Riggleman was resigning.
The issue was a contract dispute.
Riggleman wanted security for the future and at least a meeting with Rizzo to talk about his job. The club had an option for 2012. Rizzo wouldn't meet and said that he wasn't ready to make that decision, that he wanted to see how the team was going to develop before making a decision. And, he said that he didn't want to make a knee-jerk decision in reaction to Riggleman.
"All I wanted was a meeting to find out what I needed to do to earn the trust of management and ownership," Riggleman said.
The Nationals went to Chicago and beat the White Sox 9-5 in 14 innings Friday night with coach John McLaren as the interim manager.
Davey Johnson, 68, who managed the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets, is expected to take over Monday when the Nationals continue their trip in Los Angeles against the Angels. Johnson will be considered long-term for the job.
"We're focusing on the remainder of 2011, but we are going to keep all of our options open, depending on the person we get" Rizzo told reporters in Chicago. "We'll see where we are at the end of 2011."
On Friday, Riggleman was going to go to Nationals Park and clean out his office, but he decided to relax at home. He got up early to eat breakfast and read the morning papers. He was planning to have dinner with his mom, Virginia.
He ran and lifted weights. His cellphone was ringing constantly. His mood was upbeat and he had energy in his voice. He read the Internet to see what was being said about his departure from a team that had won 11 of 12 games.
"I'm catching a lot of heat, taking some bullets, but I expected that," Riggleman said. "I have no regrets. This isn't a happy time, but I feel good about my decision. I'm going to miss managing. I wish it didn't have to come down to this, but I was prepared for it. I knew it could happen."
None of the current Nationals players called him Friday, although he spoke to a few of them as they left the ballpark Thursday. Riggleman, though, said he has plenty of support for his decision.
"My son, mother and brothers told me I should have done it a long time ago," Riggleman said. "I have been getting calls from a lot of ex-players. I got calls from a lot of people who have felt disrespected on the job and said, 'I wish I had the courage to do what you just did.'"
Riggleman said that he doesn't feel badly that players didn't call. He said that when the Chicago Cubs fired him, he never heard from first baseman Mark Grace, even though Grace has said that Riggleman was the best manager he's had.
"That's the way men are, they don't call," Riggleman said.
Riggleman said a contract extension would have helped his credibility in the clubhouse.
"When a team gives the manager a long-term contract, it gets the players attention," Riggleman said. "I didn't want to be an interim manager for the rest of the season. I felt we had accomplished a lot and that we still had a long way to go. I wanted to be a part of that."
Riggleman said that he approached Rizzo four times to talk about his contract.
Riggleman said the players gave him 100 percent. There was controversy in May when new outfielder Jayson Werth, the former Philadelphia Phillie who signed a seven-year, $126 million deal, created waves when he said, "changes needed to be made," fueling speculation that he didn't like Riggleman.
The two met. Each said there were no issues.
Riggleman said that Werth, who had respect for Phillies coach Davey Lopes, wanted to run more and asked questions about running strategy. Riggleman said that he told Werth any baserunning tips from Philadelphia would be more than welcome.
Riggleman, 58, has managed three other teams, the Padres, Mariners and Cubs before he took over for the Nationals when they fired Manny Acta in 2009.
The Cubs made the playoffs under his leadership in 1998.
Riggleman knows that the resignation might cost him a chance at another managing job. He said he's not going to call baseball friends to look for a job.
"But, if my phone rings, I'll listen."