I watched part of the Nationals’ game against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday evening and was struck by the optimism surrounding the team.
Washington were at .500 later in the season than they had been for years and the commentators were emphasizing that the team was already looking ahead to achieving a winning record, rather than seeing .500 as an achievement in itself.
They earned a walk-off 1-0 win, making it 11 wins in their last 12 games and improving their season record to 38-37.
So when I saw FOX’s Ken Rosenthal tweeting the news that manager Jim Riggleman had resigned after the game, it seemed scarcely believable. In fact, after instantly re-tweeting the news I did wonder whether I had been caught in an elaborate ruse requiring an ‘I knew it was a joke all along’ face-saving response.
But it turned out to be true. Riggleman was unhappy at being on a one-year contract and that the team’s General Manager, Mike Rizzo, was not willing to discuss picking up his option year, let alone an extension, at this point. He wanted the team to show their commitment in him and when that was not forthcoming, he decided that it was time to go.
It’s hard to blame Rizzo for not bowing to Riggleman’s demands. He didn’t want to discuss an extension at this point in the season and considering how promising the Nationals’ promisingÂ future appears to be, you could entirely understand if the Front Office felt like keeping their options open.
After several terrible years, the Nationals are now a very attractive proposition for a manager, whether one out of work or currently employed but looking for a better opportunity. In fact, if you take the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Braves out of the equation as being unlikely to offer a vacancy in the near future, the Nationals might just be the most attractive option in the Majors.
They’ve got a good core of talent, some outstanding young players to join the team in due course (Stephen Strasbrug hopefully making a full recovery and Bryce Harper marching his way through the Minor Leagues) and an ownership that seems to be prepared to spend for premium talent. They missed out on Mark Teixeira and Cliff Lee, but they bagged Jayson Werth (overpaying to get him, if we’re being honest) and there are already rumours circling that the Nationals could be a front-runner for Prince Fielder when he becomes a free agent this offseason.
The owners donâ€™t appear to be a meddling presence so thereâ€™s a good chance that the new manager will be given time to get things right and thereâ€™s not exactly an overbearing recent history of success to put them under instant pressure. The only way is up.
But perhaps all of that is what makes Riggleman’s decision, seemingly unfathomable on the surface, more understandable. Maybe he sensed that the team was considering a change and expected that he would be sacked at the next prolonged sign of trouble.Â Getting out while the going was good was all he had left.
While I’m not sure walking out on the team in such a sudden way will be better for his reputation than havingÂ a sackingÂ on his resume, I can understand if he felt his hard work was not being appreciated. And more than anything, I can understand if the thoughtÂ that he was about to loseÂ the job many baseball managers desire made him take this sudden decision.
The Nationals moved quickly to appoint Davey Johnson yesterday.Â Johnson has been a senior adviser for the team since 2009 and will manage on an interim basis for the rest of the season, although it doesn’t appear as though he is a contender for the job beyond that.Â Johnson’s job looks like being theÂ one that Riggleman thought he had ended up with.
The Nationals weren’t the only NL East team undergoing a managerial change this past week, of course.Â The interim appointment of 80 year old Jack McKeon following the resignation of Edwin Rodriguez has grabbed a lot of attention, but the bigger story is who will ultimately take on the job on a ‘permanent’ basis.Â Â The Marlins have their own core of top talent, notably Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, and they also have a brand new ballpark to move into next year.Â However, working for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would look like a significant drawback considering his recent history.Â IfÂ there’s an outstanding candidate and they hadÂ a choice between the Marlins and Nationals, it would be Florida who would lose out.
I enjoyed watching action from the College World Series on ESPN America recently, although hearing the ‘ping’ of the aluminium bats is always jarring.Â And considering how muchÂ the use of the term ‘World Series’ for MLB’s October classic annoys the British baseball doubters, I hate to think what they’d make of it being used for a U.S. college competition.