The Washington Nationals’ team plane arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening carrying baseball’s hottest team and its oddest situation. The Nationals have surged to their first winning record in June since 2005, their inaugural season, on the strength of 11 wins in 12 games. And for a while Thursday, the players had no earthly idea who would be managing them Friday against the Chicago White Sox.
The situation became only slightly less murky by the end of the night. Following Jim Riggleman’s sudden resignation, the Nationals will use bench coach and former Seattle Mariners manager John McLaren as a short-term managerial replacement.
The Nationals moved McLaren into the role largely out of convenience, though, and plan on making another in-house candidate their manager for the duration of the season. Their top choice, and the most compelling possibility, is believed to be current Nationals senior adviser and 1997 American League manager of the year Davey Johnson, according to a source with knowledge of the Nationals’ thinking.
Johnson, 68, has managed 14 seasons with four teams and compiled a 1,148-888 record. He last managed in 2000, with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1986, Johnson guided the New York Mets to the World Series title. In 1997, he managed the Baltimore Orioles to 98 wins and the American League East crown. After being named manager of the year, he resigned after a dispute with owner Peter Angelos.
Johnson was not available to comment.
If the Nationals cannot persuade Johnson to manage, they have two other front-office officials with major league managerial experience. Assistant general manager Bob Boone, 63, managed the Cincinnati Reds from 2001 to 2003. Reached Thursday night, Boone politely declined to comment when asked if the Nationals had broached the possibility of him managing.
Asked if he would be interested, he said, “That’s hypothetical. I can’t answer that.”
Special assistant Bob Schaefer, 67, twice managed the Kansas City Royals briefly on an interim basis, most recently for half a month in 2005. He spent last season as Joe Torre’s bench coach with the Dodgers. Reached Thursday night, Schaefer said he had not been broached about the Nationals’ vacancy.
“I’ll always listen if they think I would help,” Schafer said. “I would have to think about it.”
The Nationals, from top to bottom, were completely stunned by Riggleman’s decision, and “We don’t have an immediate plan for a successor as manger,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said.
For Friday, McLaren will manage for the first time since 2008, when he was fired halfway through the season by the Mariners. Coincidentally, his interim replacement was the Mariners’ bench coach at the time: Jim Riggleman.