Anyone can look back in hindsight, but did the Washington Nationals do former manager Jim Riggleman wrong? The team accepted his resignation on June 23, 2011. Riggleman quit out of frustration over his contract status. The Nationals had him signed through 2011, but not beyond.
At the time of his resignation the Nationals were on a tear winning 11 out of 12. The team had just finished a successful road trip and was a game over .500 at 38-37. Whether Riggleman felt the hot streak gave him power to negotiate only he knows, but when the Nationals returned to Washington he requested a meeting with general manager Mike Rizzo to discuss his contract. After Rizzo would not commit to signing him long term Riggleman resigned.
At the time there were many who thought Riggleman quit on the team without good reason. He was under contract. The Nationals said that they would consider him for the job at the end of the season. The team was starting to play well and win. Why should he resign?
The truth is Riggleman’s resignation came as no surprise to those who followed the team. To most Nationals fans he was a lame duck manager who would be replaced at season’s end. The Nationals may have said that they would not make a decision until the fall, but many felt they already had their man. He was working in the front office and his name was Davey Johnson.
The Nationals brought Johnson aboard in November of 2009 as a special adviser to Rizzo. His resume included managing stints with the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers. Johnson won a World Series with the Mets in 1986.
When he took the job, Johnson said that managing was out of the question. Rizzo agreed and said Johnson was not being considered for the job. The immediate reaction of some Nationals fans was that it was only a matter of time before Johnson took over.
One has to remember that some of us had heard this before. When the late Abe Pollin brought Michael Jordan in as part owner of the NBA Washington Wizards in 2000 both parties said that His Airness would not play. By 2001 Jordan was on the court. To us the Rizzo, Johnson situation sounded eerily similar.
Riggleman may have felt this way too. Why wouldn’t he? The team would not give him a long term deal and had hired a man with tons of managing experience and a World Series ring. Anyone in Riggleman’s shoes would see the writing on the wall.
So Riggleman decided to press the issue. He went to Rizzo and requested a contract extension. Rizzo refused and Riggleman resigned. To no one’s surprise Johnson was hired as interim manager.
Under Johnson the Nationals are currently in first place in the NL East. Whether they would be there if Riggleman was managing the team, no one knows.
This is not to say that Rizzo planned all along to hire Johnson. Still the question can be asked. Did the Nationals do Riggleman wrong?