This never would have happened if Stan Kasten were still around. That’s not because Kasten was enormously fond of Jim Riggleman or because Mike Rizzo is implicitly bad at his job. It’s because he was the adult supervision. Someone needed to get Riggleman and Rizzo in a room long before yesterday afternoon happened, bonked their heads together, cooled their jets and told them to figure it out. Jim, don’t be ridiculous, just manage. Mike, let him plead his case in a hotel room somewhere. Now knock it off and get back to work.
In Riggleman and Rizzo, the Nationals had two people in key leadership spots whose strengths lied in the nuts-and-bolts-baseball parts of their job. Their largest weakness was communication. Rizzo was stunned by what happened yesterday. A manager and a general manager are supposed to be in constant communication. Obviously, for the Nationals, they weren’t – a functional working relationship simply does not lead to what happened yesterday.
Riggleman’s resignation provided the first significant instance since Kasten stepped down as team president after his contract concluded last fall in which the Nationals clearly and publicly missed Kasten’s influence. Kasten had finger on the pulse of every level of the team. He bounded around offices, sat in on meetings, chirped in the clubhouse. He was always there, wherever there happened to be. He would have surely seen Riggleman’s resentment building, and he could have stemmed it before it blew up. Simply, he fixed stuff.
Riggleman needed someone to talk him down, and part of that is on him. He did not tell bench coach John McLaren, a close confidant, of his endgame until after he had resigned. Kasten’s reach would have ensured he would have sensed Riggleman’s frustration. And he could have prevented it from boiling over.
With Kasten gone, there’s no one who could bridge the communication void between manager and general manager. Andy Feffer took over the business aspects of Stan’s role, Rizzo the baseball side. There’s no one with Kasten’s presence. On Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before Riggleman resigned, Mark Lerner was shagging batting practice, in uniform, alongside players. Through a team spokesman this afternoon, Lerner declined comment, referring inquiries to Rizzo.
Communication is the area in which Rizzo is most working at a deficit without Kasten. During his tenure, Rizzo has at times miffed agents, Nationals scouts and rival executives with a lack of communication, sometimes something as simple as phone calls that aren’t returned. Rizzo has amassed enough talent to make the Nationals an exceedingly appealing job for potential managers, but he’s still learning in other regards.
Neither side emerged yesterday looking particularly good. But even some of Riggleman’s backers conceded he shouldn’t have done what he did.
“I can’t think of a single way in which Jim’s life is going to be better because of this,” one person with longstanding ties to Riggleman said. “And I can think of a hundred ways it will be worse.”
The Nationals needed someone who could have prevented it from coming to that. They needed someone like Kasten.