Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman feels he's the right man for the job

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

VIERA, FLA. -- Jim Riggleman is just beginning his tenure as the full-fledged manager of the Washington Nationals, but he can already envision how he wants to look back on it. He is a baseball man, and so Riggleman knows how the people in charge when a franchise transforms from laughingstock to contender are remembered.

Years from now, Riggleman said, he wants to be able to think, "I was one of the people there when we started to get this thing turned around."

On Monday, Riggleman will manage on opening day for the first time in 10 years, and he no longer has the word "interim" attached to his name. He wondered if this chance would come, both over the past decade and for more than a month this winter. The results of his first full season managing in his home town will help determine both if the Nationals will get themselves turned around and whether Riggleman will be one of the people there.

"I know I am the right guy," said Riggleman, who grew up in Rockville rooting for the Senators. "It's not going to do any good until you prove it. You've got to win ballgames to prove it. Only time will tell if my assessment is right."

From the start, the stakes will be high. Riggleman's contract provides him less security than the Nationals have publicly stated, according to a person close to the team. In a strictly legal sense, Riggleman is operating with a two-year contract that includes a team option for the 2012 season. For practical purposes, Riggleman has a virtual one-year contract, the source said.

The Nationals owe Riggleman $600,000 this season, according to the source. While the Nationals cannot technically opt out until after 2011, they will be able to buy Riggleman out of the contract for $100,000 after this season. Therefore, Riggleman is guaranteed only one year. The Nationals could pay Riggleman $700,000 for this season and not retain him, a total that, even with the buyout money, is less than a typical year's pay for a major league manager.

"He's certainly part of the future," said General Manager Mike Rizzo, not discussing the specifics of Riggleman's deal. "We hired a manager last year to take us through these years and work us through being where we were in '09 to someday being a championship-caliber club. He's the guy that we hired to take us to that level. We wanted the best guy available for now and for the future."

"At some point, we expect to have success here," Nationals President Stan Kasten said. "We certainly hope he's a big part of it."

Both Riggleman and his agent declined to address the details of his contract but, to be sure, Riggleman is accustomed to managing in uncertain circumstances. Three times in his career, including last year with the Nationals, Riggleman has taken over a team in the middle of a season. Riggleman also managed the 1997 Chicago Cubs, who started 0-14. The toughest part? "Not knowing if you're going to manage to the 15th game or not," said Jon Riggleman, his son.

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, one of Riggleman's baseball idols, once told Riggleman something he made his own motto: "I manage by a what-if philosophy." A manager needs to be prepared to handle any situation, to operate under any conditions.

"I never allow myself to feel secure," Riggleman said. "I guess it's just my nature. If you feel secure, you're going to take something for granted. You're going to slip up. It's almost like security builds overconfidence. I never want to be overconfident."

Riggleman has made a life in baseball by rarely, if ever, being over-anything. One season as a minor league third baseman, Riggleman could not keep from blinking when he fielded groundballs. The problem threatened to derail his career, but teammates hardly noticed and, eventually, Riggleman ditched the tick.

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