Jim Riggleman’s resignation as manager of the Nationals today came as a bolt out of the blue, a sudden, stunning announcement that silenced the clubhouse after the team had just won for the 11th time in 12 games, pulling a game over .500 at their latest point in a season since 2005.
But in reality, Riggleman’s decision to resign was months in the making.
The manager had been frustrated with his contract since last October, when general manager Mike Rizzo brought him back but decided not to pick up his option for the 2012 season, effectively sending him into the final year of his deal. Riggleman said he tried on several occasions to begin informal discussions with Rizzo about his future, and the general manager would not discuss the situation in any detail. Moreover, Riggleman said he could see signs of dissension in the clubhouse once players sensed the manager might not be around for the long haul.
“We’re a ballclub that’s making strides, but we’re not on the immediate fast track to catch the Phillies,” he said. “That being the case, as you go through games where you don’t win, and you hit a streak where you lose five out of six, these types of things that have happened to everybody from the ‘27 Yankees to the current Phillies, there becomes some questioning amongst players about, ‘Why’d we do this? Why’d we do that?” instead of, ‘We trust in Jim. Jim’s the man here. Jim’s going to be here. We trust his decision-making.’ I personally feel like I was a good game manager. I was a good decision maker. But when doubt’s allowed to creep in, because upper management’s not showing that they even believe in you enough to bring you back and commit to you, it just can’t help but create some doubt amongst people that, maybe some decisions here have not been real solid. I’ve put too much time in to have doubt creep in about whether or not I know how to run a ballgame.”
Riggleman said early in the season, several players were grumbling about his decision-making. At that point, he told those players they were welcome to air their frustrations with him in one-on-one conversations. “I felt like that type of conversation reached some players at a good level,” he said. “I think things have been a lot beter. But I just feel like moving forward, Mike and/or the Lerner family did not feel like I was worthy of being committed to. I’ve got to look in the mirror, too.”
One of the players Riggleman said he got off to a rocky start with was outfielder Jayson Werth, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in the offseason. Riggleman said he and Werth disagreed on a number of decisions early, but in the last month, the manager felt like his relationship with Werth had improved drastically. Asked about Riggleman’s resignation on Thursday, Werth said, “I thought he’s been doing a good job. We’ve been playing good baseball. The timing is surprising. But I don’t know the details.”
In the last month, Riggleman said, he had mentioned to Rizzo that he might resign if the general manager wasn’t willing to talk about Riggleman’s future. He had told several members of his coaching staff the same thing, particularly confidants like first base coach Dan Radison and bench coach John McLaren, who will manage the Nationals this weekend in Chicago. Both, Riggleman said, expressed surprise that there had not been more dialogue about Riggleman’s future.
On Thursday, Riggleman approached Rizzo a half-hour before the Nationals’ game with the Mariners, asking if Rizzo would be in Chicago and if the two men could sit down and discuss his future. The previous times Riggleman had asked for support, he said Rizzo had told him things would take care of themselves if he won enough games. On Thursday, Riggleman said, Rizzo simply told him there would be no conversation in Chicago.
“So today, I told him, Mike, I’ve prepared you for this before that I may tender my resignation at some point if we don’t at least talk about the situation,” Riggleman said. “Mike felt I was bullying him or whatever, and I said, ‘No, let’s be clear on this. I want to have a conversation about it. I know we can’t do that now, but when we go to Chicago, I’d want to sit and talk about it. If Mr. Lerner’s involved, that’s fine. If it’s me and you, that’s fine. But I do want to talk about it. And Mike assured me that’s not going to happen. We’re not going to talk about it. I said, you know what, at this point, after 10 years of managing, if you’re still evaluating my ability to manage a ballclub, then I’m not going to get on that plane and go to Chicago.”