A season’s worth of brewing frustration about his tenuous contract status led Manager Jim Riggleman to abruptly resign today as the manager of the Washington Nationals, leaving them without a manager minutes after winning for the 11th time in 12 and achieving a record above .500.
Riggleman met with General Manager Mike Rizzo and requested to have a conversation about his contract status when the team landed in Chicago on Friday, where they will begin a three-game series with the White Sox. Rizzo said the time was not appropriate. Riggleman told him if he would not at least discuss his contract – which expires at the end of the season – then he would not board the team bus to the airport and resign following the game.
“When is the right time, you know?” Riggleman said. “August? No. Last October is the right time. It’s been festering for me since last October, and I told Mike that when I spoke to him before.”
“I’m 58,” Riggleman added. “I’m too old to be disrespected.”
Riggleman, a Rockville native who took over the interim at the 2009 all-star break, has believed since prior to the season that not having his option for 2012 picked up would lead to a lack of authority in the clubhouse and represented a lack of confidence from ownership. Riggleman approached Rizzo several times during the season to discuss the option.
“I felt that the time wasn’t right for me to pick up the option as of this time,” Rizzo said. “Certainly, today’s conversation, put to me in the way it was put to me, you certainly can’t make that decision in a knee-jerk reaction. It’s too big of a decision to be put in that position.”
Riggleman felt that if the Nationals were not going to commit to him, they were simply waiting to replace him with a more desired candidate. Managing on a one-year contract had become untenable, he said, and he will never manage on one again because of how difficult he felt it was.
“When you’re feeling like you’re perceived as part of the problem during the down times, that’s not a comfortable situation to be in,” Riggleman said. “This was not a rash decision. I love it here. I don’t know what it is about Mike or the ownership that makes them leery of putting me on the year ’12. But I’ve been doing it too long to still be trying to prove myself.”
Before the 2010 season, Riggleman signed a contract that, in a strict legal sense, was for two years with an option for 2012 at $600,000 per season, one of the smallest managerial salaries in baseball. But the Nationals could have bought Riggleman out for $100,000 after last season, a relative pittance.
Riggleman was never satisfied with his contract status, but because he had not managed full-time in 10 seasons, he realized he could not say no.
“I was always on one-year contracts,” Riggleman said.
Rizzo will name Riggleman’s immediate replacement before tomorrow’s game in Chicago. He did not say whether it would be an internal candidate or an external candidate, seemingly too stunned to start deciding.
“It’s disappointing to the players in the clubhouse, to the fan base of Washington, to the city of Washington, and personally to myself,” Rizzo said. “But we will move on from this, and we will not missed a beat. … I was definitely taken aback. ”
After the game, Rizzo told players Riggleman had resigned, turning a festive clubhouse into “silence,” closer Drew Storen said. Riggleman wanted to address the players, but he was asked not to. He remained in his office, and several players and coaches walked in to shake hands and hug.
Starting pitcher Jason Marquis, who had feuded with Riggleman just weeks in Baltimore, walked into the office to shake hands. “I just wanted to say thank you for everything,” he said.
Another team employee came in shortly thereafter and shook Riggleman’s hand. “This has been on my mind for quite a while,” Riggleman said.
“Enough said,” came the reply.
At about 5 p.m., the bus with the players he had managed hours earlier rolled out of the Nationals Park loading dock. Riggleman had taken off his uniform, and it did not feel strange.
“Nah,” he said. “If it’s the last time, it’s the last time.”
Update: The Nationals released a statement at 5:54 p.m.:
“I learned of Jim’s decision just prior to today’s game. He told me that unless his current contract was extended for another season by the end of today’s game he intended to immediately resign as manager and would not be accompanying the team on the scheduled road trip to play the Chicago White Sox.
“I believe, and I told Jim, decisions as important as this must be made thoughtfully and methodically. I was not willing to make judgments of that magnitude in the course of a nine inning game.
“I talked to Jim before the season and have emphasized since that no decision would be made on his extension until after the end of the season. I am surprised and disappointed, personally, and am even more disappointed for our players and fans. I was always taught that one of the cardinal rules of baseball was that no individual can put his interests before those of the team.
“Obviously, his resignation comes when all our attentions should be directed toward the field and the impressive performances of our players over the past two weeks, winning 11 of the last 12 games. I met with players immediately after the game and asked that they not allow Jim’s decision to distract them from goals we established before the season.
“Given the short notice, final decisions about who will be interim field manager have not been made. I did assure our players those decisions would be made before they take the field in Chicago.
“Again, I am disappointed in Jim’s decision and its timing. I would like to assure all of our players and fans that we stand behind this team, are proud of its performance, and will act decisively to fill Jim’s position as soon as possible.
“We intend to build the Washington Nationals into a championship contender. Today’s actions will not in any way deter us from those efforts.”
More quotes from Riggleman:
* “I’ve talked to Mike in the past about addressing my situation. I know I’m not Casey Stengel but I feel like I know what I’m doing.”
* “I gotta give it up then. I’m obviously not the person that you wanna go down the road with.”
* “I wanted a conversation about it. I didn’t say, “Pick up my option or else. I said I think it’s worthy of a conversation when we get to Chicago. And Mike said we’re not gonna do that.”
* “It’s just the way that the ballclub wants to do business.”
* “I feel like I know what I’m doing , but it’s just too short a leash.”
* I’m not sure if I’ll get another opportunity, but I promise you I’ll never do a one-year deal again.