Shot Through The Heart!

Following yesterday’s series clinching win the unthinkable happened. Jim Riggleman, the manager of the Nationals, resigned, right on the spot.

It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least. The win was a huge one for this team’s season, and its young history as a franchise. The club had just defeated the Seattle Mariners 1-0 with a walk off sacrifice fly to push the team’s record to 38-37, putting them above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2005.

Everything was going the Nationals way, the team had won 11 of its last 12 games. Ryan Zimmerman had finally returned to the ball club. One-run losses were turning into one-run wins, and the team appeared to have the best chemistry in all of baseball.

And then, with a simple tweet, baseball in Washington got turned upside down.

“I just learned that Jim Riggleman has just resigned as manager of the #Nats. #Mlb,” veteran beat reporter Bill Ladson tweeted immediately following the game.

The tweet was so off-the-cuff, so sudden, that people thought Ladson had either made a typo (re-signed) or someone had hacked his Twitter account. After all, why would something that absurd happen? The club was on fire, the team had just swept the Mariners, and Nats fans everywhere were celebrating in their cubicles after watching the day game from their offices.

But when Nats general manager Mike Rizzo came out to address the media following the game, and not Riggleman, we all knew something had gone horribly wrong.

“Following the game manager Jim Riggleman has resigned from manager of the Washington Nationals effective immediately,” Rizzo told reporters.

Rizzo went on to explain that Riggleman, who had been on a one year contract with no guarantee for 2012, had told the Nats general manager if he did not have his option for the next season picked up by the end of the game, he would resign form his position. Rizzo did not balk at Riggleman’s ultimatum,  and just like that the man who had carried through the bad times, and now to the good times, was gone.

More and more details came out throughout the night,  and while things are still rather hazy, here is what we know:

-       Riggleman says he didn’t demand his option be picked up before the end of the game, but that he wanted assurance that there would be a conversation about the future over the weekend. Rizzo refused to give Riggleman that conversation. Riggleman felt disrespected, and left the team.

-       Mike Rizzo did not allow Riggleman to address his team following the announcement that he was leaving.

-        Rizzo told reporters that Riggleman’s decision was “very disappointing to the players, fanbase, city, and myself.”

-       Riggleman said he attempted to talk to Rizzo several times about his future, and had finally realized that the team likely had no intention of keeping him around past 2011.

I had to wait until this morning to write this post, because there was just so much to process. My initial feeling was absolute anger and outrage. How could anyone take something so special away from a city and a fan base. The Nationals are on a roll unlike anything we’ve ever seen here in Washington, and after Laynce Nix hit that sacrifice fly to drive in Danny Espinosa for the win, I had that Stephen Strasburg moment yet again. The feeling that baseball was here, that people around me were excited for there to be a team in Washington.

Then as I began to think critically, I came to realize that we always knew Riggleman was put in a bad position with the Nationals. Everyone viewed him as a placeholder, and as he became eventually more and more emotionally invested with this team, that had to be harder to swallow. Given how cold Mike Rizzo has been about this situation, and his refusal to even have a conversation with the man who has had to stick by his team through the lowest of lows, had to be a slap in the face, and would surely irk anyone.

Nevertheless, Jim Riggleman has always been viewed as a man of character, a coach who takes pride in his job and carries it out with dignity. Yesterday’s occurrences would have been the most shocking resignation in baseball history were it not for that fact, but given who the man was, it left baseball experts standing in their tracks, absolutely baffled.

To me there are two absolute truths in what happened yesterday.

  1. Jim Riggleman was given a raw deal, and Mike Rizzo treated him with a lack of respect. Whether or not Riggleman deserved to be extended is a matter of opinion, but every man deserves to have a conversation with his boss about the future of his job, especially when you have an important management position like Riggleman’s. The bottom line is that Riggleman was being bullied around for years, and he decided if the team would not a lot him this one bit of respect, he would have to do the principled thing and leave.
  1. Leaving the team was the lowest thing he could have done. As stated above, I understand his frustration, for me it would be maddening. But think about the other people involved. The team had built this undeniable chemistry, the fans were falling in love, and you’re the god-forsaken manager of the club. You can’t quit halfway through, you signed a contract just like the players did.

Had Riggleman weathered out the season, and gotten fired, there’s no doubt he would find another job elsewhere. Sometimes you have to do what’s right for everyone involved, not just yourself.

I don’t know if this team will continue this hot streak without him. I do not think he was the best X’s and O’s manager in the world, but he had this team playing with a confidence like none other, and this has to shock the players to their core.