Remember the 2,000 year old man? It's a sketch that's been done for years by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. In one memorable bit Reiner asks Brooks what, in 2,000 years, was the great mystery of life.
"Liquid Prell," he replied. (For those readers too young to know, Prell was a popular brand of shampoo.)
The great mystery of the newly rejuvenated Nationals isn't that they're now getting a whiff of the break-even mark. From where I sit, it's wondering why it's taking so long for the club to exercise Jim Riggleman's option for 2012.
Okay, I understand that their current winning streak could end any day, but it's still remarkable that they managed to hover around .500 during the 58-game absence of their best player. Let's be completely objective about this: Without Ryan Zimmerman, this roster is not built for the first division. Not this year, anyway.
It's puzzling why the club should let something as important as this is to the immediate future of the club go unresolved almost halfway through the season. That a local kid from Montgomery County should end up managing the local big league club is the kind of story they make movies about. Given the personnel he's been given to work with, how much better could their record have possibly been?
Based on what I've heard from some fans on the radio and what some people have posted on-line, it's clear there's a segment of the fan base that believes a manager has a much greater impact on overall team success than reality would indicate. Oh, not that a bad manager can't have a negative impact. That's certainly happened more than once. But in general, a manager's success or failure is predicated on the ability of his players, not by some arbitrary right move on any given day.
When Buck Showalter replaced Dave Trembley as Orioles' manager last year, the Birds played .590 baseball the rest of the way. Yet, when the season ended he completely remade the coaching staff and changed about 30 percent of the roster. Gee, don't .590 winning percentages usually end up in postseason play? Sure, but Showalter trusted his own eyes before he trusted that small sample won-lost record. The Orioles have struggled this year, and most of those fans who thought Showalter's touch had cured all ills know it's a long term process.
For years, whenever confronted by a fan who chooses to always blame the manager when things go south, I ask them to name a guy who won - went to a postseason - with mediocre talent or worse. I'm still waiting for an answer. To use another archaic reference, this isn't Paul Douglas in "Angels in the Outfield."
Jim Riggleman is a baseball lifer. He works as hard or harder than any of his peers. He's paid every due. When this club gets good - and it won't be that long - he deserves to be the guy in the dugout. So many of his ex-players from the Padres and Cubs drop his name when asked to name the best manager they ever played for. Diamondbacks' broadcaster - and former All-Star first baseman - Mark Grace recently acknowledged Riggleman as his favorite manager, and he said "it's not even close."
It's Father's Day today, and a happy one to all who qualify. A special Happy Father's Day to Ted Lerner and son Mark, whose largesse restored major league baseball to our nation's capitol. Maybe their original timetable for on-field success has been adjusted, but everyone you speak with inside the game agrees the franchise is on the right track. If you acknowledge that fact of life, then you'd also have to acknowledge that Riggleman's been part of the solution.
Casey Stengel, John McGraw and Connie Mack are dead. Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, Dick Williams, Tommy Lasorda and Tom Kelly aren't coming back. What possible reason can there be to wait any longer to exercise the option?