So. That happened.
Everything that came out of Nats Park yesterday wasn’t a fever dream, it actually happened. The Nats won their 11th game out of 12, in the bottom of the 9th, on just one run. They pitched well, they fielded well, they’re on a streak of good baseball and wonderful luck, and sure enough, manager Jim Riggleman quit his job due to a contract dispute.
Details are coming out today as both Jim Riggleman (it is distinctly odd not to type manager in front of that) and General Manager Mike Rizzo have done turns on sports radio to talk about the decision. Both sides were firm: the other guy had made a grievous mistake in dealing with the situation. Both sides are right, at least in part. This was handled very badly, and the circumstances that we find ourselves, as fans, in now is nothing short of terrible. As Dave Nichols wrote, there were no winners at Nats Park yesterday.
Where to, now?
Instead of celebrating a team finally playing to its potential, we’re left watching a train wreck. I had hoped that after the Jim Bowden era, we were finally done with the train wreck environment, but that is not the case. Nats Bench Coach John McLaren will take the helm for the team this evening in Chicago, until early next week when the Nationals will announce a new manager for the rest of the season.
How far down are we into the train wreck? There’s a Downfall parody of the whole thing.
Riggleman has been making the media rounds today, talking with the Junkies from 106.7, and Jim Murray at XM, and each appearance has gotten more bizarre than the last. He unloaded on Rizzo in his morning interview, and joked about spending his evening at Caddies in Bethesda, followed by pulling the tab on a second can of whoopass and letting Tom Boswell of the Washington Post have it during the afternoon. The whole sordid affair is as much Charlie Sheen as it is Charlie Finley, and it’s gotten to the point where every next thing is getting rapacious attention, instead of focusing on the club that’s finally broken out of a four year slumber.
Can the Nationals put this mess behind them? That depends on just how long Mike Rizzo and Jim Riggleman battle it out over the airwaves. There’s no question that Riggleman’s reputation will carry a dark mark from this whole affair, but the more he keeps talking, and the less Rizzo and the club has to say, the more this affair goes on Riggleman, who made a final ultimatum in a position that was far less than strong, and who gave up his job because of it.
If the Nationals front office is smart, and I recognize that’s not an accepted fact, they’ve said all they’re going to say until such time as they have a new field manager for the club on Monday. They’ll let Riggleman continue his brutal flameout, and they’ll work to find someone with a steady hand at the keel to get the club through the end of the season.
There’s no question that the Nationals will be buyers again this off-season, and it’s been expected for some time that they would be engaging the services of someone new to write their lineup cards each day. Now it’s a sure thing. If you’re taking the Nationals’ job now, you know it’s a short term gig unless you do something amazing, and while that capacity exists among the potential candidates, you have to notice that the Marlins just signed Jack McKeown, who clearly remembers the Coolidge Administration, to be their manager. There aren’t a lot of great options just sitting out there.
Bob Geren, formerly of the A’s, is on the open market. They’ve got Randy Knorr at Syracuse who might be an excellent choice. Trent Jewett has been with the club as a non-uniformed coach this year and has the credentials to do the job, as would John McLaren, who will be their field manager tonight in Chicago. Bo Porter’s name has to be in the discussion somewhere, as well.
The Players, so far, have said what they’re going to say, and for the large part they remain unshaken in public, even if that may not be true in private. We’ll see how they do tonight in Chicago.