“I’m 58,” he said. “I’m too old to be disrespected.”
The stunning news caught the Nationals completely by surprise. Riggleman had informed his boss, General Manager Mike Rizzo, only 45 minutes before first pitch of his intention to resign after the game if his contract situation were not addressed in a substantive way, and it wasn’t until after Riggleman’s resignation was accepted — before the clubhouse scent even had a chance to morph from sweat and pine tar to Axe body spray and cologne — that the players were informed.
“It was an extremely festive, upbeat locker room,” Rizzo said at a hastily arranged news conference, his hands trembling slightly and his voice stern, moments after breaking the stunning news to the players. “It became somber quickly.”
Outfielder Laynce Nix, whose ninth-inning sacrifice fly gave the Nationals a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners, said: “I don’t even know what to think. I just know we’re playing well, and we have a game tomorrow.”
While players were left to process one of the more bizarre midseason managerial moves in baseball history, Rizzo was left scrambling to find someone to manage the team for the rest of the season. While John McLaren, Riggleman’s bench coach and close friend, will serve as interim manager beginning Friday night in Chicago, there was no indication how long that arrangement would last — or even whether the Nationals will try to bring in someone else this season.
The juxtaposition of on-field fulfillment and off-field turmoil created a surreal scene in the Nationals’ clubhouse. Normally, music would be blaring and players beaming following a win such as Thursday’s, the Nationals’ 11th in their past 12 games. Instead, the music was abruptly shut off, leaving players to dress somberly at their lockers as the buses idled outside, casting glances at the center of the room, where a man who was no longer a part of their tight-knit unit, Riggleman, took questions from the media.
“I know what the right thing to do is,” Riggleman said. “You don’t keep a manager on a one-year deal in major league baseball.
“I’m not happy about it. I just feel in my heart it’s the right thing to do.”
Riggleman’s unhappiness over his contract situation had been an open secret around the team almost since the day it was signed, Nov. 9, 2009. Although the Nationals called it a three-year deal at the time, it was more accurately a two-year guaranteed deal with a low buyout after the first season and a team option for 2012 — effectively keeping Riggleman on a year-to-year basis, and at a salary, $600,000, that ranked among the lowest in the game.