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Amid Riggleman resignation, give thanks for who we've had, Boston

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  June 24, 2011 09:08 AM

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Managers are coaches are hired to be leaders, to be, in many cases, the bridge between upper management and the work force. The idea is to emphasize the whole over any individual parts, to ensure a flow of communication and get everyone pulling in the same direction.

Apparently, Jim Riggleman didn't get the memo.

In case you missed it, Riggleman resigned yesterday as manager of the Washington Nationals, who have won 11 of 12 and thrust themselves into playoff contention entering this weekend's interleague series against the Chicago White Sox. With more than a half season still to play, the Nationals are now five games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League wildcard race. Apparently, Riggleman thought this gave him some kind of leverage with higher-ranking team officials, who hold an option on his contract for next season.

Riggleman wanted the option on his contract picked up now. The team declined. So he quit.

Way to go, Jimbo. No "I" in team, pal. "We" not "me."

What a disgrace. Really, Jim? You quit? Now there's a lesson all parents try to teach their kids. Ask for something. Pout when you don't get it. Then quit. As well as anyone, Riggleman should know this. As the manager of baseball team, he has to routinely make decisions that affect Washington players. Some get to play. Others are told to sit. To the best of anyone's knowledge, no member of the Nationals has resigned this year because the manager failed to give him what he wanted.

In the world of managing and coaching, this is the ultimate sin. In baseball, the manager is entrusted with the best interests of his entire team, from the first spot on the roster to the 25th. Individual pursuits are, at best, secondary. There are undoubtedly players on the Nationals who have contractual clauses and bonuses that reward them based on games played, or at-bats, or innings pitched. Riggleman deprives them of money every time he passes them over.

But do they quit? Hell no. Because to do so would be the ultimate act of selfishness.

Here in Boston, we've had more than our share of disputes and issues regarding intra-management relationships. In just the last 20 years, we have had had Bill Parcells vs. Bob Kraft; Kevin Kennedy vs. Dan Duquette; Jimy Williams vs. Dan Duquette; Theo Epstein vs. Larry Lucchino. Even Doc Rivers gave consideration to walking away in the middle of his contract, albeit for personal reasons. And yet, despite all of those soap operas, not a single one of those managers or coaches mentioned ever walked away in the middle of a season, let alone with his team in the midst of a winning streak that conjured up thoughts of postseason play.

In the cases of Red Sox managers Kennedy and Grady Little, each was allowed to enter the final season of a deal with the club holding an option for a subsequent season. In fact, the same is true of Terry Francona at this very moment. Unless Francona walks before the end of this year - and the only way that would happen is if he had a recurrence of health problems - all three of those men will honor their commitment to the team.

Of course, Kennedy and Little were fired at the end of their deals. In the case of Kennedy, in September of his final season (1996), the Red Sox were required to make a decision on his option. The Sox asked the manager if they could delay the decision, setting off alarms that Kennedy was cooked. Kennedy tried to leverage the team and use back channels to leak word of the team's decision to the media, but at least he didn't quit. He was fired the day after the season.

Oh, and as for Francona, he was fired from his post as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies on the final weekend of the 2000 season before the Phillies played their final game. He stuck around anyway and managed the Phils to the final out. Maybe now we know why Francona has won two World Series and ended up in a baseball hotbed like Boston while Riggleman has been forever viewed as either a stopgap skipper or fill-in.

Think of that. Knowing he had already been dismissed, Francona still honored his commitment to the tea. In the case of Kennedy, he could have quit late in the year and sacrificed little or no salary. He also played it out. Riggleman, by contrast, is in the middle of a contract he agreed to, with a $600,000 salary, and he walked in the middle of a playoff chase. What character.

By the way, have we mentioned that Riggleman has managed 1,486 games in his career and has precisely 162 more losses (824) than wins (662)? In his next job, if he gets one, Riggleman would have to go unbeaten in his first season just to get back to .500. In fact, in stints covering 12 seasons with four organizations, Riggleman has had three winning seasons (including this one, 38-37) and never made the playoffs.

Maybe, as any manager would tell you, Riggleman has merely had the misfortune of guiding bad teams.

Or maybe there is a flaw in his personality or methods that would deter good teams from ever entrusting him with a contender.

Given Riggleman's history as a skipper, one would expect him to relish the opportunity manage a team in playoff contention. Instead, Riggleman took the opportunity to use it as a slight. How misguided. Maybe Riggleman was tired of being a stopgap and a fill-in, and maybe he was intent of making someone pay for it. Baseball has a way of rewarding those who put in a lifetime of hard work, and maybe this year was going to be the year that Riggleman cashed in.

Instead, Riggleman checked out, which can't help but make some of us now start rooting for a Nationals team that has been abandoned by its manager.

Or maybe we're just rooting against Riggleman.

I mean, would you ever hire this guy now?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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