PHOENIX, AZ - JUNE 05: Manager Jim Riggleman of the Washington Nationals watches from the dugout during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on June 5, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Nationals defeated the Diamondbacks 9-4 in eleven innings. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Just when the Nats seemed to find their groove, their manager walked away from the game. How will the team react, and where does the organization go from here?
After the Washington Nationals beat the Seattle Mariners in walk-off fashion Thursday afternoon, Jim Riggleman pulled a walk off of his own. The Nationals' manager got fed up with the short leash he was on and gave management an ultimatum that if they did not pick up his option for next season, he would resign at the end of the game. I don't really agree with what he did, but man does that take a lot of nerve.
There was no sign of this resignation coming. Totally out of left field, if you will. The Nationals had been playing their best baseball in recent memory, winning 11 of their last 12 to go over .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2005. Now, they are without a manager, and nobody really knows how they will respond. I think that is reliant on a few things.
First, how did the team feel about playing for Jim Riggleman on a personal level? Results aside, did the team actually enjoy being in this working relationship with the man? Riggleman even conceded that for some of the players on the team, "it's the best news they could've got today and others probably feel [like], 'C'mon, Jim. Don't do that,'" That's not to say that the players on the team didn't like Riggleman, but I don't think he was universally loved. That's important. I'm not saying that there will be parties in the clubhouse, but we don't want the team to unite against the organization. It doesn't seem like that is going to happen.
The other thing that needs to be considered is whether another manager can replicate Riggleman's impact on the team's performance. Riggleman has brought in a very aggresive running style and a whole lot of small ball, and it seems to be working with this current group of players. But I also believe that the style is successful because of the players Mike Rizzo has given him, not necessarily because of Riggleman's managerial genius. I don't think that Riggleman held the team back in any way, but I also don't believe that he did anything that couldn't be replicated by another manager.
So if the team isn't going to throw a fit because of their personal relationship with Riggleman, and his managerial performance could be replicated by a guy who won't have a contract situation hanging over his head, then this shouldn't be too much of an adjustment for the players. I expect them to maybe come out a little flat in the next game or so, but in a week's time, this hopefully won't affect them too much. They know that this is a business, and this is the kind of thing that happens.
Now, there is always the chance that the team looks at Riggleman's resignation, takes on a, "well if he doesn't want to be here who needs him!" attitude and starts to play some we'll-show-you ball. Instead of breaking them apart a little bit, it could actually serve to galvanize them even further. Wouldn't that be nice.
So let's just give ourselves a few days to let the shock of Jim Riggleman resigning wear off. The truth is, he isn't some sort of transcendent managerial talent that can't be replaced, and his departure probably won't cause his players to revolt. It's definitely not something that a baseball team wants to happen in the middle of the season (especially their best season in a while) but I don't think it will be the end of them.