Riggleman officially takes over as Nationals manager
Friday, November 13, 2009
Eight months ago, Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman were midlevel lieutenants -- Rizzo an assistant general manager, Riggleman a bench coach -- for an organization full of mismatched parts and internal intrigue. On Thursday afternoon, they sat together on a stage in the interview room at Nationals Park as the new faces of the Washington Nationals' management, united in the quest to change the direction of the franchise.
Rizzo, the general manager who got the "interim" tag removed from his own job title in August, performed the same merciful surgery on Riggleman's title, selecting the former interim manager for the full-time managing position at the end of an interview process that smacked of being extraneous -- in that Rizzo, it appears, knew who his choice would be all along.
"What we had here," Rizzo said of Riggleman, "was . . . an experienced major league manager that I got along with very well for the last three months of the season. We had a very good daily dialogue -- before games, after games, on the road and at home, and someone I could coexist with in a kind of a partnership to get the franchise rolling in the right direction."
Riggleman, a Rockville native who grew up rooting for the old Washington Senators, got the call from Rizzo on Wednesday. "It's your job," is all Rizzo said. The bottom line: Riggleman had earned the job, after taking over a 26-61 team (a .299 winning percentage) from the fired Manny Acta in July, and guiding it to a 33-42 (.440) record the rest of the way.
"It's where I wanted to be," said Riggleman, 57, "and Mike has allowed that to happen. It couldn't have turned out better for me. . . . When Mike said, 'It's your job,' I was just very grateful."
Riggleman, who first managed the San Diego Padres from 1992 to 1994, hasn't held down a full-time managing gig in more than a decade, since the Chicago Cubs fired him in 1999 -- although he served 90 games as interim manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2008. Hired as the Nationals' bench coach last winter under Acta, he knew he wanted to manage again -- he just didn't know that chance would come here.
"It's the thing I like to do," Riggleman said. "I stayed in the game because I still wanted to manage. If I would've strongly doubted it would ever happen, I would not have continued."
Rizzo described Riggleman as having "a discipline and a toughness to his personality, first of all. He's a quiet kind of leader. He's not a boisterous type of personality, but he can actually connect with the players really well." Rizzo cited the fact that Riggleman held postgame meetings with his team after every game as proof of his skills as a communicator.
"You talk about an open-door policy," Rizzo said. "The manager left the door open, but the manager [also] left the office quite a bit to mingle among the players. There was much more open dialogue between the coaching staff and manager, and between the manager and the players."
Left-handed pitcher John Lannan, one of two Nationals players (right-hander Craig Stammen was the other) who attended the news conference, recalled Riggleman's first day on the job this summer, following Acta's firing at the all-star break. On the day before the season's second half was to begin, Riggleman held a workout, and after the workout he gathered the team in the clubhouse for a talk.
"You kind of got that sense that it was a change in attitude," Lannan said. "We were in here for awhile. He was ready. You could just tell that."
Despite ending the search process in the same place it began -- with Riggleman -- the Nationals cast a wide net in their search for Acta's full-time replacement, starting with a list of 18 candidates, whittling that down to 10 interviewees (some of them by telephone only), then a handful of finalists. In addition to Riggleman, the others who made it as far as the middle of this week were former Texas Rangers and New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine and current Arizona Diamondbacks third base coach Bo Porter.