As the Games Wind Down, Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman Now Faces a Waiting Game

By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, September 24, 2009

With the Dodgers clinging to a 14-2 lead over the Nationals on Tuesday night, the press box announcer said, "Hu is pinch hitting."

Then he started laughing.

"I don't know -- third base," rattled off one reporter.

"I don't give a darn -- Oh, he's the shortstop," said another.

At least the scribes are still on their game. They know their Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine.

What do the Nats know?

Right now, not much. If you had "Dodger series" in the Nats' 100-loss pool, you look like a winner. With a record of 52-99 with 11 games left after Wednesday's comeback win, the Nats don't even know who their manager will be next season.

The decision whether to retain Jim Riggleman will be made right after the end of the season -- in two weeks. The Nats would just as soon keep Interim Jim. It's the path of least resistance, a favorite Nats tactic (patent pending). He's done a decent job, compared with Manny Acta (26-38 vs. 26-61).

In one 51-game stretch, Riggleman had the Nats playing almost .500 (24-27), but then Nyjer Morgan got hurt, two more starting pitchers joined the "season's-over" brigade, and suddenly September became strictly about salvage operations.

Nonetheless, if the team goes in the tank badly enough in these final days -- and they are working on doing just that, losing six of their last seven games entering Wednesday -- they could still unseat the hometown Riggleman. He's in exactly the same nervous position as Dave Trembley in Baltimore.

The biggest factor in Riggleman's favor, and it will probably prove decisive, is that no bad team wants to oust a perfectly capable caretaker manager until the franchise is on the verge of better days. If you're lucky, the caretaker works out better than expected and you keep him. If not, he's easy to fire. You name your glam "manager of the future" just in time for him to benefit from all the suffering the previous manager endured.

Nats President Stan Kasten often gives the example of his decision in 1990 to name Bobby Cox manager of the Braves. "Were we good enough yet?" Kasten said. "If you think you know who your long-term manager will be, why waste his good will?"

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